Compassion is a vocation for Lester Grummons, the proprietor and funeral director of Grummons Funeral Home at 14 Grand St. in Oneonta.
Grummons has owned the funeral home since 1970. At an early age he found he had a calling to help the bereaved. A native of Binghamton, Grummons began his career as an operating room technician in a Binghamton hospital. He had a friend who was going to mortuary school.
“Sometimes, when we had plans to go out, he would tell me he had to get ready for a funeral,” Grummons said. “I would go and help him set up chairs or do flower arrangements. I found I had a knack for it and I was interested.
“He suggested I go to mortuary school, so I did.”
After completing a year of mortuary school and a year of apprenticeship to obtain his license, Grummons went to work as an accountant with IBM.
“I was an accountant for seven years with IBM, but even then I freelanced at funeral homes,” Grummons said. “It was a great way to make a little extra money, and I was raising a family. I had my license, so it made sense.”
In 1970, Walter Rothery Funeral Home came up for sale and Grummons decided to leave his job, move his family to Oneonta, and purchase the business.
“It is a vocation, a calling,” Grummons said.
“People need to go through the grief process. They need to share. It is good to let people talk about the deceased. I like to help them create something to help this process, so people understand a life has been lived.
“Grief shared is grief diminished.”
The funeral home has been in the same location since 1922 when Rothery purchased the Victorian-era house and moved his business from a storefront on Main Street.
“Back then, a lot of funeral homes were also furniture stores,” Grummons said. “The cabinet maker would make the coffins. Everything was done in the home. The body would be laid out for the family viewing and the coffin would be brought to the house. They would process from the house to the cemetery. It was a two or three day event.”
There have been many changes in funeral services in the past 40 years.
“When I opened in 1970 it was more traditional,” Grummons said. “There was a visitation and the deceased was placed in a casket. Over the years there have been more cremations and memorial services. Sometimes the deceased is not even here. We do more with video and story books.”
Grummons said the most important thing he does is communicate with the surviving family and friends to ensure they have a venue for grieving and honoring the deceased.
“We try to consummate a relationship with the family,” Grummons said. “We help them create something meaningful. It is important to continue to be available to the family. During the event there are people all around. It is afterwards that I find it is important to continue to talk to the family members, to make sure they are alright.”
Grummons Funeral Home has been a member of Dignity Memorial - a consortium of funeral homes across the country — for 17 years. The membership allows Grummons access to services he might not otherwise be able to provide, including national transferability of preplanned arrangements, travel services, a 24-hour compassion helpline and an online memorial.
“We have a lot of overhead,” Grummons said. “With the cars and the embalming equipment, the television and video equipment, utilities and caskets — it gets expensive. This group allows me to provide a lot of services that I probably couldn’t do on my own. Plus we share knowledge and experiences.”