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Jones to retire after decades of serving others in need

Funeral director has been in the business for about 65 years

A longtime Altoona funeral director has decided it’s time to retire.

Robert M. “Bob” Jones Jr., 79, owner and director of Jones Funeral Home, 1222 13th Ave., will complete his career on May 31.

“There are two reasons — it is time and I have some medical issues,” Jones said. “It is time to stop.”

Jones took over the family business, founded in 1915 by his grandfather, Edgar W. Jones, in July 1965, after the sudden passing of his father, Robert M. Jones Sr.

Jones admits he hadn’t planned on a career as a funeral director, but his father had other ideas.

“I wanted to do something with the outdoors. I wanted to do something with animals,” Jones said. “My father said ‘I could get someone else to run this, but I would like it to be you,’ so I went to mortuary school.”

Jones got his license when he was 21 and was a funeral director for 17 years before “I decided this was what I wanted to do.” He has been a licensed funeral director for 57 years and in the business for about 65 years.

He took over the business at the age of 22 — he only had his license for six months — when his father died. He admits he faced some challenges.

“Being a young age was the primary challenge. When he died, I was 22 and looked like I was 16. You wonder how much faith someone has in a 22-year-old,” Jones said.

“Bernie Krise, who had worked for my dad for about 15 years, if not for him, I wouldn’t have made it because of my youth,” Jones said. “He took good care of me; he had a good relationship with me.”

Jones grew to love the business over the years and especially enjoyed helping people.

“I enjoyed most the people that I serve. You think when they walk in, there will be a lot of crying. It does happen, but with the majority of the people I deal with, there is more laughter than crying,” Jones said.

He said he gets the greatest satisfaction when people tell him how good they have made their loved one look.

“One time I had an accident victim, the coroner said he couldn’t be fixed. His mother said, ‘You gave me my son back.’ You can’t put a price on that,” said Jones, who estimates he has done between 4,000 and 5,000 funerals over the years.

He said the biggest change over the years has been the increasing number of cremations.

“We are doing 50 percent now, about seven years ago the number was 30 to 35 percent,”Jones said.

The Jones family have been members of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament — located across the street from the funeral home — for more than 90 years. The funeral home has served the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown by conducting funerals of six Catholic bishops.

“Our firm has done all six, my grandfather two, my father two and I have done two. We are the only firm in the area that has done them. … That is one of the things we are most proud of,” Jones said.

Jones is a familiar face in the diocese, said spokesman Tony DeGol.

“He is an usher and generously supports the parish by sponsoring the radio broadcast of the Sunday Mass and parish calendars. We have worked closely with him over the years and value his professionalism. He always does whatever is necessary to accommodate our unique needs and the wishes of the families,” DeGol said. “Bob’s retirement is the end of an era in Altoona. We are grateful for all he has done to serve the community and the Church, and we wish him many blessings in the next chapter of his life.”

Jones said it takes special qualities to become a funeral director.

“You need to be a people person, you have to like people and take care of their needs at a difficult time in their life. They call us funeral directors, most people have no idea where to go and what to do. There are things to take care of such as veterans benefits, Social Security — people don’t worry about these things until someone dies,” Jones said. “I know where to go and what to do. If I don’t know, I will find out.”

For those considering entering the profession, Jones said they should know it is a very difficult job.

“You give up a lot, but if you are willing to do it and serve people, you will do well. I have given up Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas dinners, children’s events. You work 24/7. I answer the phone in the middle of the night. People are surprised to hear my voice. People want to talk to me and not an answering machine,” Jones said.

Jones is believed to be the oldest active funeral director in the area.

“Bob is just a gentleman. He has been a mentor of mine, an all around good guy, very dedicated, hard working and a good family man, said longtime friend Jeff Somers, owner/supervisor of Myers-Somers Funeral Home, Altoona. “We all shared ideas over the years, and Bob has been a role model to many of us.”

Jones is well respected by others in the profession.

“My wife and I traveled with him and Jean to national funeral directors conventions. He was pleasant to travel with. We had a longstanding relationship. He has been an effective leader and advocate for the funeral profession,” said Dave Mason, vice president of Stevens Mortuary and supervisor at Plank, Stitt and Stevens Funeral Home in Hollidaysburg.

“He has always been super nice, a great guy. He was very welcoming and always accepting, there weren’t many females in the business when I met him about eight years ago,” said Kelly Burket, president of Keystone Funeral Directors Association and funeral director at Mauk and Yates Funeral Home, Altoona.

Jon C. “Jack” Russin is another longtime friend and hunting partner in years gone by.

“Bob was a true professional who served his families with great dignity and compassion. He has been a great mentor to young adults pursuing a career in the funeral industry. Bob truly cared for the families he had the privilege of serving,” said Russin, supervisor/funeral director of the Jon C. Russin Funeral Home, Bellwood.

Jones has plans for his retirement, including attending some upcoming family weddings.

“I want to go fishing on the Juniata River again. We go from Mifflintown to Mexico. We fish for smallmouth bass. I fish for whatever I can catch, carp, catfish. I just like to fish. I also will be hunting with my daughter Nicole (Kimmel) and working around the house,” Jones said.

Jones said he is not certain about the future of the family business.

“We have two entities that are interested. I hope it will remain a funeral home,” Jones said. “I want it to stay this way, it would be hard coming out of the church to see something else.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

The Jones file

Name: Robert M. Jones Jr.

Age: 79

Position: Retiring as owner/director of Jones Funeral Home

Education: 1960 graduate of Altoona Catholic High School, 1963 graduate of the Cincinnati School of Mortuary Science, 1965 graduate of Saint Francis College with a degree in business

Family: Wife, Jean; daughters, Ann, Pam, Nicole and Renee; and 10 grandchildren

Quote: “My key to success is being there and doing what I am supposed to do. When someone says, ‘You need to do this,’ I do it. I do what is needed for the family at that particular time.”

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