MORRISTOWN - The practice of cremation has been gaining in popularity for years, and Jim Patron of Kelly Kemp Braido & Patron Funeral Home has responded to that demand.
Jim and Sue Patron are the owners of the three local funeral homes, which just may be the oldest in Belmont County. The Bethesda Funeral Home was started in the late 1800s by Thomas Elwood McKisson, an undertaker in Belmont. Four owners later, the Patrons bought the business in 2011, after learning that Joel Braido had decided to sell and follow other pursuits.
Kelly Kemp Braido & Patron Funeral Homes are all located on the Main Streets of their respective locations - Bethesda, Barnesville and Morristown. The Morristown location is home to the crematory, chosen for the available space. The other locations would have required a new building.
KELLY KEMP Braido & Patron Funeral Home has added an in-house crematory at the 204 Main St., Morristown location.
Patron explained that he gets several calls a week inquiring about cremation. He estimates that 32 to 35 percent of funerals in this area now involve some type of cremation service, while cities see up to 50 percent. He believes that cremation will continue to grow and eventually become the driving force of the industry.
The Patrons decided to invest in a crematory to service the Belmont area and avoid outsourcing. Patron estimates that 90 percent of funeral homes are outsourced, in some cases up to 35 miles away, to reach a crematory. Having one locally will save families money and be more timely. Additionally, other local funeral homes have begun to bring their cremation business to Patron.
Patron offered a few reasons to explain why cremation has become more popular.
"I think it's driven by economics. People choose not to believe our industry is ever affected by economics, but it most certainly is," he said. "Cremation has the perception of being less expensive. That's not really true in some cases. People drive the cost...but if a person comes in and they want a direct cremation, it's usually more affordable."
Patron also explained that cremation can be a process fraught with technicalities.
"It's an irreversible process, so when one chooses it, that person must be made aware that in the state of Ohio, the criteria states that a signed death certificate by an attending physician must be obtained, 24 hours needs to be met from time of death, and there must be signed authorization from legal next of kin."
Next of kin usually means a spouse, adult child, or sibling.
Patron says that by owning an onsite crematory, he is better able to pass savings onto the families he serves.
"Consumers today are much more price conscious than ever. We often times receive calls of those shopping for an affordable price. One of the most important things about having our own crematory is that your loved one will never leave our care."
Patron has a long history of working in the funeral industry. At the age of 15, he began working for a funeral home in Northeastern Ohio, where he and Sue are originally from. For the last 35 years, Patron has been a licensed funeral director / embalmer.
Patron calls his wife his "right-hand" of the business; she handles correspondence and clerical work. The couple, who have three sons and two daughters living in the Akron-Canton area, take care of nearly everything themselves, from lawn maintenance to scheduling. However, they do have a few employees on hand as support staff to help with funeral related duties.
Patron's credentials are admirable. To become a funeral director / embalmer, in Ohio, an individual must have a four-year college degree before entering a mortuary school for one year, followed by a one year internship with a master funeral director / embalmer. To earn a funeral director's license, educational requirements are slightly different.
Many other funeral directors and embalmers in the area have not had this education, as they were included in a grandfather clause when the licensing requirements changed in the late 1980s.
"I've always felt, in this industry, dual licensure is more valuable," Patron said. Patron has obtained his certification as a Master Embalmer, which enables him to have an apprentice work under him.
However, enrollment in mortuary schools has gone down and embalming is currently the third most endangered job in the country, according to a recent job survey.
"There's always going to be a need for a death care provider, however, the manner in which we care for the dead is going to change even more over the next 15 to 20 years," Patron said, again citing cremation.
Additionally, "green burials" are also growing in popularity. The all-natural practice includes designated burial sites, a lack of embalming or embalming using environmentally-friendly materials, and wicker baskets instead of traditional caskets.
Patron's plans for the future include offering more programs to help with the grieving process.
"We're not trying to recreate the wheel, but yet, there are so many things that have not been offered in funeral service ... .like grief programs, support groups, and many different programs to help people who are experiencing a loss." Patron feels that, as a funeral home provider, it is his responsibility to inform families of what is available to them in funeral service.
Since taking over in 2011, the Patrons have added to their services. One item is a memorial tribute feature, a way of celebrating the life of a person who has died.
Some of Patron's plans for the future include interior and exterior renovations, to give the homes a more modern look.
"Sometimes we are resistant to change because we become comfortable with the way things have always been. However, change is the inevitable as we grow in the industry of funeral service," said Patron. "As our late President John F. Kennedy once said, 'Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.'"
"There is just so much that can be done here in Belmont County, in celebrating the life of your loved one," he offered.
To learn more about the business and its history, go to kellykempbraidoandpatronfuneralhomes.com or call (740) 484-4551.
Warner may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.