On October 2nd, 2011, we welcomed the community to join us in celebrating the grand opening of our new Watford Chapel. Here are some photos from the day.
On November 11th, 2010 West Elgin had the opportunity to honour some of their veterans. A commemorative coin with the poppy insignia and the veteran's name engrave were presented by the Honorable Joe Preston M.P. Elgin Middlesex and Bill Denning of Denning Funeral Directors.
Left to Right: Bill Denning, Joe Preston, Albin Kahnt, George Cook, Bing Humphrey, Duncan Tait, Les Sewell, Scotty Bell and Charlie Cronkite
Left to Right: Stuart Patterson, Les Welch, Remi Vanraes, John Shone, Dan Perovich and Reubin "Junior" Tobias
CANADIAN FUNERAL NEWS -
2007Four Generations of Denning Brothers
Bill and Brett Denning expand the family tradition in South-western Ontario
by Lisa Johnston
The Denning family has been firmly rooted in the funeral industry for over three-quarters of a century. Following in their great-grandfather’s footsteps, Bill and Brett Denning pursued careers as funeral directors and more recently business owners with the purchase of three funeral homes in as many years. Through the acquisitions, they hope to continue the family tradition of providing compassionate funeral service in south-western Ontario.
Basil Denning initiated the family business opening Denning Brothers Funeral Home in the small town of Strathroy, Ont. in 1925. Although Bill and Brett are no longer directly involved with the Strathroy funeral home, they have remained strongly tied to the family and the funeral home tradition. (Denning Brothers continues to operate to this day under the ownership of their grandfather Bill and his brother Alan along with their sons Rick and Brad.)
Acquiring his funeral director’s licence in 1998 from Humber College, Bill interned in London before accepting a job at Padfield Funeral Home in Rodney, Ont. Younger brother Brett followed in his footsteps graduating in 2002. After attaining experience in the industry, including at Denning Brothers, Brett joined Bill in the quest to purchase their own funeral business.
“Brett and I decided we wanted to strike out on our own and began approaching some local funeral homes to let them know that we were looking to purchase a small-town funeral home that we could operate,” says Bill. “We went back to see Jim Harper a second time a few months later just to say hello and he let us know he was considering retiring. So we did a little back and forth and were able to come to an agreement.”
Located in Watford, Ont., Harper Funeral Home was well established and needed minimal cosmetic upgrades. Although Bill and Brett took ownership of the facility in 2005, they continued to work elsewhere -- Brett at Denning Brothers in Strathroy and Bill at Padfield Funeral Home in Rodney.
“Those first few years were very challenging,” explains Bill. “We split our time between our current jobs and Harper Funeral Home. Fortunately our mother, Becky (also a funeral director), was able to step into the management position at Harper’s. Our dad, Randy, is also a licensed funeral director and he pitches in as well but he is also busy operating Thames EMS which provides ambulance service to London, St. Thomas and the surrounding area. Without our mom and dad’s support, none of this would have ever happened.”
Despite the hectic workload, the brothers were presented with the opportunity to purchase their second funeral home -- Ronn E. Dodge Funeral Home in Forest, Ont. Taking ownership in February of 2007, Brett officially resigned from Denning Brothers to manage the new acquisition and moved to the small town of Forest.
But Bill and Brett were not finished yet. As a dedicated employee at Padfield Funeral Home for seven years, Bill had the first opportunity to purchase the long-standing business from owner Jim Price. When the deal was finalized this past April, the Denning brothers became owners of three funeral homes and a visitation centre in the town of West Lorne just east of Rodney.
“For me it’s a dream come true,” says Bill. “I feel like I am home in Rodney. I’m getting married to a girl from West Lorne, one town away, where our visitation centre is located, and we had really hoped to be able to stay here and raise our family.”
The four facilities are located within an hour drive of each other and Bill says the family has been accepted in all of the small towns.“It has made the transition much easier on all of us. Along with an existing staff of wonderful support people, our sister Lesley became our office manager and our brother Josh is a paramedic that helps with removals on a part-time basis. All six of us in our family are now involved, something we are very proud of.”
