Funeral home businesses in third generation

MARIETTA – When Harold Hadley and his wife, Virginia, established their funeral business in Marietta in 1938, it was in honor of a family member.

“My dad did dedicate the business to his mother, who died when he was 5 years old,” said Harold’s son Lee Hadley, 73.

He opened the business on Mother’s Day in her honor.

Now, as Hadley Funeral Home celebrates 75 years, family still plays a very important role in the business, which is now being operated by Lee and his nephew Rob Hadley.

“I’m third generation. My dad, John, was also very involved in the business until he passed away earlier this year,” said Rob Hadley, 43.

Rob and Lee co-own the business and are both certified funeral directors. Lee’s wife, Ruth, and John’s wife, Barbara, are also licensed funeral directors.

Growing up in a funeral home family was unique, said Rob, who like Lee lived above Hadley Funeral Home on Fifth Street while growing up.

“All of my friends would have sleepovers. I couldn’t hardly get anybody to spend the night with me,” he joked.

But both Rob and Lee agreed that when it came to picking a profession, the funeral business seemed obvious.

“I was born into it. I’m a year younger than the business,” said Lee, who will celebrate his 74th birthday Monday.

Rob was always fairly confident he too would join the family business but it was in high school that he learned to truly appreciate the operation.

During the summers, his father had him work at a concrete plant where burial vaults were made.

“I went back to school with a whole new respect for what I was going to do,” he said.

But founder Harold became interested in the funeral business in a much less direct way, noted Lee.

“He used to chauffeur a doctor-a dentist actually- in Bellaire, Ohio, to poker games that were held in the back room of a funeral home,” said Lee.

It was apparently there that Harold got his first taste of the industry that would be a part of his family for more than 75 years.

One great thing about running the funeral home is that every day brings new experiences, said Rob.

“Every family is different. Every service is different. There are so many ways people look at death,” he said.

In fact, that customization of the funeral industry is one of the biggest changes Lee has noticed over the years, he said.

“You used to do the same service for everybody right down the line. Now it changes with everybody,” he said.

For example, many more people are choosing cremation, said Rob.

“Cremation was almost unheard of when Lee got out of mortuary school in the 1960s. Then they maybe did one a year. Now we do around 40,” he said.

The business has also seen a lot of expansion over the years. In the mid-1960s, Lee began helping a New Matamoras funeral director with embalmings. The director died in 1968 and in 1969, Lee brought the business under the Hadley umbrella.

The Hadleys talked about expanding again in the early 2000s when the demand for larger funeral services was growing, and the Reno location came to be in 2001, said Rob.

Working with family does have its challenges, admitted Rob.

“We would get into some arguments. At the end of the day, we all worked toward a common goal,” he said.

Unfortunately, Rob might be the last generation to run the family business.

“I have kids, but none of them wanted to get into the funeral business,” he said.

But Cambridge native Matt Kennedy, who joined Hadley Funeral Home in December as an apprentice funeral director just might carry on the Hadley legacy of dedication to the area families.

“I almost feel like I joined the family. I came in being the only non-Hadley guy. I feel like a son or grandson to some of them,” said Kennedy, 22.

He has already learned more from the Hadleys than what he learned in school, Kennedy said.

“Here it is so involved. You have to do everything and they have let me do everything right from the start,” he said.