Funeral Groups Part Ways After 67 Years

February 7, 2011
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imageReflecting the rapid changes in the death care industry, two Seattle-area funeral entities are parting ways after 67 years. Bleitz Funeral home gave 90-day notice to terminate its contract with People?s Memorial Association (PMA), effective March 20, 2006. Service Corporation International, (SCI) the Wall Street-traded corporation that has owned Bleitz for the past 10 years cited insufficient profits in the deal. In addition, SCI cancelled contracts which five other area funeral homes had with PMA, including Miller-Woodlawn in Bremerton and Purdy and Walters with Cassidy in Everett.

People?s Memorial Association is a non-profit organization which was founded in 1939 by a group of local citizens who were outraged by the high prices and high pressure sales tactics of the funeral home industry. At the time, no Seattle area funeral home would even offer the economical option of cremation. PMA was founded on the principals of the cooperative movement and its leaders were able to convince local funeral director, James C. Bleitz to offer its members simple, dignified cremation and burial. Bleitz Funeral Home passed from family to corporate ownership in the 1990?s–part of a wave of corporate consolidation in the funeral industry.

?Today, when a person says ?I don?t want any fuss, just cremate my body and scatter my ashes? or ?Just put me in a plain box and place me in the ground,? they can thank the founders of People?s Memorial for the vision to make this possible,? states John Eric Rolfstad, Executive Director of PMA. As of 2003, over 63% of Washington state residents now choose cremation. The national average is 28%. Over 168,000 Washington state residents have joined People?s Memorial Association since its inception. Some 111 affiliates nationwide have followed in the footsteps of PMA. The Funeral Consumer?s Alliance serves as the national voice for these non-profit memorial societies.

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?The spark that ignited this whole transformation of the death care industry really started right here in Seattle with a small group of concerned citizens who met in each other?s homes and banded together for the needs of consumers,? says Rolfstad. ?The fact that the corporate owner of Bleitz is canceling this relationship after 67 years reflects the challenges that the traditional corporate funeral homes are facing in light of the lower profit margins for cremation. The cost of cremation can easily be one-tenth the cost of traditional burial,? says Rolfstad. According the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral cost $6,500, plus cemetery expenses. PMA offers simple cremation for $599 and complete funeral services including a metal casket for $2,299.

People?s Memorial Association has signed new contracts with 14 funeral homes in western and central Washington, effective March 20 to serve its members. There will now be 5 locations in King County, instead of just the one offered by Bleitz.

PMA members now will have a choice between twelve traditional brick-and-mortar style funeral homes owned by the Alderwoods Group and two funeral services which are part of the new wave in the industry. Steven Barton, of Barton Family Funeral Service, offers two arrangements offices in Renton and Kirkland, WA. For families who wish to have a chapel service he has contracts to rent area churches, which he finds is a much more efficient use of resources.

Both Alderwoods and Barton also will serve PMA members in Kitsap County and on the Olympic Peninsula.

The new contract also stipulates that these funeral providers will offer PMA member families the option of viewing the deceased without requiring embalming, to the extent allowed by law. In addition, the PMA contracted funeral homes will work with a growing number of families who wish to conduct home funerals.

Members of People?s Memorial Association who use one of the contracted funeral homes are entitled to the PMAdvantage?No sales pressure, no non-sense pricing, no surprises as well as third party quality assurance and advocacy. Lifetime membership is only $25. To find out more about PMA visit http://www.peoplesmemorial.org or call 206-325-0489.

Source: John Eric Rolfstad – PEOPLE’S MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION

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