In addition to having strong family support, the Dennings were also fortunate to receive assistance from all three of the previous owners. Bill believes this has made the transition easier on both the budding entrepreneurs and the community where the funeral homes are located.
“Jim (Price) is going to remain with me for a period of three years and then after that we’ll talk about what’s going to happen,” says Bill. “I’ve worked with him for over seven years now and during that time he made sure that the community was comfortable with me, introducing me whenever he had an opportunity and allowing me to develop relationships with the people. In a sense the transition had kind of already been started.”
While Harper officially retired from funeral business in 2007 and will be acknowledged for 50 years of service to the funeral industry this year, Ronn Dodge has agreed to assist Brett on an on-call basis with families that request his services as well as cover holiday periods.
Aside from keeping ties with the original owners, the Dennings have also kept the former names of all the facilities.
“The names of all the chapels remain the same,” says Bill. “First of all, we purchased these businesses and paid a considerable amount of money for goodwill and for the name that we purchased. So it was a financial decision initially. Second of all “¦ it was pretty obvious the people in the communities did not want the names to change.”
Minimal interior and exterior changes were required as all four buildings have been well maintained and updated through the years. While the visitation centre is a satellite location for Harper Funeral Home, the three licensed facilities all contain good-sized chapels.
“We do not have reception facilities at this point. The largest of our locations, which is the community of Forest, is probably about 2,500 people and what we are finding is that it is still a very strong church-based community. We still have volunteers and workers who are quite willing and able to look after our families with post-funeral gatherings. When the time comes and that is no longer the case, then we will certainly be prepared to look at reception facilities.”
Although the Dennings have had rapid growth the last three years, they have no immediate plans to acquire more facilities but will instead focus on streamlining their operations. However, Bill says as many baby boomer funeral directors are nearing retirement, opportunities for passionate new owners abound.
“I think funeral directors who are thinking about selling have been watching and looking at people in the business,” says Bill. “It’s not necessarily the bottom dollar at this stage in the game for a lot of them and it is important for some to sell to somebody who is going to carry on the tradition of serving their community in a fashion that has reflected what they built up. And we really hope that we can continue doing that and that our predecessors can sit back and relax and smile because things are being done they way they had hoped.”
Bill adds, “I think there are probably pros and cons to selling to an independent or a corporate. I think the advantage of selling to an independent is that you still get that local owner face showing up the day of the visitation, the day of the funeral and establishing that personal relationship with these small communities. I don’t think that is always the case when you sell to a corporate.”
Growing up with two parents licensed in the funeral trade and living above a funeral home was likely the guiding force behind both brothers pursuing careers in the industry. Bill says it was destiny as his parents met at Humber College in that late ’70s.
“I grew up living above the family funeral home business so I was always around it as a child and it always seemed a natural choice for me,” says Bill. “Then I went off to Humber and fell in love with the things that I was learning and I still love what I’m doing today.”
When asked how the family manages their working relationship, Bill answers that close personal ties have been the key to their success. “Before our business partnership we had heard nothing but horror stories about families working together. But my brother and I and all of us in my immediate family have such a really good strong relationship that it has been great. When we’ve had issues we’ve worked it out; we’ve talked about it. We deal with things right away and it has worked out really well.”
With longevity as a family in the funeral industry, Bill and Brett are also proud that they have purchased funeral homes that also have a long tradition of serving their respective communities -- the youngest operation is 50 years old. As a result, the Dennings will combine their talent, resources and passion to serve south-western Ontario with the highest standards of funeral service, a recipe that is sure to lead to success in the four communities they now call home.
