Front Royal funeral home to close after 96 years

Karl Schwille, manager of the Turner Robertshaw Funeral Home, stands outside his business on South Shenandoah Avenue in Front Royal. Friday was the funeral home's last day for business. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL ­- After 96 years in the business, Turner Robertshaw Funeral Home will close its doors March 2, leaving the 110-year-old Maddox Funeral Home as the only other provider in town.

Having both operated in Front Royal for about a century, the two companies had come to know each other well and have even offered a helping hand from time to time. Arthur Maddox, owner of Maddox Funeral Home, said the two companies have loaned each other hearses in times of high demand.

“We have known the families who run Turner Robertshaw for a long time. So to me, honestly, I am kind of saddened by the fact that they are closing up,” Maddox said. “We’ve always worked together. I’ve never felt like, ‘We’re out to beat you,’ or they’re out to beat us, or anything like that.”

Karl Schwille, manager of the Turner Robertshaw Funeral Home, feels the same way. Once, when he heard a fire broke out at Maddox, he said he offered for them use of the Turner Robertshaw chapel for services while they recovered.

Fortunately, the damage was minimal, and Maddox did not need to take him up on the offer. As  Schwille said, “There is no bad blood between Maddox Funeral Home and Turner Robertshaw Funeral Home.”

Arthur Maddox, president of Maddox Funeral Home, Inc., stands inside the chapel of his funeral home on West Main Street in Front Royal on Friday. Maddox and Turner Robertshaw Funeral Homes shared resources when demand required it, and now Maddox remains the only funeral home in town. Rich Cooley/Daily

Schwille was originally hired at Turner Robertshaw in 2008 after the home, under new management, slammed through a string of nine managers in 10 years. In 1998, the family funeral home had been sold to Keystone, a national funeral home company.

Schwille said that Keystone was considering closing the home when he came on board, largely because the home was struggling to collect the $125,000 it was owed by various families. As location manager,  Schwille was able to knock that figure down to less than $20,000 after his first few years, and Keystone decided to keep the doors open.

“We changed some things … When I came in and started demanding payment in full, they were paying,”  Schwille said. “It’s what you have to do to be able to survive.”

Keystone sold Turner Robertshaw to another national funeral home group, Service Corporation International, in 2010, and  Schwille stayed on as manager. Unfortunately, the industry took a steadily increasing hit as more and more people turned to cremation over burials.

“We’ve become less ritualistic as a society,” said Sueann Schwille, Karl Schwille’s wife and a therapist with Quiet Minds Psychotherapeutic Services. “Churches are less ritualistic, even the Catholic church is less ritualistic, more charismatic.”

The trend toward cremation started in the 1980s and 1990s, Karl Schwille said, which hurts the business since it takes three or four cremations to generate the revenue of one burial.

Despite this, the home saw decent sales through 2017, but Service Corporation International decided nevertheless to pull the plug on the location in January. Karl Schwille remembers his boss telling him the bad news.

“When you’re not expecting it, and your boss walks in and asks everybody that’s in the room to leave, closes the door and says, ‘There’s no good way to tell you this, but we’re closing the doors on March 2,'” Karl Schwille said, pausing, and letting the end of the sentence hang with a sigh.

Fortunately, all the Turner Robertshaw employees should be financially stable after the home closes.

Of the four part-time workers at Turner Robertshaw, two already had other full-time jobs and the other two have lined up work elsewhere. Karl Schwille accepted a position with a pre-arrangement funeral company in Winchester and will work on expanding his wife’s therapy company.

With Turner Robertshaw out of the picture, Karl Schwille said Maddox will be “the only game in town.” But Maddox says he feels no sense of victory in his sudden monopoly over the Front Royal funeral home industry.

In fact, Maddox worries about the impact of the town’s newly limited options.

“I always felt that people in Front Royal should have a choice,” he said. “Death is a part of what’s going on in your life, and you have a right to choose what style or whatever that you prefer.”

Karl Schwille said, “It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a choice, but it’s not like they’re not going to get good service from Arthur. He does a good service, he’s got a good crew.”

While Karl Schwille will still live in town, the biggest thing he’ll miss is his direct connection to the community. He recalled one woman he’s worked with for almost a decade.

“I did her mother, I did two of her children, and now, the final one, was her husband. That was over the course of 10 years,” he said. “That was a family that I was very involved with … I’m going to miss the families that I service.”