Thirteen years after Memorial Funeral Home and Gunter and Peel Funeral Home merged to become Memorial Gunter Peel Funeral Home and Crematorium, the two locations have officially become one.
The two funeral homes merged in 2009 but maintained two locations until last year, when BankFirst acquired the old Gunter and Peel building for office space. However, BankFirst did not make the funeral home leave immediately, and the merged operation actually operated together at the College Street location while their permanent home, the Memorial Funeral Home building at 716 Second Ave. N., underwent renovations.
Co-managers and funeral directors Craig Summerford and Hollis Peel said talks began around May 2021, and the merged funeral home moved into the Second Avenue North spot in January.
“Once we knew that it was a sure thing, we sort of shut (the Second Avenue) location down and started doing some renovations and updating and doing a bit of an overhaul on the building, and we did everything down (at College Street),” Summerford said. “BankFirst was kind enough to let us use that building even after they bought it to continue operations down there until we got renovations completed.”
Funeral director Hayley Dees said the move has been beneficial to cut down on confusion of which location a funeral would be held.
“It takes a lot of the confusion out of where the service is being held, so now it’s just the one,” Dees said. “That’s been a nice transition.”
The general attitude at Memorial Gunter Peel is a positive one as the three licensed funeral directors look at the future of the business and how the home can truly focus on the clients’ ever-changing needs. All businesses change with the times, and nearly every business has been impacted by COVID-19.
Funeral services are no exception to this.
“Cremations have risen so much over the last several years, and we’re doing lots of cremations,” Summerford said. “Because of COVID, we’re doing a lot more graveside services, and (even though) COVID isn’t as big as it was, people are still staying in that direction with graveside services. We’re able to do everything that we need to do and more having moved to one location because we aren’t doing as many chapel services and church services as we were.”
Combining the two locations has allowed the funeral home to work on improving technology for quality services. The upgrade and renovation of the Second Avenue location includes flat-screen televisions for DVD tributes, a new sound system, and a new keyboard that can switch between instrument sounds for the style of service a family prefers.
“Now that we’re no longer two locations, we’re focusing on our one location which has now allowed us to do some upgrading when it comes to technology, the offering of our products,” Peel said. “Craig mentioned that our cremation rate is continuing to rise, so we’ve devoted more time and energy to our cremation offerings to meet the needs. As the consumers’ needs change, we’re changing with it.”
The upgrades do not stop there, though. There is now an extended selection room for families looking to have any type of service they would like. There are caskets with special features, biodegradable urns, and other ways to honor a loved one. The inside of the home still has some antique charm that honors the history of the two funeral homes before the merge in 2009, but it also has more natural light that it did previously. The break room also serves as a room for children to go into while the services go on or for family members to sit down and have a moment of reprieve from grief.
As time goes forward, the three directors hope consumers welcome the change, but they are not forgetting the rich history of Gunter and Peel or Memorial. Gunter and Peel began operating in 1893, and Memorial wrote its first burial policy in 1930.
“It’s really an honor just to be a part of the community for so long,” Peel said. “Both these funeral homes have gone way back. The Gunter Funeral Home was started in 1893. That’s the third longest-standing business in Lowndes County.”
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