Veterans, trees make cemetery
inviting for visitation
IMPERIAL — Four seedling shade trees added a touch of grace to the Memory Gardens and Memorial Park as volunteers with the Imperial Valley Committee for Veterans planted the saplings at the center island here Saturday.
“We chose the shade trees because there’s no place to sit out here where people want to visit their loved ones,” said Cruz Abarca, a Vietnam era veteran and founder of the committee.
Trees were donated by Abarca’s family, Mary Abarca Rocha of Wasco and Sandy Abarca Alvarez of Brawley. Green Patch Nursery donated potting soil and offered a $25 discount for each tree. Yet raising headstones, some buried more than a foot, so the names of those interred are visible, is still a priority but just 400 of the approximately 900 headstones (many still visible) have been restored above ground.
“We’re trying to make it welcoming,” said Jaime Abarca, Cruz’s son said. “We’re still looking for anything people will donate, trees, flowers … for the people who’ve been abandoned here, in a sense.”
The cemetery began to look neglected back in the early 2000s. Not long after that Cruz made inquiries as to who was responsible and why the cemetery was in disrepair, which includes at least 70 veterans dating from the Spanish American War through the Vietnam War. The committee is also looking to get some benches and Cruz has been negotiating with Calipatria State Prison which had some benches left over from
a prior donation program.
Documents show that the cemetery is owned by River Properties, based in Los Angeles, noted Cruz. Shortly after he formed the committee in June, a “For Sale” sign was placed at the front of Memory Gardens. After obtaining an address through the County Recorder’s office, Cruz sent a registered letter to an address in an Eastern Seaboard state but never received a response.
“No one has contacted me,” said Cruz. “No one in public office even. It’s weird.”
In 2011, after several inquiries among city and county officials led to no resolution Cruz made first efforts to put the committee together. At Veteran’s Hall in Imperial, Cruz met Linda Cook, who had already taken an initiative to plant flowers and they collaborated on what they might be able to do together to improve the conditions. But Cruz was soon diagnosed with cancer and left the county until late last spring. The purpose of the tree planting was to reinvigorate volunteers after the holidays and unusual rainy winter to take their cleanup efforts to a higher level.
Jesus Amial is a committee member who was persuaded to get involved last year by Cruz.
“I myself as a former Marine feel a responsibility to the cemetery,” he said. “People I run into about town tell me the cemetery is looking good. Slowly but surely we’re reaching our goal, but still there’s lots of work to be done.”
Added Cruz, “These trees represent hope and commitment and we won’t stop until we restore respect and honor to the people buried here,” he said. “We hope the people in power take notice, step up and contact us.”
For further information phone 760-909-7052.
Volunteers help plant a tree during the tree-planting ceremony at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Imperial on Saturday morning.
Jesus Amial brushes dirt to clean a sidewalk during during Saturday’s tree-planting ceremony at Memory Gardens Cemetery.