Finding a home for receptions

Date Published: 
October, 2005
Original Author: 
Patty Briguglio
MMI Associates, Inc.
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, October 2005

Funeral homes that want to offer families an exceptional place for a post-service reception don't have to build or remodel their facility to do it.
Brown-Wynne Funeral Home in Cary, North Carolina, found a way to offer families a choice of facilities near the funeral home.

It's a time for family, tears, love, and laughter. A time for in-laws, grandchildren, siblings and neighbors. A time for lots of decorations, hugs, good food and drink. A time for music and singing. The holidays? No, a funeral reception.

For Jeremy Smith, it was the sight of the lovely grand piano at the Matthews House that made up his mind. "My wife majored in music," he said. "Music was always important in our family."

Smith lost his wife to a sudden, unexpected death. When he walked into the Matthews House, an events facility in Cary, North Carolina, he knew it would be the perfect place for his wife's funeral reception as soon as he saw the piano.

The lazy piano and vocal strains of George Gershwin's "Summertime" entertained Smith's guests and the livin' did seem easy that afternoon inside the stately, columned southern mansion nestled among giant oaks, walnut trees and flower gardens.

Earlier that day, the funeral service was held at Brown-Wynne Funeral Homes & Cremation Services, where a clergyman spoke, but no one else. The fact that no one else addressed the gathering bothered Smith in a subtle way, but as soon as people arrived at the Matthews House reception, the mood changed.

"In the more relaxed setting at the Matthews House, people opened up and shared their experiences and memories about my wife," Smith said. Of the 200 people who came to the funeral service, about 50 attended the reception.

The pianist, the best friend of the Smiths' 19 year old daughter, played the whole time. Smith's daughter and her voice teacher both sang a variety of pieces. "It was my daughter's special way of honoring her mother," Smith said.

Reacting to a trend
Brown-Wynne Funeral Home partnered with the Matthews House as part of its plan to offer the more personalized and meaningful services demanded by baby boomers. Brown-Wynne was among the first funeral homes in the area to extend its services to include arranging for a reception in a homelike environment, tailored to fit the requirements and wishes of its customers.

After attending the funeral service at the Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, family members can attend a reception pre-arranged for them by the Matthews House, complete with music and catering if they choose.

"When a death occurs, remaining family members need a place that allows them to honor a loved one without worrying about the details of a reception," said Nina Davis, vice president and general manager of the Matthews House.

Jim Baron, market manager for the Dignity Memorial Network, of which Brown-Wynne is a member, said that the new arrangements are a logical extension of service. "I see this as moving forward in the profession," Baron said. "Some funeral directors are set in their ways, but you have to be able to adapt to the changing times. You need to continue to make sure there is value in what you offer.

Baron said that while many people may have thought about holding a funeral reception at an events facility, Brown-Wynne acted on the idea and made it commercially available, whether it's called a memorial service, a life celebration or simply a private family gathering.

The Brown-Wynne Funeral Home is known for offering a complete range of quality services while honoring many faiths and customs. It expanded to Cary in 1969, and in 1991, became part of the Dignity Memorial Network.

Brown-Wynne's partnership with the Matthews House is less than a year old, but is already successful. The funeral home has a similar partnership with the Long View Center, a classic, nondenominational tabernacle originally built in 1856, which accommodates as many as 450 guests or as few as 25.

The three facilities are about two miles apart in Cary, the seventh largest city in North Carolina, named the "hottest town" in the East by Money Magazine. One of the fastest growing cities in the United States, Cary is a bedroom community of the Research Triangle Park, which includes more than 100 research and development facilities employing over 38,500 Triangle area residents.

In the past 15 years, Cary's population has climbed from less than 10,000 to more than 90,000. Brown-Wynne advertises to this growing population by handing out brochures and running advertisements in the local newspapers that describe the new arrangements with both the Matthews House and Long View Center.

According to Brown-Wynne General Manager Ron Maness, the Triangle area has been attracting retirees and baby boomers who eventually bring in their parents as well. The preferences of this population group are distinctive, he said. The cremation rate, for example, is higher in Cary than in the rest of the state.

One of the key trends affecting cremation is the weakening of ties to tradition. Funeral homes must be creative and flexible to meet the demands of baby boomers as they begin to bury their parents, their spouses and their friends in the coming decades.