VFW post and other volunteers step up to help maintain local cemetery
DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
Shirley and Marshall Padilla, receiving a certificate of appreciation from VFW post commander Angela Ipock Wednesday for their decades-long efforts to maintain a historic, abandoned cemetery containing the graves of many area veterans.
Recent efforts by Marshall and Shirley Padilla to publicize the plight of the abandoned New Hope Southern Baptist Cemetery have gone better than expected, according to the retired couple who have long assisted in the basic maintenance of the all-but-forgotten, dusty, two-acre patch of ground in the middle of vines and orchards on the corner of Avenue 11 and Road 21 1/2, a few miles south and west of Madera.
The Padillas, who are in their 80s, have been voluntarily helping maintain the cemetery, along with a few others, for the last 60 years but now appear to be the last ones left who are willing or able to do so.
After reading a story about the cemetery’s plight in The Madera Tribune, members of the Madera Grace and Glory Christian Church said they were very touched by the situation and contacted the Padillas, and immediately arranged for their members to voluntarily weed and scrape, and otherwise tidy up the two acres over the Fourth of July.
The Padillas said they were very pleased and also very relieved to have the outpouring of support from the community, to hopefully ensure the ongoing maintenance and future of the cemetery. “We just don’t want this to place be overlooked ... forgotten,” or fade away into history and be overgrown by weeds, they said.
A recent meeting at the VFW Post 1981 turned out about 30 more residents interested in helping sort out the ownership situation and the ongoing maintenance of the cemetery. Supervisors from the office of Madera County Adult Probation agreed to provide labor to supplement the volunteers from the church.
Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier, District 1, attended a portion of the meeting and pledged his support and assistance of the county, where possible.
Local members of the Order of E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of the American West, were present and offered to assist in the project, provide a temporary road sign and ultimately a permanent monument to the cemetery.
VFW post commander Angela Ipock said on behalf of the many veterans buried at the cemetery she and her organization were very grateful to the Padillas for reaching out and really appreciated their many years of efforts.
Ipock said she thought the project was complex but definitely something her organization and post could likely help with.
She had researched the situation with the abandoned historic cemetery and hosted the recent meeting to propose several options and potentially get the ownership situation with cemetery sorted out, so that it could be routinely maintained for future generations.
Options and recent estimates of costs obtained by Ipock were discussed. Costs of re-establishing the abandoned property again as an operating public cemetery were significant and may be prohibitive, she said, with about $85,000 required for opening the old well on the property, re-establishing electrical power along with legal costs, insurance, fees and permits, etc.
An alternative option of having the 2-acre plot declared a historic Pioneer Memorial Park would still take significant effort but would likely be more affordable and manageable, she said, and would still allow for the ongoing volunteer maintenance of the historic property, but not the costly ongoing operation of a public cemetery.
Employees in the Madera County Assessor’s office and Planning Departments were present and are also assisting with sorting out details of the property, research and the options going forward.
Anyone wishing to volunteer, donate or otherwise provide assistance with the historic cemetery project should contact Marshall and Shirley Padilla at 674-7822, or Angela Ipock, commander of VFW post 1981, at 661-9038.