The HBO television show Six Feet Under brought the funeral home industry into the limelight, with a behind-the-scenes look at the nature of these businesses, which are very often run by families and passed down from generation to generation.
For both Neale “Buster” Hanley II and Greg Hurd, funeral homes have been a part of their lives since they were children. Both had fathers who worked in the industry, and they both spent a good part of their lives living in funeral homes.
Preston-Hanley Funeral Homes was established in 1934 by the father-and-son team of Clarence and Roland Preston. After their deaths, Hanley’s father purchased the home, and, because of the strong relationship the Preston family had developed with the community, chose to keep the Preston name on the home.
The business currently operates locations in Pekin and Creve Coeur. The Pekin home is located in the 140-year-old Teis Smith Mansion, named for a leading businessman from the era of Abraham Lincoln. In 1957, the Preston family remodeled the mansion and moved the funeral home business there. It was renovated again by the Hanleys in 2001.
Hanley and his twin brother, Charles, both work as funeral directors alongside their father, Neale Sr. Hanley was proud to go into business with his father, because for him, the nature of being a family-owned business means a higher quality of care. It allows them to take care of the bereaved personally and “makes a great difference in the level of service they can provide.” Clients can deal with those who directly make the decisions, not nameless faces miles away at a distant company headquarters. “We work for families, not shareholders,” says Hanley.
The Hurd family has similar feelings about the industry, having owned funeral homes in the Galesburg area for four decades. Currently, the husband-and-wife team of Greg and Margaret Hurd own two homes in the area: the Weber-Hurd Home in Chillicothe and the Cumerford-Hurd Home in Peoria. Their daughter and son also help with the business.
In 1852, Andrew Weber founded the Weber Funeral Home, which was passed down through four generations of the Weber family. Without a fifth generation to continue the business, Hurd and his wife, Margaret, purchased the home in 2002. The Weber-Hurd Home was acknowledged by the Illinois State Historical Society for being one of the oldest family businesses in Illinois.
The Cumerford-Hurd Funeral Home has equal historical importance, because it was the first funeral home to open in Peoria. It was founded by Harry Cumerford in 1893; Hurd purchased the business in 2007. For the Hurd family, renovating these historic buildings means preserving the tradition of family-owned funeral homes.
Hurd feels that the business boils down to families helping families. “When a family is not satisfied, you feel more upset about it,” he said. For him, many corporate homes lack the personal connection and cannot always meet people’s emotional needs. “It’s the personalization in dealing with families. They know us. They can call us anytime, and we can be there to help them.”
For both Hanley and Hurd, their businesses are more than professions. They are legacies of service in the community, passed down from their fathers, connecting to people at a time when they need it most. iBi