September 17, 2014

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New funeral center reflects changing attitudes toward death

AMHERST — In one room stands a large, back-lit soft drink machine facing a coffee station and a kid’s play area with games, books and DVD player tucked into an alcove. The same room also sports a big, wall-mounted flat-screen TV for catching up on the news, keeping tabs on the game and provides Internet access to allow people to stay on top of personal and business e-mails.

There’ll even be live Webcasting of the services for those who can’t come from Tacoma or Tampa.

Yes, we said services.

These are all features at the new Dovin and Reber Jones Funeral & Cremation Center, a 21st-century funeral home in the truest sense of the word, complete with warm earth tones, a meeting room available to the public and attractive stone and parquet wood walls replacing traditional backdrops of draperies in the center’s two parlors or viewing rooms.

Pamela Reber Jones, Bill Jones, Tina Dovin and John E. Dovin of Dovin and Reber Jones Funeral Home in Amherst. (Photo by Chuck Humel, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Pamela Reber Jones, Bill Jones, Tina Dovin and John E. Dovin of Dovin and Reber Jones Funeral Home in Amherst. (Photo by Chuck Humel, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Two years in the planning, the $1.5 million, 10,000-square-foot facility at 1110 Cooper Foster Park Road opens its doors to the public with a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting Thursday, a live radio station remote and open houses noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 8 and 9.

Open houses, flat-screen TVs and Webcasting of funeral services are a marked departure for a profession marked by somber funeral directors and dark, austere surroundings — and a clear statement of the need to change public perceptions about the business, according to its owners.

“So many times there is a fear, an apprehensiveness about coming into a funeral home,” said Pamela Reber Jones, who is a partner in the business with husband Bill, a representative for an Indiana casket and urn company, and John and Tina Dovin. The Dovins and Reber-Jones are licensed funeral directors-embalmers.

“We want this to be open and homey so people could feel more relaxed,” Reber-Jones said.

That’s also the thought behind the 10,000-square-foot facility’s large windows and spacious lobby, as well as its inviting meeting rooms where families can select caskets and plan services.

Built on one level and handicapped accessible, John E. Dovin says the new funeral center is as groundbreaking as the funeral home opened in Lorain in 1951 by his grandfather, John R. Dovin.

“That was the first funeral home built as a funeral home in Lorain County,” John E. Dovin said. “All the others opened up to that time were adapted from private homes. Now, here we are opening a facility that reflects the latest in technology.”

The new look and amenities are also designed to fit with changes in the funeral business intended to better serve families. These changes include more convenient, single viewing times from 4 to 8 p.m., and flat-screen TVs in viewing rooms to display loops of photos of a loved one’s family life, and Webcasting to allow those unable to attend a funeral to view and hear a service live.

The center is also seeing a growing share of its business moving to cremation, which is chosen by more people for its lesser costs and simplicity, John E. Dovin said.

Families can even choose favorite music for a viewing, or bring their own.

“I suppose if someone wanted to hear Led Zeppelin, they could do it,” according to Bill Jones. “Yes, a death is tragic, but this is also about celebrating a life,” he said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.