By Mark Ambrogi
It all started when Frank Flanner, Indiana’s first licensed embalmer, opened his funeral business on North Illinois Street in Indianapolis in May 1881.
His sister, Anna, brought her husband Charles Buchanan into the business six years later.
Flanner and Buchanan will celebrate that 135-year history this year.
Fourth-generation member Bruce Buchanan, owner and CEO, said the Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Centers will have a low-key approach to this anniversary.
“We did a big event around our 125th, including a procession from our Market Street location. We circled the Monument and planted a tree on the circle, which was special,” Buchanan said. “We’re doing smaller events because the 135th isn’t like the 125th or 150th.”
Buchanan said each generation has taken pride in a family business that has grown and served the public.
“We are responsible for many firsts, especially in the first part of the last century,” Buchanan said. “We take our milestones seriously because we have a lot of pride.”
Buchanan, 60, said his plan is to keep it family owned for the foreseeable future. Buchanan’s brother, Brian, retired from the business in 2014.
“To be a family owned business for four generations puts us in one percent survival rate,” Buchanan said. “A lot of time, generations take advantage of what’s being built before them. We have built upon each previous generation’s success.”
Buchanan got into the family business when he was 40. He previously worked in the newspaper business as a photographer and eventually became a picture editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He later had a commercial photography business.
“So I bring a bit of an outsider’s perspective to the funeral business,” Buchanan said.
Maureen Lindley, vice president of marketing, said there are no public events set to celebrate the 135th anniversary at this time. There are some internal company plans tied to the anniversary.
There will be a wellness initiative that will challenge employees to be the first person in 2016 to walk 135 miles. The company is challenging its management team to have 135 hours of community service in 2016.
Lindley said employees are planning to donate 135 pounds of food to local food pantries.
There are 13 Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Centers and three Legacy Cremation and Funeral Services in Central Indiana.
Some “firsts” for Flanner and Buchanan in Indianapolis area are
1883: Horse-drawn ambulances for emergencies
1884: Full-time female embalmer and female attendant to care for women and children
1885: Funeral directors in Indianapolis to do modern embalming
1903: Electric automobiles for transportation for funerals
1904: Funeral directors to own and operate a crematory
1912: To build a modern mortuary
1926: To have a minister’s room for mediation and private consultation with the family
1938: To have air-conditioning throughout the mortuary.
2012: To perform weddings and funerals in the same building