Adding a personal touch has helped Gilden Barton Funeral Home remain in business for 100 years.
"We are big on personalization. If someone said they wanted a motorcycle set up in here, we would set it up," said Stacey Barton, great-great-granddaughter of founder Otto Gilden and assistant to Ron Brubaker, funeral director and supervisor.
Otto Gilden started Gilden's Funeral Service Home in 1912 when he purchased a building on Eighth Avenue near 13th Street. The building, which had been built in 1888, had been home to a local doctor.
(Mirror photo by Walt Frank)
Owner Rosemary Barton (left) and Stacey Barton relax in front of the fireplace in the main viewing room at Gilden Barton Funeral Home.
(Mirror photo by Walt Frank)
Owner Rosemary Barton (left) and her granddaughter, Stacey Barton, fluff pillows in a casket in the casket room at Gilden Barton Funeral Home.
In 1927, he was joined by L. Harry Barton, who later married Ruth Gilden, the daughter of Otto Gilden. The name was then changed to the Gilden Barton Funeral Home.
In 1950, Gilden and Barton were joined by Gilden's grandson and Barton's son Otto Gilden "Doc" Barton. Brubaker joined the staff in 1981 and ran the funeral home with Doc Barton until his death in 2002.
Today, the business is owned by Doc's widow, Rosemary Barton. She said she is pleased to see the business reach 100 years.
"It is fantastic. It means a lot to our family," Rosemary Barton said. "We've had a lot of good help over the years. Our supervisors have done a great job."
Brubaker and Stacey Barton also are pleased to see the family business reach the milestone.
"It is pretty amazing that we've been open this long. That is because we have such a reputation with the community," Stacey Barton said. "They [families] come back because it is comfortable here."
The funeral home underwent some difficult times when in 2006 the Altoona Area School District decided to build a new junior high school. A number of buildings stood in the way of the proposed site. Some were acquired and demolished, but Rosemary Barton decided to take a different route.
First she accepted an offer from the school district for the appraised value of the building. Then she and her family decided to have the building moved to a new site and they paid for it.
The funeral home remained in business, working out of the Leslie E. Axe Funeral Home on Fourth Street for 4 years before reopening at its present location, 1401 Ninth Ave., in October 2010.
However, business suffered.
"We lost our identity during that time. It hurt the business quite a bit. I would tell them we are not in our building, then they would go somewhere else," Brubaker said. "They [families] identify with this building. Another place was foreign to them. It didn't work."
When asked why the family business has been successful over the years, Stacey Barton refers to a quote from Thomas Lynch, a funeral director and poet.
"He said a good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be," Stacey Barton said.
She said that Gilden Barton does that by how they treat the families who come to them.
"They become part of our family during the duration of their stay. The grieving process is important. We expect them to come here and laugh, be loud and cry and tell stories. They just don't come and go. A lot stay for the whole visitation, both the family members and visitors," Stacey Barton said. "If you leave here at night and feel some peace during a difficult time, we have done our job here."
John Eirkson, president of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association, said Gilden Barton has done a good job serving the community.
"You have to show compassion and empathy. You have to have good business sense," Eirkson said. "Everybody I've known who has been successful for many years has been committed to the community and has been doing it for generations."
Rosemary Barton is pleased the traditions will continue, noting her granddaughter Stacey will some day take over the business.
"I think it is great to have her carry on the tradition of the family all of these years," Rosemary Barton said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.