Until recently, Wayne Carter never considered himself much of a historian.
But now, as Roth Funeral Chapel heads to auction, the funeral director and pastor at Newton Creek Baptist Church feels called to bring some of the standards and traditions associated with the funeral business to the next generation.
"The funeral business is like any other business. Some people (say), 'Let's just cut corners and get this thing over with and get the service done.' But the funeral is the last thing you get to do for a loved one, and I like to make it as individual as the person was," Carter said.
Roth Funeral Chapel has operated at 433 Monroe St. since 1914. The business opened in 1860 at a frame house two blocks away, and its current location is thought to be the first building in Kentucky constructed for use as a funeral home, according to Hutch Hutcheson, funeral director and co-owner of Lindsey Funeral Home. The two-story structure and the 1.3 acres it occupies will be auctioned at 10:07 a.m. today.
Carter said he started working at Roth Funeral Chapel when he was 18, but changed directions and became Baptist minister. After 20 years, he returned to the field to receive his funeral director's license in 1998. The way he sees it, the two careers go hand-in-hand.
"You really have to have a love for people and a desire to serve. Your gratification is walking through the process with the family and helping them," he said.
Like every business, funeral homes have seen their share of changes over the years.
Before World War II, visitation and even embalming took place at private residences, which is why a couple of portable embalming tables have been found in the process of cleaning out Roth Funeral Chapel. Those services gradually moved to funeral homes and by 1975, Carter was surprised when he was called to do a home visitation.
Now, home visitations are even rarer, and there's no place for a portable embalming table except in a museum.
Acceptance of cremation has grown, and families are seeking more non-traditional ways to honor the departed, such as celebrations of life or services that don't involve a minister or other religious figure, Carter said.
And more formerly family-run businesses have been bought by conglomerates. At one point, the Canadian-based Loewen Group owned both Roth Funeral Chapel and Lindsey Funeral Home, but the businesses returned to local ownership under the name Evergreen Services of Paducah around 2006, according to Hutcheson.
Roth Funeral Chapel vacated the Monroe Street building and relocated to Lindsey Funeral Home, 226 N. Fourth St., about three months ago, when the owners decided adapting to new regulations about the disposal of hazardous materials would prove too costly for the business. Although owned by the same company, Roth and Lindsey served a slightly different clientele until the merger, Hutcheson said.
"It became apparent several years ago that the families we were serving at both places knew we had merged, and increasingly they were making decisions to have the funeral conducted at Lindsey because the facility here was larger and more modern," Hutcheson said.
Except for a few stacks of books and Bibles, the building was nearly empty Thursday afternoon. The funeral home has been cleared of nearly 3,000 pounds of old records, which an historical society has taken for geneaology research. And the home has contacted the Gupton-Jones School of Mortuary Science in Nashville, Tenn., to donate its old embalming table in honor of Jim Craig, a part-time funeral home employee.
But, as funeral directors know, certain things live on even after what appears to be the end. Carter hopes a tradition of service in the funeral business will be included on that list.
"Service is the one thing that you really can't put a price tag on. You can buy a casket over the internet, but to find a funeral firm where someone will go the extra mile ... you can't pay a person for that," Carter said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.