Starks family describes shifting philosophy of funeral services

Published 9:48 am Friday, July 17, 2015

When members of the Starks Family Funeral Homes describe the services they offer as “celebrations of life,” they mean it.

Be it through setting up a miniature putting green for the golf lover or sharing copies of grandma’s prized recipe with visitors, funeral directors with the southwest Michigan company are personalizing visitation services to help grieving family and friends remember their loved one in a way that was true to their spirit.

“A lot of what we do now is what we call the ‘wow factor,’” said owner Tom Starks. “What can we do to impress the family, and surprise the family?”

Starks, joined by his father Bob and daughter Olivia, described the changing philosophy behind the way his company handles funeral services during his speech to the Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday afternoon at the local Elks Club. The members of the Starks family were invited to speak to the club by member Barbara Groner.

Starks, whose company owns several funeral homes in the area, including Dowagiac’s Clark Chapel, has witnessed the change in attitudes that many have about funeral services, he said. While in the past nearly every family held a service following the passing of their loved one, an increasingly secular portion of the community forgo this process for their loved ones, Starks said.

“They don’t see the value,” he said. “They look at funeral homes and say, ‘That’s a church, there.’”

Adding that sense of life and playfulness to an otherwise mournful period is one way that Starks funeral homes are trying to add value to their offerings, the owner said.

The rise in cremations in recent years is also something the business has stayed atop of. Working closely with the crematorium owned by Starks’ other daughter, Laura, the funeral home can ensure families that their loved ones’ remains will be taken care of close to home.

Despite the changes in how they handle services, one thing that hasn’t changed is their commitment to families and to improving the communities they call home, Starks said.

“Something my dad taught me is that we’re a service first to the community, than a business,” Starks said.