GLOVERSVILLE -The funeral home has been located at its current site on Fremont Street since 1929, when it was merely 18 years old.
While the world changed around it, one thing remained constant: The name, Walrath, was attached to the sign over the front door. As the business turns 100 this year, and even though there are no longer any Walraths associated with the business, owner John Stewart has kept the founder's name alongside his own at Walrath & Stewart Funeral Home.
"They're well-respected in the community and well thought of and that's what keeps the business going for 100 years," Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Wally Hart said.
The Walrath & Stewart Funeral Home is shown in Gloversville on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
John J. Stewart, owner and funeral director at Walrath & Stewart, is shown in front of the funeral home.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Stewart, who bought the funeral home, along with Jeffords Chapel, in 1992 from Richard Reed, called Walrath & Stewart a "traditional family funeral home."
According to the Betz, Rossi, Bellinger & Stewart Family Funeral Homes website, the funeral home first opened in 1911 when Willard B. Walrath founded W.B. Walrath & Co. Forty years later, Walrath partnered with Harry J. Bushouer to form Walrath & Bushouer. Eventually, Willard Walrath's son, Douglas, took over as a partner before the business was passed on to Richard Reed in 1968 after the partners' deaths.
Stewart began his career at the funeral home 10 years later, while he was in high school. He said he wasn't planning to make funeral directing his career, but returned to it a few years after he graduated high school and worked under Reed until he bought the business from him in 1992.
When he took ownership, he changed the name to Walrath & Stewart, removing Bushouer, with the blessing of the remaining members of the Bushouer family.
"It was important to keep the Walrath name for recognition," Stewart said.
At the time, Stewart's also took ownership of the Jeffords' Chapel in Broadalbin, renaming that Jeffords & Stewart.
As an owner of a funeral home, and funeral director, Stewart said his main job is "looking out for the interests of the families we serve."
It's a demanding business, one that requires someone to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.
"For years, I was here by myself," he said.
That changed in 2005 when Stewart got together with John Betz, Vincent Rossi and David Bellinger to form Betz, Rossi, Bellinger & Stewart to alleviate some of the strain. The four of them own six funeral homes and employ a "caring staff," Stewart said.
"By combining efforts, we've been able to serve families in better ways," Stewart said. "We've been able to share personnel so someone is always available at all times."
Hart said the chamber recognizes businesses that have been around a long time and Walrath & Stewart will join the chamber's centennial club this year.
"To keep that going for 100 years is pretty spectacular," Hart said. "We want to recognize businesses that have been able to survive the changes in the economy and the changes in the way business is done."
Things have changed quite a bit in the time Stewart has been there. The Internet changed the way business does and the parent company has a website where friends and families can post to the deceased's online guestbook. It also features online obituaries.
Stewart said the funeral home also added several types of services, such as legacy candles, share the bear ceremonies, and balloon releases, to go along with the traditional services.
Despite being part of a larger organization and the new services offered, Stewart said he plans to take Walrath & Stewart into its second century by making sure it remains a "traditional family funeral home."
Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.