After caring for cemetery for decades, Madera couple looking to pass the torch

MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- New Hope Southern Baptist Cemetery is home to about 100 graves and probably even more weeds, and that's where the current caretaker needs help.

"It's getting to be more and more."

The two-acre cemetery sits at the corner of Avenue 11 and Road 21 1/2 to the southwest of Madera. The property was once cared for by the Southern Baptist Church, but the building burned down decades ago.

Marshall Padilla had been caring for the graves of his wife's deceased relatives at the cemetery since they got married more than 60 years ago. After the church burned down, Marshall eventually started caring for all the graves.

"And it's important to us that they have a decent place to rest, and of course when you start here you feel bad for the rest of them," Marshall said. He's been caring for everyone at the cemetery essentially by himself for decades.

"I have both sets of grandparents and dad and two uncles," said Shirley Padilla, Marshall's wife of 62 years. "So that's when we got involved was just taking care of their graves."

Marshall, now 86 years old, is looking for help. The weeds he has fought off for decades are getting the better of him; as his health declines, they get stronger. Some headstones are completely obstructed by weeds.

"It's getting harder to do, I'm not getting any younger or better in health," Marshall said.

In addition to being the final resting place for much of Shirley's family, 22 veterans ranging from World War I to the Korean War are buried there. Miniature flags can be seen on the small fence surrounding the graves. After years and years of caring for them, the Padillas say they've gotten to know every grave there.

"It's like family, it's like you've been with 'em all the time and you hate to see them in a place of disrepair so it's close to our heart."

The couple is losing their ability to care for the cemetery themselves and are looking for help. Their ultimate hope would be for the county or a group to assume care of the graves, but they'll take any help they can get.

Namely, they say they could use help clearing the weeds out, or donations to buy chemicals to kill those pesky weeds. More than anything, they want someone to care for the people here the way they have for so many years.

"After so many names you get to know the names of the people out here, so it is like family," Shirley said.

If you'd like to donate or help the Padillas, give them a call at 559-674-7822.
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