By Rosemary K. Otzman
“We’re home now,” said David C. Brown on Saturday as he sat in the funeral home that was so damaged by fire two years ago that he couldn’t use it until now.
“We’re finally home,” agreed Shelly Brown, David’s daughter, who will be taking over operation of the funeral home once her father decides to retire in the near future.
They officially moved in on Friday and were spending the week end working to put everything in order. There was just one person needing their services over the week end, and she would not be shown but would have graveside services only.
The decorator was fluttering around on Saturday tending to last-minute details. There is no wallpaper now; the decorator said that is out. No chair rails, either. That’s out, according to the decorator, so that saved Browns the cost of finished woodwork.
Shelly said the building is the same footprint as it was before the fire, but the back of the building is changed. Because the electrical fire started in the back and set the gas-filled vehicles in the garage on fire, the back had to be torn down to the ground.
Shelly said the fire marshal showed her where the electrical service arced from the fuse box. It would have cost $250,000 more to rebuild an apartment over the garage, so they decided against that expense.
Shelly and her family, who lived in the apartment, lost all their possessions when the fire started on Aug. 5, 2012. The community came together and brought clothes and personal items for all six of them.
She said they put six tables up in the vacant florist shop across the street from the funeral home and sorted through all the donations for her, her companion, and four children. What they didn’t need, they sent to Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
The florist building drew their interest and Shelly said it would be a great interim location for the funeral home. They moved in and were there for almost two full years. The parking is scant at the florist shop, but people were able to use the funeral home parking across the street.
So, what took so long for the funeral home to be rebuilt? David said he has been asked that a lot over the two years.
It was money.
David said he had nonstop negotiations with the insurance company. When that didn’t come up with enough money to do what was needed to rebuild, the Browns funded it themselves.
“We did everything to survive,” Shelly said, adding, “We love this community. We are so thankful the community has continued to support us even though we had to move locations.”
David said their local competition Higgerson & Neal Funeral Home helped them out, as did Crane Funeral Home in Romulus and for that they are grateful.
“So many friends in the community stepped forward and gave what they could,” David said.
“We are in business to do funerals and honor somebody’s life,” Shelly said.
“We can’t say enough about the community,” David added. “No matter where we were, the people supported us.”
David said the service hadn’t waned at the temporary location, but actually got better, because they went to extra efforts to provide service so families would stay with them.
Shelly said the back of the refurbished funeral home building is rearranged, with a gathering room for families and a kitchenette for their use. Shelly said when they were in the temporary building, families used the front area with tables to bring in food for mourners and so they felt they should provide a similar space in the refurbished building.
She said the five-car garage of the past has been cut down to three cars. The arrangement room/casket room is to the rear, with a partition inside.
The showing rooms have more comfortable seating for families but is in about the same configuration as before the fire. The sound system is upgraded, with wireless microphones. A one-way mirror in the back of the chapel allows the funeral to be monitored and music switched on more exactly. There is space in the back of the chapel if people want to videotape the service.
In the future, they will get the $50,000 generator they would like and podcast or webcast facilities. The basics for those services are in place.
Although the building was handicapped-accessible before the fire, now that has been improved with wider doors and every door having a crash bar, so one can never be locked in. The door handles now are levers of polished nickel.
The parking lot has been resurfaced and the drainage improved, which David said makes it safer for people attending funerals. All the plumbing is underground and a larger water pipe services the building.
There were three furnaces in the building before the fire; now there are six. The heating and cooling units have more zones. When a large crowd attends a funeral the temperature in the room goes up and these units help with providing comfort.
There now is a fire alarm and security alarm by Wyandotte, who wired the building.
When the David C. Brown Funeral Home opened at this site in 1982, John Januszyk, owner of the Sumpter Roller Rink, was the first funeral.
By Rosemary K. Otzman