Since August, mother and daughter team Brenda Bonturi and Sarah Klassen have worked to clean graves at Calvary Cemetery and Odd Fellows Cemetery in Hollister. Armed with cleaning supplies and determination, the pair have so far tidied up over 80 graves.
BenitoLink caught up with the team on Nov. 24 at Calvary Cemetery on Hillcrest Road, where they explained why they do what they do and how rewarding it’s been. Klassen said it started because they wanted to see the graves of her mother’s relatives.
“We just wanted to take them flowers and clean up the graves,” Klassen said. But with leftover flowers, they decided to place them on other graves.
Bonturi remembers seeing the grave next to those of her late aunts and uncles covered with dirt and thinking “that is not right.” She began to clean it before searching for the grave of a friend’s five-year-old son, and in looking also found the graves of several people she had known, including friends of her parents and her second-grade teacher.
Bonturi is a Civil War reenactor, and as such likes to tend the graves of the Civil War veterans in Calvary Cemetery. She said the entire process is about the connection.
“I have lived here my whole life and have had good relationships and longtime friends,” she said.
The mother-daughter duo continued to clean up graves, removing weeds and debris. They also took before and after photos of their work, and Klassen would research who was buried and reach out to the families still in the area. She started a Facebook group called In Memoriam-Gravesite Care related to their gravesite cleanup activities; people responded and their mission to clean and keep graves tidy took off.
One reason for going to social media was so people who no longer live in San Benito County and don’t have family members in the area could ask Bonturi and Klassen to tend to the graves of their loved ones.
“I think it makes people feel guilty that they are not able to be here,” Klassen said.
In the winter, the pair tend to graves once or twice a month, and during longer spring and summer days they go out once a week during the evening. They are thinking about extending their cleanup mission to San Benito County Cemetery on Southside Road, as well as San Juan Bautista Cemetery.
When asked how cleaning a grave feels, Klassen said it’s “satisfying to see the before and after, fulfilling.” Bonturi said it is about “respect for the people who are still alive and the person who has passed on.”