Eric Fithyan, the new owner of Chambers and James Funeral Homes, is pleased to be returning home.
A 2002 Brooke High School graduate and 2004 graduate of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, Fithyan said, "When I went away to mortuary school, I never thought I'd be able to come back."
He noted many young adults like himself have left the local area to find work and added he's thankful for the opportunity presented by Jennifer Chambers Ficca and Fred and Jerry Chambers, the funeral homes' previous owners.
"I just really want to say to the community that I'm grateful to be back," Fithyan said.
The Chambers said it was Fithyan's local roots and his experience in managing funeral homes that sold them on Fithyan.
"We wouldn't have sold to anyone out of town," said Jennifer, adding, "He made his own way (in the funeral business), and he has lots of ideas."
"He's got lots of energy," added Fred.
Fithyan and the Chambers marked the occasion with open houses at both locations that included live music, refreshments and a non-perishable food drive to benefit local charities.
Jennifer and Fred, who are brother and sister and had owned and operated the two funeral homes with Fred's wife Jerry, have been involved with the funeral business much of their lives.
Their father and mother, Floyd and Genevieve, took over Chambers Funeral Home in 1945 following the death of Floyd's brother, Fred L. Chambers, who opened it in 1931 at its present location at 1030 Main St., Wellsburg.
In 1974 the family acquired James Funeral Home, at 1245 Main St., Follansbee, when the current owner, Norma Gardner, decided to retire.
The Chambers said they aren't read to retire yet and plan to remain involved, assisting Fithyan with the operation of the two funeral homes.
But they are looking forward to having more time for themselves and their family, which includes several grandchildren and grandnephews and nieces.
"Fred and Jennifer will be here. They have been supporting me through this transition," said Fithyan.
While attending mortuary school, Fithyan worked for two and a half years for York, Pa.-based Heffner Funeral Homes.
Following graduation from mortuary school and Point Park University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree, he worked for three years for Beinhauer Family Funeral Homes of Pittsburgh, serving as manager of the Beinhauer-Fryer Funeral Home.
Fithyan went on to serve as director of bereavement, spirituality, and volunteer services for Cedars Community Hospice in Monroeville, Pa. He said the one-to-one contact he had with people facing terminal illness is something he'll always remember.
"I was able to touch people's lives and people touched my life. That is what drew me to the funeral business," he said.
Over the years Chambers and James Funeral Homes have expanded their services to reflect changing needs and technology, offering pre-need counseling, death education seminars, pet cremations, video presentations on the deceased during visitation and online obituaries and messages of condolence.
Fithyan said the funeral home has sold cemetery monuments for many years but visitors to the funeral home soon will be able to view them there.
He added the funeral home also will offer a variety of arrangements for those planning cremations as well as burials.
As a certified funeral celebrant through the Insight Institute, Fithyan also has been trained to officiate at funerals, a task that involves sharing information about the deceased from loved ones who are unable or uncomfortable speaking themselves.
In addition to the Chambers, Fithyan will be aided by long-time Chambers and James staff members Ron Schenk, a licensed funeral director; Wendy Craft, a pre-need counselor; Clara Davis, a funeral attendant; and Fithyan's parents, Ernie and Teresa, who will serve as part-time funeral attendants while continuing to hold their current full-time jobs elsewhere.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com.)