Funeral home marks 100th year

STATE COLLEGE – The funeral service industry may have changed over the years, but the philosophy of the Koch Funeral Home has not.

“We have been here for 100 years and have always strived to give excellent service to families. Our theme is neighbors helping neighbors, and we have built our business on that philosophy,” said F. Glenn Fleming, funeral director/supervisor.

Now Fleming, who is also owner and president of John B. Brown Funeral Home in Huntingdon, is taking that view of service statewide.

Fleming has been elected president of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association.

“I didn’t set out to become president, but I promised them I would do the best job that I could,” he said. “I always wanted to give back to the local community and also the funeral community by volunteering and being asked to serve on committees to develop protocol and standards for funeral services today.”

The funeral business has changed over the years because society has changed, Fleming said.

“We aren’t as religious and family oriented as we used to be,” he said. “While the premise of the funeral is the same, you are here to serve the community in the role of caretaker of the dead. Funeral homes don’t dictate what the service will be; the public does. Funeral homes have needed to adapt their services to the needs of the people.”

The typical viewing and funeral is now done in two days rather than three while the number of cremations has increased significantly.

“When I started, it [cremation] was about 3 percent; now it is approximately 40 percent,” Fleming said. “Cremation is a method of disposition of the dead body. It doesn’t interfere with the ceremonial part, but we have a lot more sectarian services today than in the past.”

Harry Newton Koch and his wife, Margaret Campbell Koch, opened the Koch Funeral Home in their home at South Burrowes Street and West College Avenue.

In 1913, the home served 26 families. The number has increased to 260 in 2012.

The Kochs built a separate funeral parlor beside their home in 1935.

The business remained in the Koch family until 1973, when Fleming, who was working as a mortician at Hershey Medical Center after spending 10 years working at what is today’s Plank, Stitt & Stevens Funeral Home in Hollidaysburg, bought the business.

He said he was “recruited” by Hubert Koch, the son of the founders.

“I was not looking for a job,” he said. “I was working at a nice modern hospital. One has to examine why they got into funeral service. My goal was to own and operate a funeral home, and this gave me the opportunity to do that.”

Fleming, 72, said he plans to retire in about three years. In 2014, he will mark 50 years as a licensed funeral director.

In 1978, the funeral home purchased a tract of land from Meyer Dairy Farm and built a new funeral home southeast of State College on South Atherton Street in College Township.

“We knew this area was going to grow, and we knew the downtown was going to become an unsatisfactory place to have a funeral home. It [downtown] was more student- and family-oriented,” Fleming said. “I took a chance, and it worked out well. We couldn’t have found a better place.”

Before the home moved to College Township, some famous visitors passed through its doors, including presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.

Eisenhower attended the funeral of his sister-in-law, Helen Eakin Eisenhower, wife of Penn State President Milton S. Eisenhower, in 1954.

Nixon attended the funeral of his uncle Leland Warren Nixon, a local potato farmer and agriculture professor in 1973.

More recently, in 2012, Koch Funeral Home handled the arrangements for the funeral of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

Fleming and Paterno had become friends over the years.

“I probably knew him as well as anyone knew him without being in the athletic family,” Fleming said. “It was an honor to be asked to do it. We wanted to keep it as private as we could. That was the most high profile funeral we handled, but we have handled a lot of important people through Penn State.”

The Koch Funeral home is well-respected, said John Erickson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association.

“The Koch Funeral Home has been one of the leading edge funeral homes in the state of Pennsylvania,” he said. “They have provided quality services for the families which they serve, but in addition to that, they have provided community services for the bereaved after the funeral which makes them unique.”