Tri-City family finds closure as grave gets headstone

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 8, 2013 

For the past eight years, Enrique Montelongo has come to an unmarked grave on a small patch of grass in a Kennewick cemetery to pay respects to his father.

If you were to walk by Abe Montelongo's grave, which is tucked away in row after row of headstones at Desert Lawn Memorial Park, you wouldn't even know it was there.

That changed Monday. The Montelongo family was able to find closure, with the help of thrift shop owner Dianne Trenidad, by placing a plaque on the bare grave site.

More than 40 friends and family gathered around Montelongo's headstone to pay their final respects to the Tri-City resident during a ceremony led by Montelongo's brother, Albert, who is a minister.

The 51-year-old Trenidad, whose store Shop & Drop Thrift Shop uses a portion of its profits to buy grave markers for the deceased, was able to collect enough money to purchase the plaque and organize the ceremony.

"She is just awesome," Enrique Montelongo said. "It's incredible. It's hard to explain what she did."

As the family huddled around 10 green chairs in front of Montelongo's plaque, they told stories about the love he had for his family and for fishing.

"He spent a lot of time out there fishing," said his nephew, Angel Ortega.

Monday's ceremony also was about officially uniting Abe with his daughter, San Juanita Montelongo, who was killed by her boyfriend during a domestic violence assault in 2003. She is buried about 20 yards away from her father.

Her boyfriend, DeLonde Pleasent, 33, is serving a 231/2 year prison sentence for first-degree manslaughter.

Family members said Abe Montelongo wasn't the same after his daughter's death and the plaque helps symbolize that he is protecting her while they are reunited after death.

"When he lost his daughter we could tell there was always something missing after that," Albert Montelongo said. "It really affected him. We know now that they are together and in a better place."

Moments after he prayed over his father's plaque for the first time, Enrique Montelongo led family members through a few rows of grave sites to his sister's grave, where they laid a bouquet of flowers.

"It's a comfort in all our hearts for everybody to see that he's here and she is so close," he said. "It brings us a lot of peace."

Montelongo's plaque is the first one Trenidad has helped sponsor. She worked with Montelongo years ago at Goodwill and heard about him not having a grave marker when a family member came into her shop.

"This means (his family) will have a place to go when they want to talk to him," Trenidad said. "Next to having my kids, this has to be the best feeling in the world."

Albert Montelongo read scriptures from Psalms 46:1-3 at the beginning of the ceremony, explaining that Monday was a day of celebration for the Montelongo family because Abe Montelongo's life is not over, rather it is just beginning.

Family members moved bouquets of flowers to kiss Montelongo's plaque and thanked Trenidad.

As the ceremony wound down, Albert Montelongo crouched down with Abe Montelongo's grandsons and spoke softly in their ears as he pointed to the plaque. The children listened attentively and smiled while tracing the letters on the plaque with their fingers.

"I explained to them this is where their grandpa is buried so when they get older they can visit," Montelongo said.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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