Archived Story

Groner Funeral Home becoming community center

Published 9:40pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The former Groner Funeral Home will become a community center. (The Daily News/John Eby)
The former Groner Funeral Home will become a community center. (The Daily News/John Eby)

By JOHN EBY

Dowagiac Daily News

An ACTION banner sprouting across the front of the former Groner Funeral Home on Main Street signals something going on inside for a while.

“This project was born out of the need by ACTION (Area Churches Together in One Network) to establish a home base in the community and move out of church basements,” said Brad Yazel, owner and manager of Yazel-Clark Chapel and a former funeral director for Groner, which closed three Augusts ago, in 2007.

Yazel and Tom Starks bought the building for $34,000 at a tax foreclosure sale in December and had to wait 180 days to take possession per an agreement with the IRS.

During that time, Dave Groner tried to sell the property to settle his obligations and was unsuccessful, so they were granted title to the building on June 28.

“I had no plans to ever reopen the funeral home as a funeral home,” Yazel said, “so when approached by ACTION, I thought this was a great idea.

“Their plans are to use the building as meeting space for ecumenical services, counseling services, including Hope’s Door, and placing the food bank ministry in the building as a central point for people to get commodities.

“We are planning to use the main floor as a reception and catering venue from time to time and keeping the garage space to put all of our vehicles under cover. We have begun the clean up process and inspections needed to get this project up and running by early fall.”

When ACTION first met and toured the building they had a prayer service to dedicate the building to this new use.

During their tour, they found the angel statue on the front porch with a broken wing.

Justin Shepard from Michiana Church of Christ suggested calling the facility Broken Wing Ministries.

“I thought that really fit given the circumstances surrounding the property,” Yazel said. “We had a closing prayer before leaving and offered prayer for the previous owner and hopes of his recovery. This is a great group of local people trying to make a difference and I think they will succeed.”

A three-time-a-week volunteer work session has been established Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to help get the building in shape.

Power was back on thanks to the efforts of electrician Bill Runkle.

They have need for a stone mason, if you’re so inclined.

Each of the nine to a dozen churches involved put out a call for volunteers.

Key pastors in getting the effort of the ground were John Kasper from First United Methodist Church, Marty Francois from Apostolic Lighthouse and Shepard.

“We got a green light today for the office space,” Yazel said Tuesday afternoon during a tour. “Building Inspector Jim Bradford has been extraordinary. We have one stained glass window left,” with litigation pending to recover others.

“We’re going to use the public space for public space,” Yazel said. “For a small congregation like Michiana Church of Christ on Prairie Ronde Street, a couple three times a year for special events, he can seat 100 here and only 45 in his church. Community ecumenical services — Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas — the plan in general is for them to be held here. This space on the lower level, once we get done cleaning things up, when they’re not using it for worship space, we may use it for catering or receptions. Membership in (service organizations) is on the decline, so people don’t have affiliations. Sadly, they don’t have church affiliations, either. Who do you want to preach your funeral? Well, ‘That guy who married us’ is dead. The church where they had their dinner is Beckwith Theatre. There are a lot of people in that particular predicament for a funeral dinner, 50th anniversary or a small wedding reception. I suppose you could do dinner theater somehow.”

The carpet is in “great shape,” he added. “We put the wood ceilings in when I was here. Jeff Fester and his brother, John, did a beautiful job. Contractor Bill Beck is coming in tonight to widen this and make the bathroom handicap-accessible. Because the ramp was in compliance when (Groner’s predecessor) Russell Lyon put it in, they’re allowing that to stay. That’s huge, probably a $40,000 savings in construction costs.”

The next level up, the casket showroom, is surprisingly large empty.

“This will be the board room” for ACTION, Yazel said. “This is where they’re going to have their meetings and will be cordoned off so they can shut and lock the door on their space. It’s a huge work area.”

There are two small rooms and one larger room available for office space.

Rick Behnke offered some carpeting from the recently-closed Behnke’s Paint and Floor Covering.

An old-fashioned freight elevator — a tow motor on a chain — for caskets will be abandoned because of the danger the yawning shaft represents.

“I think Mr. Lyon probably brought it over from D&R Sports, where Lyon’s undertaking shop was,” Yazel said.

“Getting power is a major victory because we didn’t expect it for months. We’ve got ceiling work to do, but we’ve got drywallers, plumbers, electricians, framers, painters. We just need people who can work on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays after 4 o’clock to coordinate getting the rest of these things done.

“Church ladies have said they will paint, clean, scrub. I’m just amazed. The Catholic church just got reinvolved, along with First Christian, Second Baptist, the Lighthouse, Michiana, the Methodist, Federated, Victory Tabernacle, Rev. Bacon’s church, both Seventh-day Adventist churches.”

Of the broken-winged figure, Yazel said, “Now it’s going to be used for healing. That’s the whole purpose of the project.”

Francois said the official name is ACTION Ministries Center, “Then there will be a subtitle Broken Wing as one of the ministries that come out of it.”

As a non-profit, the center should be eligible to compete for grants.

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