Walton’s converts old church into brand new funeral home
Not many business operations are centered around loss and grief.
“Every day, we see people at their worst – the biggest challenge is balancing our professionalism and caring with the business side,” said Rick Noel, manager of the new Walton’s Funerals and Cremations in Gardnerville. “You have to be sympathetic but take into account the facts of business. It’s a hard thing to juggle, but I think we do a good job.”
On Thursday, Noel and arrangements director Courtney Grahn were in the company’s newest location on Church Street. After more than a decade in another building in Minden, Walton’s purchased the old Methodist church, built in 1950, that sits perpendicular to Highway 395. The move tripled the company’s capacity for memorial services, from 50 to roughly 150 people.
“When I first started working around here, I drove by the church and thought it would make a perfect funeral home,” Noel said. “It’s a better location not only for exposure, but a better facility for people to come here.”
Over the summer, Walton’s completely renovated the church. The walls were repainted, some torn out, and new carpet was installed. The original timber trusses still show in the chapel, but wall sconces and chandeliers have been added, along with a flat-screen television for video tributes. A bi-fold door will soon be added in the back to separate the chapel from a reception area, replete with leather lounge chairs and dining tables. On the south end of the building is an arrangement room with a variety of urns displayed, an office, and an embalming station, as required by state law.
“It’s not the old kind of funeral home where everything is dark and gloomy,” Noel said, pointing to the facility’s large, well-lit chapel. “It’s more for memorial services and the celebration of life.”
Noel began working for Walton’s in 2001 after moving from Washington state.
“My family had three funeral homes that we sold to a corporate conglomerate in 1989,” Noel recalled. “It was the worst mistake, a whole different kind of mentality. Let’s just say their focus was not on the needs of the families, but on other things.”
Noel said Walton’s was a good fit for him, a small, family-owned company with its priorities straight.
“Ed McCaffery, the founder, bought his first funeral home in Reno in the ’50s,” Noel said. “When I was hired, the first thing he told me was, ‘Whatever you do, never upset one of my families.’ That’s huge. That’s why I’m here.”
Noel said Walton’s Family of Funeral Homes now has a dozen locations in the region, including one in Susanville, Calif., which allows the company to pull California burial permits.
“The majority of people who come in have never been through the process before,” Noel said. “We tell them not to worry, and that we will walk them through every little step of the way.”
In the worst of times, Noel said, customers need to know that their concerns are being taken care of, whether arranging for military honors or finding a minister to officiate.
“Really our goal is to step in for the family and become a surrogate working on their behalf,” he said. “What’s rewarding to hear at the end of the process is that there was no pressure, that we made it so much easier for them and that they couldn’t have done it without us.”
Noel said Walton’s philosophy is to offer clients as many options as possible.
“We say, ‘Here is what you can do. Tell us what you want,'” he said. “People think if you do cremation, you can’t have visitation, or embalming, or the body present, but we can do those things.”
Walton’s also works closely with local churches to coordinate memorial services.
“A lot of people don’t have a church affiliation,” he said. “This, the chapel, gives us the environment to do everything.”
Noel said to some extent, the funeral industry is recession-proof, though people have been spending less.
“Every year the cremation rate rises,” he said. “I think it’s about a 70 percent rate in Nevada. Overall, it’s less money.”
But it always comes back to what the customer wants, Noel said. And their new home offers everything from fingerprint pendants to biodegradable urns to prepaid arrangements that lock in current prices for the future.
“We’re definitely full-service here; we do everything we can,” Noel said.
Walton’s Funerals and Cremations is hosting a grand opening with refreshments, dessert and wine from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The new home is located at 1521 Church Street. Regular business hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and weekends and services by appointment. For more information, call 783-9312.