WELLSBURG - Meeting the needs of area residents coping with the loss of a loved one has been a family tradition for the owners of Chambers and James Funeral Homes, who are celebrating the business' 80th anniversary.
Brother and sister Fred and Jennifer Chambers noted many things have changed since their uncle and aunt, Fred L. and Bertha Chambers, opened Chambers Funeral Home at its present location at 1030 Main St. in 1931.
Fred's wife Jerry, who joined the business in 1993, said in those days many funerals were held at the home of the deceased's family under the direction of local funeral directors.
Jennifer said the practice is much less common today, though Chambers Funeral Home arranged a funeral at a home as recently as 1980.
She added the funeral home also has overseen visitations at local churches, another practice that was more common in the funeral home's early days.
Following the death of Fred L. Chambers, his brother Floyd and his wife, Genevieve, took over the funeral home in 1945. The pair expanded both the business and their family, adding rooms, enclosing its porch and altering the interior structure while raising three children, Fred, Jeannine and Jennifer.
Jennifer said her mother was known for her exceptional leadership and office management skills. Each year the family presents a scholarship in her honor to a hardworking Brooke High School business student.
Jennifer recalled how her mother worked long hours into the night while sending her husband and son on ambulance calls at various hours of the day.
Fred explained Chambers was among many funeral homes that operated ambulance services.
"It was very difficult because we'd be lining a funeral up and then we'd have an ambulance call and two guys would have to go," he said, adding, "I don't know how my parents did it. They never got any sleep."
When the Brooke County Emergency Medical Service took over that service in 1974, Chambers Funeral Home donated two vehicles for their use.
In the same year, Norma Gardner decided to retire from operating James Funeral Home in Follansbee and approached the Chambers family about purchasing it, Jennifer said.
She and her husband, Judson, had purchased the funeral home in the 1940s from the James brothers, who had opened it in 1929.
When Judson died, she continued to operate it for some time with the help of Wirt Davis, Clyde Walnohas, Mary Kocher and others.
Jennifer said at the time it was unusual for a woman to be the chief operator of a funeral home.
She recalled that after purchasing James Funeral Home, Fred spent many hours at James while his father worked at Chambers.
Jennifer said her father was active in the community, playing a key role in starting the city's Little League program and aiding such causes as the Salvation Army, while remaining involved with the family business up to his death in 1999.
Jerry, Fred's high school sweetheart and wife of 45 years, joined the family business in 1993. Prior to that, she had worked as a nurse at Weirton General Hospital, the Brooke County Health Department and Women Infants and Children.
The Chambers said they have been blessed to have had many dedicated professionals working with them.
Assisting them are Ron Schenk, Angela Eisnaugle and Chad Cagot, all licensed funeral directors; Barbara Welsh, Ilene Davis and Donald Landmeyer.
Jennifer said over the years services provided by the funeral home have expanded to include much more than at-need funeral services, with many coming to them for pre-need counseling, death education seminars and pet cremations.
Chambers and James Funeral Homes also have adopted new features, with video presentations reflecting the deceased's life joining photo memory boards during visitations at the family's request.
The Chambers added family members and friends, near and far, have the opportunity to read obituaries online, send online condolences and arrange for a card or flowers to be sent through the funeral homes' website.
But the new technology hasn't replaced the personal approach they take in helping those they serve, said Fred, who has worked in the family business for 46 years.
He and Jennifer, who has worked there for 38 years, were asked if their parents had imparted any particular advice to them.
"My mother always said, treat other people the way you'd want to be treated," said Jennifer, invoking the Golden Rule.
"Basically it's service first and thinking about the family (of the deceased) first," said Fred.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)