With more families choosing cremation over traditional burial, local funeral homes are expanding into the crematory business.
Funeral homes in Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Stow and Tallmadge are either planning crematories or have opened them in the past year or so.
“While we see the value of traditional funeral services, we can now offer cremations on site,” said Ken Shoemaker, with the Clifford-Shoemaker Funeral Home, which opened the only crematory in Cuyahoga Falls last spring.
Previously, the funeral home contracted with a company in Akron for cremation services.
Ken Shoemaker noted that about 30 percent of families were choosing cremation — even before the home opened its own facility. That’s up from about 15 percent a decade ago, he said.
Statewide and national figures mirror that trend.
Roughly 37 percent of deaths in Ohio last year resulted in cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, headquartered in Wheeling, Ill. That’s up from about 27 percent in 2005.
Nationwide, about 42 percent of deaths last year resulted in cremation. That’s up from 26 percent in 2000.
The family-operated Clifford-Shoemaker home, at 1930 Front St., borrowed $500,000 on its project to transform a garage behind the main building into a crematory and build a new garage.
Crematory features include a computerized cremation unit and a small, carpeted viewing room. The exterior resembles a small apartment building and, the Shoemakers note, has been painted beige and teal to blend in with the main building.
“It’s a major investment, but I think it will be worth it in the long run. It makes us self-sufficient,” said Marty Shoemaker, who runs the business with her husband, Ken, and their son, Steve.
“There’s also peace of mind for the family” that remains aren’t leaving the premises, Marty Shoemaker said.
Ken Shoemaker, echoing others with their own crematories or who are planning facilities, said it’s about the long-term viability of the business in the face of increased demand.
“Our son will be following us in the business,” he said. “We want to make sure he has market share.”
The funeral home has been in the Falls for more than 100 years. Marty Shoemaker’s father, the late William H. Clifford, bought it in 1958. It was renamed for both families in 1989.
In Akron, Dunn-Quigley Funeral Home also is experiencing the increase in cremations and plans next year to open a crematory at its location at 811 Grant St., said funeral director Jim McKnight. The company, which also operates a funeral home in Stow, currently outsources cremation services.
In Tallmadge, Donovan Bagnoli Funeral Home last year installed a cremation unit in the lower level of a garage on its property at 339 Southwest Ave.
In Stow, Redmon Funeral Home wants to add a crematory at is location at 3633 Darrow Road. Some neighbors have objected to the proposal, which the Stow Planning Commission will hear Sept. 25.
Stow’s zoning code does not permit cremation equipment.
Officials with the funeral home could not be reached for comment, but director Keith Redmon said previously that, “We certainly believe that an on-site crematory, either now or in our future, will allow us to simply better serve the families and communities that rely on us for cremation services.”
In Fairlawn, Billow Funeral Homes & Crematory, 85 N. Miller Road, this year replaced its cremation equipment, installed in 1984, with a computerized, more efficient unit. Secretary-treasurer and funeral director Ann Billow Grebelsky recalled that when she first started working for the business, fewer than 10 percent of families chose cremation. Now, it’s about 40 percent, she said. The company also has a chapel in Cuyahoga Falls.
Local funeral directors say cost plays a role in the growth of cremations.
The Cremation Association of North America says the cost of cremation and a basic funeral generally ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. The average cost of a traditional funeral, including embalming, a funeral ceremony, use of a hearse, a casket and vault is $7,755, according to the most recent survey by the National Funeral Directors Association.
Area funeral directors say another reason behind the growth is family members living farther apart.
“Many families are spread out; they’re not here to visit the grave,” said McKnight at Dunn-Quigley.
Another factor in the increased number of cremations was a 1997 move by the Vatican. That year, the Catholic church gave permission to U.S. bishops to allow funeral Mass with cremated remains present.
The Vatican had lifted the ban on cremations in 1963. Some faiths continue to forbid the practice.
Scott Mason, of the Adams Mason Funeral Home and Crematory, 791 E. Market St. in Akron, said he’s not threatened by the new crematories.
The family business — where 90 percent of families served opt for cremation — boasts a crematory large enough for 100 grievers. In 2007, Adams Mason installed a high-efficiency cremation unit that cost $250,000.
“We get people from a 60-mile radius,” Scott Mason said.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.