A longtime funeral director from Altoona has decided it’s time to retire.
Robert M. “Bob” Jones Jr., 79, owner and manager of Jones Funeral Home, 1222 13th Ave., will end his career on May 31.
“There are two reasons – it’s time and I have medical problems,” said Jones. “It’s time to stop.”
Jones took over the family business, founded in 1915 by his grandfather, Edgar W. Jones, in July 1965, after the sudden death of his father, Robert M. Jones Sr.
Jones admits he hadn’t planned on a career as a funeral director, but his father had other ideas.
“I wanted to do something with the exterior. I wanted to do something with animals,” said Jones. “My dad said, ‘I could have someone else run this, but I wish it was you,’ so I went to mortuary school.”
Jones got his license at age 21 and served as a funeral director for 17 years before “I decided that was what I wanted to do.” He has been a licensed funeral director for 57 years and in the business for approximately 65 years.
He took over the business at age 22 — he had only had his license for six months — when his father died. He admits to having faced challenges.
“Being a young age was the main challenge. When he died I was 22 and looked like I was 16. You wonder how much someone trusts a 22 year old », said Jones.
“Bernie Krise, who had worked for my father for about 15 years, if not for him, I would not have succeeded because of my youth”, said Jones. “He took good care of me; he had a good relationship with me.
Jones grew to love the business over the years and especially enjoyed helping people.
“I’ve enjoyed the people I serve the most. You think when they come in there’s going to be a lot of crying. It happens, but with the majority of people I deal with there’s more laughter than crying », said Jones.
He said he gets the most satisfaction when people tell him how good they made their loved one look.
“I once had an accident victim, the coroner said it couldn’t be fixed. His mother said, “You have given my son back to me. You can’t put a price on that.” said Jones, who estimates he’s done between 4,000 and 5,000 funerals over the years.
He said the biggest change over the years has been the increasing number of cremations.
“We are doing 50% now, about seven years ago the number was 30-35%,”said Jones.
The Jones family have been members of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament – located across the street from the funeral home – for over 90 years. The funeral home served the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown by arranging the funerals of six Catholic bishops.
“Our company did all six, my grandfather two, my father two and I did two. We are the only company in the region to have carried them out. … It’s one of the things we’re most proud of,” said Jones.
Jones is a familiar face in the diocese, spokesman Tony DeGol said.
“He is an usher and generously supports the parish by sponsoring the radio broadcast of Sunday Mass and parish calendars. We have worked closely with him over the years and appreciate his professionalism. He always does whatever is necessary to accommodate our unique needs and families wishes,” said DeGol. “Bob’s retirement marks the end of an era at Altoona. We are grateful for all he has done to serve the community and the Church, and we wish him many blessings in the next chapter of his life.
Jones said it takes special qualities to become a funeral director.
“You have to be a people person, you have to love people and take care of their needs at a difficult time in their lives. They call us undertakers, most people don’t know where to go or what to do. There are things to take care of, like war veterans benefits, social security – people don’t worry about those things until someone dies,” said Jones. “I know where to go and what to do. If I don’t know, I find out.
For those considering entering the profession, Jones said they should know that it is very difficult work.
“You give up a lot, but if you’re willing to do it and serve people, you’ll be fine. I gave up Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas dinners, kids’ events. You work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I answer the phone in the middle of the night. People are surprised to hear my voice. People want to talk to me and not an answering machine”, said Jones.
Jones is believed to be the oldest active funeral director in the area.
“Bob is just a gentleman. He’s been a mentor of mine, a great guy, very dedicated, hardworking and a great family man,” said longtime friend Jeff Somers, owner/supervisor of Myers-Somers Funeral Home, Altoona.”We’ve all shared ideas over the years, and Bob has been a role model for many of us.
Jones is highly respected by others in the profession.
“My wife and I traveled with him and Jean to national funeral conventions. It was nice to travel with him. We had a long-standing relationship. He was an effective leader and advocate for the funeral profession,” said Dave Mason, vice president of Stevens Mortuary and supervisor of Plank, Stitt and Stevens Funeral Home in Hollidaysburg.
“He was always super nice, a great guy. He was very welcoming and always accepting, there weren’t many women in the business when I met him about eight years ago,” said Kelly Burket, president of the Keystone Funeral Directors Association and funeral director at Mauk and Yates Funeral Home, Altoona.
Jon C. “Jack” Russin is another longtime friend and hunting partner from years past.
“Bob was a true professional who served his family with great dignity and compassion. He was an excellent mentor to young adults pursuing careers in the funeral industry. Bob truly cared about the families he had the privilege to serve, said Russin, supervisor/funeral director at Jon C. Russin Funeral Home, Bellwood.
Jones has plans for her retirement, including attending some upcoming family weddings.
“I want to go back to fishing on the Juniata River. We are going from Mifflintown to Mexico. We fish for smallmouth bass. I fish everything I can catch, carp, catfish. I just like to fish. I will also be hunting with my daughter Nicole (Kimmel) and working around the house,” said Jones.
Jones said he was unsure about the future of the family business.
“We have two entities that are interested. I hope it will remain a funeral home,” said Jones. “I want it to stay like this, it would be hard to get out of the church to see anything else.”
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.
The Jones File
Name: Robert M. Jones Jr.
Position: Retiring as Owner/Director of Jones Funeral Home
Education: 1960 graduated from Altoona Catholic High School, 1963 graduated from Cincinnati School of Mortuary Science, 1965 graduated from Saint Francis College with a business degree
Family: Wife, Jean; daughters, Ann, Pam, Nicole and Renee; and 10 grandchildren
Estimate: “My key to success is to be there and do what I’m supposed to do. When someone says, ‘You have to do this’, I do it. I do what is necessary for the family at that moment. .