By: Rimsie McConiga
When Ray Rodriguez, his wife, Connie, and Vince Kavanaugh purchased Belden-Larkin Funeral Home on April 28, they proudly took the helm of a centuries-old Leavenworth legacy.
When John O’Donnell decided to supplement his popular mattress manufacturing and upholstery business with undertaking in 1862, little did he know that the business would still be thriving in 2017.
When the previous owners of Belden-Larkin decided to sell, Vince and Ray, who had decades of experience in the funeral business, thought it would be a great opportunity for them to buy it and continue to serve the families in the community that they had served for so many years.
Ray and Connie are lifelong residents of Leavenworth and are excited to continue the funeral home’s tradition, as is Vince, who attended mortuary college in the area, moved away and returned in 2008.
Immediately after the purchase, they hired landscapers to spruce up the site and started making plans for redesigning the front of the structure. But they remain committed to retaining the overall design of the building that has become a landmark in the area.
“Because of the age of the facility, we want to be careful to preserve its heritage but to continue to upgrade the facility,” said Vince. They also began offering a wide selection of cost-friendly monuments.
Their shared philosophy is that a funeral should be as unique as a person’s life and tailored to reflect who that person was.
“I remind families as long as it is legal we have no rules,” said Vince. “We want to create a service that absolutely is personal and helps the families remember the happier times of their loved one’s life. I attempted once to get slot machines, but because of Kansas law, it was not legal to have them in the funeral home, so we purchased dice and gaming items. We have had lots of requests and certainly if we can find it or do it, we will.“
Many people leave very specific instructions for their funerals, including where they would like the service to be, what verses they would like recited, prayer cards and favorite flowers. Even clothes and jewelry are chosen before they die. The detailed specifications may seem petty to some, but for families of the deceased, it is a great relief knowing their loved one is getting exactly what they wanted, and the pre-planning gives survivors a degree of comfort during the stressful time following a loved one’s death.
Families choose to personalize memorial services and funerals in different ways. The new owners of Belden-Larkin agree that some type of service can greatly help with attaining closure and saying goodbyes.
“Because of financial issues, some families just cannot have the services at the funeral home and may do something at a public park or their own home or backyard,” said Vince. “But most everyone has some kind of remembrance.”
All families that Belden-Larkin serve are treated exactly the same regardless of their ability to pay. Services are tailored to ensure that everyone has the option of honoring their loved one.
There are many financial choices the funeral home has made available including insurance policies, Visa and MasterCard and direct memorials to Belden-Larkin. GoFundMe accounts to help with services have also become popular.
“We have never turned a family away because of their ability to pay,” said Vince. “We believe there is a plan or terms that we can come to.“
Their aim is to assure families that they are flexible and that they will work extremely hard to ensure that things go as planned. And even if a glitch comes up, such as pallbearers running late, they assure families that the service will go on and that everything will be fine.
“We do our best to provide a loving visitation and service according to the requests the families desire,” said Vince. “When we see or hear our competitors doing exactly what we have been providing for our families for years, it makes us happy to know we provided a service that our competitors are providing.”
Vince, Ray and Connie take pride in serving military members and ensure that families are given detailed information on benefits for which they are entitled.
“We place a decal of the branch of service on our hearse, as well as having the American flags waving,” said Ray. “Depending on the families, we will request Patriot Guards as well.“
When services are being planned, Vince and Ray agree there are many options. Many people are now choosing cremation, which they agree can include beautiful memorial services, but there are many things to be considered in this choice, including legal aspects.
“If you own your land you can scatter ashes, however, if it’s private and you don’t own it, you should ask permission from the land owner,” said Vince. “On public land you should check with your county or local authorities about their requirements. On federal land, again, it’s best to ask permission or check with the national parks.”
Although many people choose to scatter ashes, there are advantages in giving a permanent place for a deceased love one to provide an anchor to the past for family and friends and to give children a connection to family members that they may never have known.
“I think it will take a few decades to understand the impact scattering ashes may have,” said Ray. “Historians will find it impossible to track family histories using cemetery records and books. I do think it will have an effect, but to what degree we just don’t know. I personally believe that burial of ashes is important so there is that place to visit, however, there is no proof that I am right on this point.“
The memorial services for cremation and burial are very similar and in no way limit the ways that people can honor a loved one’s life, according to Ray. Other than the physical body not being available for viewing, cremation services can be as emotionally moving as a traditional service.
Ray points to a recent service where a grandson had filmed a video of his grandfather before he passed away and played it at the cremation memorial service as a good example of honoring a loved one.
The funeral home also offers pet cremations.
“Pets are family members and families deserve to honor their pets as well,” said Vince.
For all three of the new owners, the “home feeling” of Belden-Larkin is one of the things they like the most about the business.
“With store-front funeral homes and even the new funeral homes, the home feeling is lost,” said Vince. “However, these older facilities require much more upkeep and maintenance than a new funeral home, or store-front chapel.“
When asked why he chose to work at a funeral home, Ray said, “I enjoy assisting families who at times don’t have enough money to honor their loved ones but want a decent service. We work with them to honor their loved ones without having to clear their savings or take a loan to do so.”
When Vince is asked why he would want to work in a business that deals with raw emotion and sadness on a daily basis, he said, “When I am asked that question, I always follow that with I could not be a nurse. I have the highest respect for nurses, hospice and so many great organizations that go through the process of dying with the family and the deceased. So our time with families is much shorter than caregivers. So hopefully, we create a service that allows families to grieve and yet reflect on the happiest times of their loved one’s life.“
Statistically, a family comes to the funeral home every 15 years and Belden-Larkin owners hope that during that time they can reflect on the care the funeral home has given their loved ones and that they know how hard they have worked to make sure all of their wishes, times, services and visitations were arranged for them and that they provided a fair price for the services.
Ray and Vince also encourage people to pre-plan their funeral arrangements as it is so much easier for the family.
“When I was working at the funeral home and my father passed in 2005, I had no idea my parents had made their arrangements in 1985,” said Ray. “My brothers and I were shocked at how our father had outlined his requests and his wishes to the dollar. It was outlined perfectly with items our family did not realize, such as his favorite colors, poem, prayer and casket. It was a relief to my brothers and I as we did not know how we were going to honor our father as he would have liked. He did that in advance for us.“
The most important thing Belden-Larkin owners would like to emphasize to the community is that one size fits all is not how they operate.
“There are no hard and fast rules,” said Ray. “Each family is uniquely different.“
Their primary commitment is to memorialize the life of your loved one.