The old saying "The more things change the more they stay the same" is very apropos for the French Funeral Home. The French and Miller families have intertwined many ways since Emanuel Miller and Richard Lawson started the Lawson Miller Funeral Home together about 1909. Two years later the partners split and each established their own funeral business.
After the break with Lawson, Emanuel named his enterprise Miller and Son Funeral Home. Marion French, Dr. French's grandfather, helped Emanuel Miller with funerals when they still had horse drawn hearses. Emanuel was the grandfather of Bob and Tom Miller. They and Tom's wife, Margie, previously owned the Miller Memorial Chapel which emerged from the Miller and Son Funeral Home.
Marion French's grandson, Dr. Charles French and his wife, Susie, bought Miller Memorial Chapel Dec. 19, 2003.
They had purchased the Miller and Son Funeral Home building eight and a half years ago. Trying to retain the tradition and character of that business, they restored the building to its original motif and style as much as possible.
In July, 2000, the Frenches bought the Lawson Slack Funeral Home in Brazil and the Schoppenhorst Funeral Home in Clay City. Some folks wondered why they purchased Lawson Slack when it was just blocks away from the French mortuary.
"We really feel like we're supposed to be doing this," Susie said. "I see in it
that God works in all of our lives and He gives us all a gift. When I worked as a nurse I took care of people. I feel now we help families through the next process. We can help facilitate the grief process. When we bought Lawson Slack and Schoppenhorst, that gave us the opportunity to serve more families."
They hope to provide services to even more families with their latest purchase. There will be some changes at Miller Memorial Chapel but much will remain the same. While Tom and Margie have retired, Bob will continue working there for an unlimited time.
"In their head and their hearts they've wanted to retire for a while," Susie said about the Millers. "But they had to feel comfortable with that decision. They wanted to take care of the families they have served and the community.
"Bob still wanted to be a funeral director but was ready to be relieved of the day to day responsibilities of the business," Susie said. "I think this has given him a new lease. He's very positive, always thinking of new things. Bob's a contributor and a tremendous resource."
The funeral business is a family affair for the Frenches. Dr. French is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Indiana and Illinois and is a certified Funeral Service Practitioner. Besides being a registered nurse, Susie is a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer and is also a CFSP.
Their son, Nick French, a graduate of Vincennes University's College of Mortuary Science, is working in his funeral director internship. He will be the General Manager over all of the facilities, overseeing personnel, staffing, scheduling, purchasing and organization.
Other changes are occurring in the French owned funeral homes. The Director at the Lawson Slack Funeral Home, Norm Knuth and his wife Patti, have chosen to return to Fort Wayne. After a recent death in their own family, they decided they wanted to be closer to their children and grandchildren. They'll probably be leaving in late February or early March.
Susie said they will maintain the building and continue to offer services in the same traditions as established by the Lawson Slack Funeral Home.
Joel Reinoehl has been hired by the French family. He's a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer. Originally from Clay County, Reinoehl worked for nine years at the G.H. Herrman Mortuary in Indianapolis. Before that he worked at the Callahan Funeral Home in Terre Haute.
"Joel said he really enjoyed being back in Brazil," Susie voiced. "He likes seeing the people he grew up with, went to school with and being back home with family."
"We have this opportunity to serve the community, Dr. French interjected. "But we couldn't do what we do without the staff we have. They're all so intricate.
"Soni Henri is a big asset. And Eldon Burns, I don't know what we'd do without him. He does 90 percent of maintenance on buildings, ground and vehicles."
"They all do a great job," Susie added. But I'd like to mention one special person. We all miss Tommy Hofmann. He's worked at the funeral home since he was a sophomore in high school. He's been activated with the National Guard and may be gone for two years. We sure miss him."
So many lives in a small town intertwine. Tommy Hofmann is a distant cousin to Phil Slack who used to own Lawson Slack Funeral Home. He bought it from George Lawson whose father, Richard Lawson, started the business with Emanuel Miller.
At their times of death, the French family was always served by the Miller and Son Funeral Home. Dr. French's niece, Traci Ringo Miller, is married to Brad Miller, Tom Miller and Margie's son.
The more things change the more they stay the same.