Family Business: Leavitts continuing 140 years of tradition at funeral homes
PARKERSBURG — For 140 years, Leavitt’s Funeral Services has concentrated on serving the community by taking care of families.
The business, with locations in Parkersburg and Belpre, is commemorating its 140th Anniversary this year.
“It is a significant milestone for us,” said Jon Leavitt who, along with his brother Stephen, are the fifth generation of Leavitts to operate the business.
Jon Leavitt said the anniversary was important for them to acknowledge and to commemorate with their staff and the community as the business has built relationships with many people throughout the area.
Stephen Leavitt said it means a lot to them that, as the fifth generation to run the business, it has allowed them to continually serve the community that their family has been a part of for so long.
“It is important to us,” he said.
The brothers pride themselves are being the only remaining family-owned funeral home in the area after others have been sold to companies and businesses out of state.
The business was started by George Elmendorf Leavitt in 1865 as a cooperage, barrel making shop up on New England Ridge. It eventually became a general store. Over time, people began asking him to make caskets for funerals.
The business passed through the family to George’s son, C.T. Leavitt who set up their first funeral home, motorized hearse and more He set up the business at 218 Juliana Street where it remained until 1919 when it was moved to 324 Juliana Street. In the early 1920s, he moved it to its present location at 403 Seventh Street. In the 1940s, the business was taken over by C.T.’s sons Charles, Ed and Ralph Leavitt. In 1975, Carr, son of Charles, purchased the business. In March 2000, after the death of Carr Leavitt in July 1999, his sons Jon and Stephen took over the business.
Leavitt Funeral Services has been in their current location on Seventh Street for around 100 years.
Jon said many people have told them stories about how their family has served their family over the years and through the generations.
“You get a lot of neat and interesting stories that come up,” he said.
Over the years, the business has continually adapted to the changing times bringing in new innovations as customers have needed different things.
“We have continually adapted with our facilities to provide what families are looking for,” Stephen said.
In recent years, the business has built a new family center where families can gather after a service to have a meal. They have also invested in their crematory services as cremation has become an option for more people.
“Expectations have changed,” Stephen said. “You need a larger foot print to be able to serve people now.”
In the past, the business had added a chapel, kitchen, a children’s rooms and more as needed.
“We have had to update facilities to give the families the amenities they really want when they are here,” Jon said adding some people can be there a couple of days or more depending on what services are needed.
“It used to be about just providing the casket,” Stephen said. “It is now creating a celebration of someone’s life and walking a family through that.”
Even over the last 20 years, changes in technology have changed a lot of what they do and how they do it, he said.
In recent years, there has been more interest in livestreaming funeral services for families with people living in different parts of the country where they do not have to fly in to this area, but can still be a part of the service.
“We can livestream where relative can watch it from anywhere in the country,” Jon said. “We have had to adapt significantly for that (with audio visual equipment and incorporating videos).”
“It is about creating an experience and technology helps us with that to make a better experience for families and to really celebrate the loved one’s life,” Stephen added. “We are always looking for the best ways to serve our families, looking at what families are looking for and needing. We are always trying to stay on top of that.”
More people are using videos where for a number of years people used pictures to evoke memories and emotions from times back.
“Now we are into video and live stream and bringing people together in real time,” Jon said. “Technology can now bring people here who otherwise would not have been able to.
“It is about bringing family and friends together at a time like this.”
The business still does a lot of community work and supporting local people and organizations in the area.
Both commended their staff in continually serving the needs of their customers.
They have 18 full-time employees and many others who intern or work on a part-time basis. Some have been with them for 30-40 years.
“We are a very strong service-oriented business,” Stephen said. “‘It takes people to take care of people.”
Jon said they are still the only local funeral home with someone available to answer the phone and serve people at any time, day or night, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“We want families to know when they need something they have a direct access to us,” Jon said. “We have had people tell us they were surprised our staff came at midnight in a suit. That is respect and that hasn’t changed with us. Those are our core values.
“A lot has changed but the fundamentals have not changed in 140 years.”
Brett Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org