Highlands Funeral Home Begins 53rd Year Of Locally And Family-Owned Service

| January 26, 2012

A large newspaper ad in January, 1959 extended an unusual invitation—to attend an open house at “a completely new, conveniently located, beautifully appointed Funeral Home… You will be pleased with its spacious interior and the detailed provisions we have made for your convenience and comfort.”

The “we” was unusual as well. Highlands Funeral Home at 3331 Taylorsville Road, began as a collaborative venture by six men who already owned and operated funeral homes around town: Alton E. Neurath, Lee E. Cralle Jr., Bird S. Owen Jr., James D. Dougherty, Robert C. Bosse and C. W. Schoppenhorst.

The ad explained that “this joint project is an additional facility and will not affect the original establishments of these six men, who will continue to operate their own funeral homes as before.”

The idea for Highlands Funeral Home was conceived much earlier, according to president and co-owner Robert Wagner, who joined the business in 1998 at age 30.

He is a fifth-generation funeral director, through the Bosse family line; his great-great-grandfather was a Butchertown cabinetmaker commissioned by the government to make caskets during the Civil War.

Co-owners Linda Owen and Robert Wagner flank the ‘Letting Go’ statue in the garden.

Co-owners Linda Owen and Robert Wagner flank the ‘Letting Go’ statue in the garden.

“During World War II, my great-uncle, Bob Bosse, wrote my father (Bill Wagner) that he thought the six funeral directors should pool their knowledge and experience into one home, with a general manager to run it, while keeping their separate homes.

They already worked cooperatively to run a livery service of hearses and limos,” he said. “Back then, this was the far-east end of town, and he realized that the population was moving in this direction. There aren’t many business ventures in which the competition goes in together to do something like this, but it worked.”

Last year alone, Highlands Funeral Home, now owned by the Wagners and Owens, served 475 families by following the traditions and meeting the standards that have made it the only area funeral home to have earned ten consecutive pursuit-of-excellence awards from the National Funeral Directors Association.

Vice president and co-owner Linda Owen, whose father thought mortuary school was no place for a woman, has been a funeral director at Highlands for more than 25 years.

She takes pride in its reputation for being “exceptionally good.”

“We make a large, computerized montage of about 40 photos that the family brings in, and give it to them as a thank-you; we show the photos on a video screen during visitation, and they help turn sadness into smiles,” she said. “There’s a large lounge for families, and one for children that has books and toys, even a video game. We understand how difficult it is for children to sit still during hours of visitation.”

Adults and youngsters alike appreciate the aviary that is home to lively, colorful birds; and the saltwater tank full of fish, living coral, and skittering crabs. Steps and a handrail help the youngest visitors see the soothing show.

Toys and games in the downstairs lounge keep kids occupied during visitations.

Toys and games in the downstairs lounge keep kids occupied during visitations.

Highlands Funeral Home’s chapel, which seats 110, is one of the area’s largest.

A garden, with benches and a waterfall, provides an additional place for quiet reflection.

Indoors, a baby grand piano is available for special musical selections.

Over the decades, Highlands has added cremation arrangements (for pets as well as people), an office for funeral insurance, and sponsorship of an annual salute to veterans.

Previously presented at nearby Bowman Field, the military remembrance was most recently held in conjunction with the veterans’ parade downtown.

The home’s “after care” services include an annual holiday remembrance service during which the names of the deceased are read, and families receive an ornament personalized with their loved one’s name and dates.

“Our traditions and standards come from the fact that we’re still locally and family-owned.

Most funeral home employees answer to corporations that are hundreds of miles away — but we live here, in Louisville,” Robert said.

Families receive a large montage of photos to ‘help turn sadness into smiles.

Families receive a large montage of photos to ‘help turn sadness into smiles.

“Many of our 21 employees are younger folks, and I’m proud that they treat their work as a calling. The most important thing is to hear a family say, ‘It was a great experience.’ And we’re going to stay family-owned, so that makes us happy, too.”

For more information about Highlands Funeral Home at 3331 Taylorsville Road, visit www.highlandsfuneralhome.com or phone 502.451.4420.

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