PARKERSBURG — For 140 years, Leavitt Funeral Services has focused on serving the community by caring for families.
The company, based in Parkersburg and Belpre, celebrates its 140th anniversary this year.
“This is an important step for us” said Jon Leavitt who, along with his brother Stephen, is the fifth generation of Leavitts to operate the business.
Jon Leavitt said the anniversary was important for them to recognize and commemorate with their staff and the community, as the company has built relationships with many people throughout the region.
Stephen Leavitt said it means a lot to them that as the fifth generation to run the business, it has allowed them to continue to serve the community their family has been a part of for so long.
“It’s important to us,” he said.
The brothers are proud to be the only family funeral home left in the area after others were sold to out-of-state businesses and businesses.
The business was started by George Elmendorf Leavitt in 1865 as a cooperage, a barrel-making workshop on the New England Ridge. It eventually became a general store. Over time, people started asking him to make caskets for funerals.
The business passed through the family to George’s son, CT Leavitt, who created his first funeral home, a motorized hearse and more. He established 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 current location at 403 Seventh Street. In the 1940s the business was taken over by CT’s sons, Charles, Ed and Ralph Leavitt. In 1975 Carr, son of Charles, purchased the business. In March 2000, following Carr Leavitt’s death in July 1999, his sons Jon and Stephen took over the business.
Leavitt Funeral Services has occupied its current location on Seventh Street for approximately 100 years.
Jon said many people have told them stories of how their family has served their family over the years and across generations.
“You get a lot of neat and interesting stories that come up,” he said.
Over the years, the company has continuously adapted to changing times by bringing new innovations because customers needed different things.
“We have continuously adapted our facilities to offer what families are looking for”, Stephen said.
In recent years, the company has built a new family center where families can meet after a service for a meal. They have also invested in their cremation services as cremation has become an option for more people.
“Expectations have changed” Stephen said. “You need a bigger footprint to be able to serve people now.”
In the past, the company had added a chapel, kitchen, children’s room and more as needed.
“We had to upgrade the facilities to give families the amenities they really want when they are here,” Jon added that some people may be there for a few days or more depending on the services needed.
“Before, it was just a matter of providing the coffin,” Stephen said. “Now it’s about creating a celebration of someone’s life and guiding a family through it.”
Even in the past 20 years, changes in technology have greatly changed what they do and how they do it, he said.
In recent years there has been more interest in live streaming funeral services for families with people living in different parts of the country where they don’t have to travel to that area but can still be part of of service.
“We can stream live where a parent can watch it from anywhere in the country,” says Jon. “We had to adapt significantly for this (with audiovisual equipment and incorporating videos).”
“It’s about creating an experience and technology helps us create a better experience for families and really celebrate the life of the loved one,” Stephane added. “We are always researching the best ways to serve our families, looking at what families want and need. We always try to stay above that.
More and more people are using videos where for a number of years people have used images to evoke memories and emotions of times gone by.
“Now we are turning to video and live streaming and bringing people together in real time,” says Jon. “Technology can now bring people here who wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
“It’s about bringing family and friends together at a time like this.”
The company still does a lot of community work and supports local people and organizations in the area.
Both praised their staff for continually meeting the needs of their customers.
They have 18 full-time employees and many more who do internships or work part-time. Some have been with them for 30 to 40 years.
“We are a very strong service-oriented company,” Stephen said. “It takes people to take care of people.”
Jon said they were still the only local funeral home with someone available to answer the phone and serve people anytime, 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 direct access to us,” says Jon. “People have told us they were surprised that our staff came at midnight in costume. That’s respect and that hasn’t changed with us. Those are our core values.
“A lot of things have changed but the fundamentals haven’t changed in 140 years.”