Pioneer Cemetery: For those who want to stay here | February 21, 2014 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - February 21, 2014

Pioneer Cemetery: For those who want to stay here

by Jeb Bing

A City Council-appointed task force is expected to issue its long-awaited report later this year on improvements needed to make Pleasanton's Pioneer Cemetery a better place to be buried and a more attractive place to visit. The seven-member committee was asked to determine how the historic site can be beautified and made more accessible -- and how much all that will cost.

The 120-year-old cemetery, which the city purchased in 2007 from the International Order of Oddfellows, has seen some improvements since the Pleasanton Parks and Community Services Department and the Rotary Club of Pleasanton invested time and money to cart away litter, repair broken benches, tombstones and pavement, and spruce up the landscape.

But for many, including those who have purchased the new grave sites made available over the last three years, Pioneer is still a mess. It's a community eyesore for those who think of Pleasanton as a city of well-groomed parks and trails. On rainy days, though those have been few this season, visitors come away with muddy shoes and disappointment. These are survivors who spent up to $10,198 for a full double-burial grave site after the 400 new plots were added, close to what nearby public cemeteries charge, but they have green grass and usually an on-site caretaker.

In many ways, Pioneer hasn't changed much since the days the Oddfellows owned it and probably not a lot since John Kottinger was buried there. The task force hopes to change that at a Council-imposed limit of $50,000, which may not buy a lot of improvements. The council and task force hope to enlist the volunteer support of more organizations, such as Rotary, as well as history afficianadoes who see the value of Pioneer as a teaching tool and possibly even a tourist attraction.

Veterans organizations have already promised helping hands and donations, offering to create a privately funded means of rebuilding the veterans memorial and to help pay future maintenance costs. The price tag for the memorial alone is $50,000.

Local arts contributors Nancy and Gary Harrington want to go even further. They're calling for a creative sign facing traffic on Sunol Boulevard inviting passersby to visit historic Pioneer Cemetery. Once inside the gates, they would be directed to a staging area where the cemetery's history, the names of early Pleasanton settlers and the more than 400 veterans buried there would be listed with a locator map to their graves. All through the cemetery, markers would provide more historic details.

Although a number of the pricey new grave sites have been sold, there's still reluctance on the part of survivors who would like to have a warmer, friendlier place to pay respects to their loved ones. The new allowable grave markers, although similar to what newer cemetery locations require, are flat on the ground with room for a name and dates. Without a friend's help, you could walk some distance before finding the deceased buried below. The Veterans Cemetery at Los Banos has the same ground-level ruling, but its headstones are elevated and slanted enough so names are visible by motorists traveling along the roadways.

Another stumbling block that discourages burials at Pioneer is the ruling that stipulates the sites can't be re-sold once purchased. Pleasanton families that buy plots with good intentions of being buried here and then find themselves moving to distant locations are stuck with the grave sites, which means there could be a number of unused plots at Pioneer where space is limited.

The city has made an effort to focus on high quality of life for residents, through youth programs, excellent schools, a strong job base in its business parks, well-built and attractive homes and neighborhoods, and the opening of the Stoneridge Creek and other retirement developments. The next step will be to renovate Pioneer as a desired resting place for those of us who want to stay here forever.


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