HOW TWP. — A couple of longtime funeral home owners in Livingston County say they have converted a former credit union into the most modern funeral home location the Howell area has seen in more than 100 years.
Todd Borek and Karl Jennings have opened Borek Jennings Funeral Homes, Howell Memorial Chapel, in a former Lake Trust Credit Union bank building at 1700 W. Highland Road/M-59.
Borek and Jennings say the new, approximately 9,200-square-foot site offers a host of benefits, including improved accessibility for mourners, on-site parking and close proximity to Howell Memorial Cemetery, which is located next door. It will also be a meeting place for grief support groups.
“The biggest advantage is the much more modern architecture that lends itself to both intimate and open spaces,” said Jennings. “Here we have both, places where people can come together, and we’ve made sure we have places where people can be quiet together.”
The couple will retain ownership of the funeral home’s previous location in a historic building at 312 S. Michigan Ave. in the center of Howell, which has functioned as a funeral home since the early 1900s. They are gearing up to start a new funeral home brand, which would be a separate company there with a different name. Those plans will be announced shortly, they said.
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“A lot of funeral homes are converted houses,” Borek said. “While they are very warm and inviting, and even stately, they are not like that,” he said, adding that it was easy to turn the former credit union into a modern funeral home.
“It’s hard to run out of (the previous location) because it’s an old house,” Borek said. “We just felt we had to improve.”
The chapel where the services take place used to house bank offices behind ATMs, which were removed. Now up to 239 guests can gather inside for services.
The offices can now be used to meet people who arrange funerals for their loved ones, as well as for administration.
The converted bank offers a large lobby with sofas and a café for refreshments, and can seat approximately 30 people.
At the new location, everything is on one floor, making it more accessible for people with mobility issues, including seniors and those using walkers or wheelchairs.
“We want people to come and feel comfortable and fully connected to what is happening,” Borek said.
The new location also has more parking, unlike the Michigan Avenue location, where most mourners had to walk to the site.
“There’s easy access (in the new location) for people who get parking spaces, and they don’t have to navigate sidewalks in the winter,” Jennings said.
The former ramp has been removed and the area now offers a new covered side entrance.
A back room for support groups also has a separate entrance. The funeral home provides 27 healing support services and had support groups at remote locations in churches and other venues, including the Howell Opera House. They also have an aftercare specialist working to bring other grief support resources to the county who could use the new funeral home to help people experiencing the loss of a loved one.
“We also like the fact (the building is) right next to the cemetery,” Borek said. “It just makes sense that we’re next to the cemetery.”
They will celebrate a grand opening of the facility from 3-6pm on Oct. 14 with a public ceremony to cut the ribbon and raise the flag.
An Evolving History of Funeral Services
The way people perform funeral services has changed over the past century.
“In the past, every funeral was at home. They would prepare the deceased at home and put it in the drawing room,” Borek said.
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By the 1880s, what is now Cleary’s Pub in downtown Howell was a furniture and funeral home owned by Asa Van Kleeck. Historically, furniture makers would also sell coffins.
FC Schnackenburg took over the location of Cleary’s Pub, and the Schnackenburg family built the house in downtown Michigan Avenue in 1904. The Lamb family later took it over and added an addition to the house that still exists today.
Borek and Jennings bought the Howell Funeral Home in downtown John Lamb in 2000, naming Borek Jennings Funeral Homes, Lamb Chapel, in honor of its history.
Borek said they are happy to be back to four funeral homes – the three Borek Jennings Funeral Homes locations and the future brand in downtown Howell.
They have operated a Borek Jennings funeral home in the Municipality of Hamburg for the longest time since 1992. The location in the municipality of Hamburg was the newest funeral home in the province to date.
After selling funeral homes in Manchester and Brooklyn to Eineder Funeral Homes & Cremation in 2020, they bought a funeral home in Pinckney last year.
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The historic funeral home on Michigan Avenue will still serve as a funeral home.
“The model we will use in the inner city will be simpler and cheaper,” Borek said. “We will offer service packages that will be presented in such a way that people can easily make decisions when they are in the acute loss period.”
They are expected to announce a new name for the downtown location in the near future.
“We’re going to settle in (the new location) and then we’ll restore the center in a few months,” Borek said.
He said he will consider expanding to more locations in the future.
Contact Livingston Daily reporter Jennifer Eberbach at [email protected]