ANDERSON — Katherine May says she had little choice when it came to the establishment of her family's business.
"His mind was made up," she said with a laugh of her husband's decision to become a funeral director. "There was no discussion."
Sitting at a table inside of L.C. May Funeral Services Inc., 2024 S. Madison Ave., Katherine May said she had no idea how that decision would later trickle throughout her family.
The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that approximately 86 percent of the funeral homes across the nation are privately owned by families, individuals, or closely held companies. Only 14 percent are publicly traded corporations.
Funeral homes have traditionally been a family-owned and -operated business, but recently that number has started to shrink.
In 2012, the National Directory of Morticians Redbook says there were 19,680 funeral homes in the United States. That number is down more than 9 percent from the 21,757 funeral homes operating in 2002.
May admits that at first she was unsure of her husband's decision to go to mortuary school. Today, the mother of five and grandmother of three says the funeral business has been good to her family.
According to a report by analysts at IBISWorld, the funeral industry generates more than $16 billion in revenue and has experienced a 2 percent growth in revenue from 2008 to 2013. An increase in expensive cremations and a downturn in the economy, however, has had a negative impact on the industry.
For the May family, the funeral business has become a way of life and now financially supports three of Katherine May's four sons.
Both Stanley May and his brother Ron May say they never planned to follow in their father's career path. The men say they both went to college for different careers, but now they work at the funeral home with a younger brother.
"We all have different interests and that has worked out for us," said Ron May.
Stanley May is the funeral director for the funeral home replacing his father who retired in 2005 and Ron May handles the business and marketing aspects of the business.
But the May family is not alone in the funeral business.
Rob Loose said there are only four family-owned funeral homes in Anderson — including his.
Loose, with Robert D. Loose Funeral Homes & Crematory, 200 W. 53rd St., said like the May brothers, he also never intended to work in the funeral industry.
“When I was in college I really wanted to be an attorney and wanted to be in politics and then I realized it really wasn’t for me,” Loose said.
He said his father opened the funeral home in 1979 and in 1985 he joined the family business. In 2014, Loose’s son, who is attending mortuary school, will join the business.
“We tried everything to not discourage him, but told him it has to be his decision,” Loose said. “We told him there are so many things you can do and there are so many hours in the funeral business.
“It is hard to work in a family business.”
That is something Laura Johnson Beeler, president of Rozelle-Johnson Funeral Service, 229 S. Rangeline Road, knows from personal experience.
Beeler, who works with her brother and sister-in-law in the family business, said there are unique challenges when it comes to working with family members.
“If there is a wedding or something it’s hard for everyone to be off at the same time,” she said.
The mother of two daughters, Beeler said she is not sure if either of her girls will join the family business.
“We are keeping an open mind and there will always be a place for them,” she said. “They need to be happy with what they do.”
Beeler said that while once funeral homes had been regularly passed on to the next generation that isn’t always the case.
“Nowadays there are more conglomerates buying smaller funeral homes and it’s not as personalized or they are not locally owned.”
But for families willing to working together, there is room for growth in the funeral business.
L.C. May Funeral Services is considering an expansion of their business into surrounding counties, but they have already started providing international services and have started offering seminars for families to prearrange their funerals.
Katherine May said she is glad her sons are working together.
"I am very proud of them," she said.
L.C. May said he hopes more family members will join the family business.
"I'm looking for all of them to come back one day," he said.
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Did you know? - Indiana is one of only eight states that requires the use of a funeral director for a funeral. - There is a 48-hour wait prior to cremation unless this requirement is waived by a health officer. - A person on Medicaid, who has insufficient funds for burial, is eligible for up to $600 for funeral home expenses and $400 for cemetery expenses. The average national cost of a funeral in 2012 was $7,045. Sources: The Indiana Funeral and Cemetery Board and National Funeral Directors Association