Being in the funeral business is not easy, so the men and women who provide our loved ones and friends that final dignity they deserve after they have passed away deserve some recognition in return.
With that in mind, we dropped in to visit Joni Cooke and Debbie Jo Linklater at Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel as the business celebrates its 80th anniversary serving the people of Sault Ste. Marie, the funeral home being the subject of this week’s Mid-Week Mugging.
“The funeral home itself started in 1938 and so we just want to celebrate with the community and appreciate all they have given to us over the years in supporting our business,” Joni said.
From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday Oct. 21, the business, located at 492 Wellington St. E., will be opening its doors to the community for refreshments, including birthday cake and ice cream.
“I started off in a co-op program in high school at a travel agency, but I was boarding with Debbie’s brother-in-law Bob (Linklater, a now-retired Arthur Funeral Home funeral director) and he convinced me to finish off my co-op at the funeral home. Then he convinced me to go to school to be a funeral director,” said Joni, who is Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel’s manager.
“I guess what attracted me to the profession was I came in and I was in awe at watching what the funeral home did for families that were grieving. To know that complete strangers entrust their loved ones to you to help them through that period of grieving has to be the most rewarding feeling ever,” Joni said.
“They share their family member’s life story with you, and then, based on that, we’ve built so many community relationships. Now, you go to the hockey rink and you see that same family you’ve dealt with and they embrace you (in some cases, many years later),” Joni said.
“I wanted to help people, in social work, ministry, something like that. My brother-in-law Bob thought I would be a good fit for this...you are helping people. I thought ‘I want to help these people and be there for them, to give them all the comfort they need to carry on,’” Debbie Jo said.
Just as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, healthcare professionals and military personnel witness many stressful incidents and need support, Joni and Debbie Jo told us funeral directors lean on each other after they have borne a part of the grief of families who have lost loved ones.
“This environment, the staff are amazing. It’s like a family. Everybody supports each other...your family’s our family, but as co-workers, we support each other too,” Debbie Jo stated.
“They say there is a ton of burnout in this business. Traditionally after five years...a lot of people don’t make it, because you take on the family’s burdens. But there’s something very rewarding about it at the end. I can’t imagine anything else as a profession for myself,” Joni said.
Joni has been a licensed funeral director for 29 years, Debbie Jo for 31 years.
Though Arthur Funeral Home eventually became part of the Dignity Memorial network in 1989 (Dignity Memorial owning over 2,000 funeral homes across North America, its head office in Houston, with a Canadian head office in BC), Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel still has that local feel.
The local business has 29 employees in total, 16 of which are full time, with 10 licensed funeral directors on the team.
Beyond the emotional ties with families, Debbie Jo said “there’s a physical part too. We want to create a memory picture for you, give you an opportunity to see your family member for the last time (looking their best, dressed their best, in dignity and at peace in a casket), better than seeing them in a hospital bed.”
Arthur Funeral Home was established on Wellington Street East by Jim Arthur in 1938.
Barton & Kiteley Funeral Home had its origins in 1946, founded by Leonard Barton.
Bill Kiteley partnered with Barton in the 1960s, eventually purchasing the business while retaining Barton’s name in the funeral home’s title.
The Arthur and Barton & Kiteley funeral homes went into partnership with each other in the early 1980s.
In Oct. 2017, the Barton & Kiteley site at 165 Brock St. was officially closed and put up for sale (the building hadn’t actually been used for seven years, despite being very well-maintained), the funeral facility on Wellington Street officially renamed the Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel.
The former Barton & Kiteley site is ideal for any type of use, not necessarily a funeral home.
Bill Kiteley remains involved at the Wellington Steet site (in fact, the Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel is the only funeral home in town with a dedicated, fixed chapel space).
But there’s something else people need to know.
“Leading up to that event (the Oct. 21 celebration), we’re also hosting a silent auction. Everything is on display at the Barton & Kiteley site on Brock Street,” Joni informed us.
“People can go through it. There are certain viewing hours, but if they want to come through at a different time, they can call us and set up a time, and we can meet them there and show them the items and bid on them,” Joni said.
The silent auction will close Oct. 20, the auction winners informed at the Oct. 21 celebration, with all proceeds from the auction going to the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Winter Games, to be held in Sault Ste. Marie Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
Included in the silent auction is a great deal of furniture, paintings, old vinyl record players (which still work), even a set of no-longer-needed but brand new tires from a funeral vehicle and a life size Star Wars cardboard cutout (and many other interesting miscellaneous items).
Viewing times are:
- 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday Oct. 12
9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday Oct. 15
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday Oct. 17
1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday Oct. 20
Those needing an alternate time for silent auction item viewing may go to the event’s Facebook page and contact Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel.
“Word of the silent auction is definitely getting out. There are a lot of unique things there,” Joni said.