When it comes to those painful times when a loved one passes away, there’s nothing more important than family.
To lean on, to cry with, to remember — family provides support during those very difficult times.
For 90 years, the Ertel Funeral Home has provided support from their family to countless others during times of need. Death is one of the most difficult times in life.
This year, Ertel Funeral Home and Crematory celebrated its 90th anniversary and will have a community gathering with lunch and entertainment on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Parque de Vida Pavilion from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Back in 1921, J.W. Ertel went into the funeral home business in Cortez. In 1936, the business was moved to its current location at 42 N. Market Street. The business went from J.W. Ertel to his son Walter Ertel to its current owners Keenan and Beverlee Ertel, who have had the business since 1993.
Back in June of 2005, the fourth generation of Ertels joined the business when Keenan and Beverlee’s daughter Kinsey Huff and her husband Jake Huff joined the staff.
“It really wasn’t my plan to come back and join the family business,” Kinsey said.
But she’s happy she did.
“We’re proud to be part of a business that’s been here for 90 years. And in the same family,” she said.
For Keenan, he wasn’t sure that there would be a fourth generation of the Ertel family in the family business. But when it happened, he was thrilled.
“It was a tremendous delight,” he said about finding out that his daughter would be joining the staff back in 2005.
In an emotional and sensitive business like a funeral home, trust, comfort and making people feel at ease is the most important aspect, Keenan and Kinsey said. Making a grieving family feel as comfortable as possible is their goal. Making a difficult situation as bearable as possible is always their hope, she added.
“The level of trust and rapport is so important,” Kinsey said. “They have to feel comfortable with you.”
Keenan said the number-one lesson that his father taught him was to treat everyone with respect.
“He taught me to have a genuine respect to the people you serve — no matter who walked through your door. Death forces people into my front door and it doesn’t care what race, color or creed they are. You have to have a binding respect for who walks through that door,” he said.
He has passed those same lessons down to his daughter.
After 90 years in Cortez, many, maybe most, of the people who choose Ertel to handle their funeral or cremation services, know the Ertel family.
“Sometimes we know the family and sometimes we cry right along with the family,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey, 32, met Jake, 35, while they were going to Mesa State College in Grand Junction. Even though she was working in a funeral home in Grand Junction, her parents never pressured her to return to Cortez and become that fourth generation Ertel to work in the family business.
“I never felt any pressure or expectations that I should come back and work in the business,” she said. The best decisions are the ones you make on your own.”
Keenan didn’t immediately join the family business either. He was doing some cattle ranching in 1977 when his dad was in a little bind and needed help at the funeral home.
“It kind of just fit,” Keenan said about deciding to join the family business.
Now 60, Keenan said he’s aiming at retiring in his 62nd year. He feels comfortable that Kinsey and Jake are ready to take over when that time comes. “It’s similar to how it worked with my father. Hopefully it will be a smooth transition when we step away,” he said. “They are already pretty well versed on everything there is to do.”
Currently, Ertel Funeral Home has 10 employees, nine are full time.
Keenan reflected on how his grandfather first got into the funeral home business and even has J.W. Ertel’s license on the wall. It has the date “September 26, 1921.”
Keenan’s grandfather was ranching 160 acres in an area called Ackman near Pleasant View prior to 1920. In the winters, he would go to Denver and work in mortuaries. Once his training was done, he came back to Cortez full time and opened his funeral home business.
One of the reasons for Saturday’s community gathering is to recognize three generations of the Ertel family. Walter is now 85.
Following the footsteps of her great-grandfather, grandfather and father is a source of pride and responsibility for Kinsey, just like it was for Keenan when he followed his grandfather and father.
“It’s a humbling experience knowing that you are at the helm of a business that was started by my grandfather 90 years ago,” Keenan said.
“It’s been a neat opportunity to work alongside my parents,’ Kinsey said.
The rewards of working in such a unique business far outdistance the challenges, Kinsey said.
“It’s a very rewarding job. There are days that it’s tough and it can be depressing. If we can make the (grieving) process a little easier, then we’ve done our job,” she said.
For 90 years, Ertel Funeral Home has been in business. A family business that knows the importance of family during those grieving times.
Reach Dale Shrull at [email protected]