WEST ELGIN CHRONICLE - 2004
Jim Price, left, and Bill Denning, right of Padfield Funeral Home met with Bill Prieksaitis, centre and announced a new memorial service at the West Elgin Nature Reserve last week. ... The West Elgin Nature Club is getting support from a new memorial service offered by Padfield Funeral Homes. Trees at the West Elgin Nature Reserve on Downie Line will be affixed with a name plate honouring the memory of someone lost to be hung on a tree in the memorial forest. Friends and family of the deceased will be able to purchase a plaque through Padfield’s. The club wants to continue to raise money for the memorial forest which lines the front of the nature reserve. “More than just a fitting tribute, this program provides for trees that shelter our wildlife, reduce water and wind erosion and contribute to the purity of the air we breathe,” said Ken Neil, club member. “This program will be accompanied by an annual memorial service to commemorate friends and family lost over the preceding year,” said Jim Price, President of Padfield Funeral Homes. For information about the new program, contact Bill Denning at Padfield Funeral Homes at 785-0810.
Dealing with grief can be hard part of job - 2002
A day in the life of a Funeral Director ... A good sense of humour needed to help unwind from emotions of work
by Scott Hilgendorff
The Chronicle, West Elgin “” At just 24 years old, Bill Denning has dealt with more grief and death than virtually anyone else his age.
"At times, it can be very challenging. It can be very emotionally draining," said Denning,funeral director at Padfield Funeral Home.
Being in a small town, it makes the job at lot harder at times when, for example, he has found himself arranging the burial of a friend or a friend’s parent.
As a funeral director in a city, he said it would be much less likely he’d know the people facing the grief or facing grief of his own.
"It’s difficult in this business to separate yourself from the day-to-day job," Denning said. "You don’t just clock off at five o’clock and forget about it."
He said the absolute worse is planning a funeral for a child.
When a 90-year-old member of the community dies, the funeral becomes a celebration of a life well-lived, but when a child dies, Denning said it’s a different kind of mourning and much harder to deal with.
"It’s brutal," he said. "It’s so unnatural and it’s so emotionally draining."
And because of the private nature of the job, he said he can’t just talk to his friends directly about what he’s feeling.
"Everything that happens here, I have to keep myself. You have to be able to vent in other ways," said Denning.
That’s where he said having a good sense of humour can help. He’s also a member of Rodney’s volunteer fire department and finds the adrenaline rush of that job can help release some of the bottled-up emotions of being a funeral director.
"That helps you get through a lot," said Denning.
While living and having an active life in a village of about 1,200 people means knowing everyone and sharing more personally in their grief, it can also make some parts of losing a community member a little easier.
Denning said by knowing most of the people who come in to plan a funeral, there is already a more comfortable feeling between them that helps make the process easier.
"I think it’s easier for folks who come in here and see a familiar face," he said.
"The good outweighs the bad," said Denning, adding he enjoys having a good rapport with the people in the community.
He said after planning a funeral and sharing in something as intimate as a funeral, when the mourning is over, he often has found he has new friends in the community.
And Denning finds the job rewarding in knowing that he is able to directly help people in the community during such a difficult time.
"When they come in, they’re upset and not wanting to be here. By the time they leave, my job is to make sure they don’t have to worry; that everything is done for them," he said. "That’s what it’s all about: helping people celebrate one’s life."
To make it a celebration, he encourages people to include personal items that were important to the person who has died, which Denning said can sometimes mean seeing golf clubs set up next to a casket.
Denning grew up in a family of funeral directors and has been around grief, mourning and the celebrations of life that funerals present, for all his life.
It was just a natural step for Denning to take on a funeral director’s role as well and at the age of 19, he was one of the youngest funeral directors out there, entering the working world.
From Strathroy Denning worked in larger funeral homes in secondary roles before eventually venturing out to Rodney to become the funeral director at both the Rodney and West Lorne chapels, out from under the shadow of his parents, both of whom are funeral directors.
He said the average age of students in a funeral director program is 30 and that most are moving into it as a career change after working in another line of work first.
Others have some post secondary education first before taking the program.
It leaves Denning as one of the youngest funeral directors around, something he said is much more noticeable in a small town.
He said it takes some people who don’t know him by surprise and sometimes his friends are uncomfortable with his job at first.
"People have a lot of questions about what I do, but eventually, they develop a comfort-level," he said.