By Ryan Cornell
WOODSTOCK -- The odds were stacked against Wilson Altaffer Hartman.
Following his parents' deaths when he was a child, Hartman bounced between foster homes and dropped out of school after the sixth grade. By the time he started his own business, W.A. Hartman Memorials, in 1934, the U.S. was still reeling from the Great Depression.
Despite those conditions, his business has managed to thrive for 80 years and added its third location in Woodstock last month.
Douglas Pence, general manager of W.A. Hartman Memorials, said Hartman would go door-to-door throughout the day to recent widows and relatives and take orders for monuments. At night, Hartman would engrave the stones in the basement of his Harrisonburg home, Pence said, and would transport the 400-pound monuments to the cemetery using the trunk of his car.
He did this for nearly a decade before opening his first shop in Harrisonburg.
Although the company expanded, adding a cemetery in Harrisonburg and another shop in Charlottesville, and Hartman died in 1995 at the age of 82, Pence said the emphasis on customer service and quality hasn't changed.
The Woodstock location primarily handles sales for Shenandoah County, and could add a sandblasting workshop where designs would be engraved into the stones.
Pence said any type of design can be engraved, including religious or military symbols, family crests, etchings of wildlife or outdoor scenes and photographs of the person memorialized in granite and bronze.
"A monument can actually tell a life story of a person," he said. "You can put symbols on there for jobs they used to have, for ranks they held, positions."
He said that as cremations become more popular, more people are buying cremation monuments, which include a space in the stone for urns.
The company also sells memorials for pets, starting at $50.
The granite, which is the most durable and popular type of stone ordered by customers, comes from Welch's Granite Company in Elberton, Ga.
"Welch's Granite has the same mentality that Mr. Hartman had: If I'm not going to put that stone in a cemetery for my mother, I'm not putting that stone in the cemetery for anybody," Pence said. "It has to be quality."
He said his job has helped him take a step back and reevaluate his life and priorities.
"Because in this business, you realize quickly that at some point in time, we're all going to pass away and you start to look at what's really important here in life," he said.
The company is now owned by Hartman's daughter and Pence's mother-in-law, June Smith. Pence said W.A. Hartman Memorials is partnered with 28 funeral homes and covers a large area from West Virginia to Williamsburg and Northern Virginia.
The Woodstock office currently has one area sales representative, Brandon Pence.
Where: 18719 Old Valley Pike, Edinburg
When: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Fri.; 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Sat.
Cost: Most memorials start at $500
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org