Vet­er­ans, trees make ceme­tery

invit­ing for vis­i­ta­tion

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY WIL­LIAM ROLLER | Staff Writer

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.

VIN­CENT OSUNA PHOTO

Vol­un­teers help plant a tree dur­ing the tree-plant­ing cer­e­mony at Mem­ory Gar­dens Ceme­tery in Im­pe­rial on Satur­day morn­ing.

VIN­CENT OSUNA PHOTO

Je­sus Amial brushes dirt to clean a side­walk dur­ing dur­ing Satur­day’s tree-plant­ing cer­e­mony at Mem­ory Gar­dens Ceme­tery.

ADOBE STOCK PHOTO

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