Family calling: 5th generation of Slater family opens New Kensington funeral home
As a fifth-generation member of a Western Pennsylvania family of funeral directors, Raymond J. Slater IV said he’d always wanted to run his own funeral home.
“This building was available,” Slater, 36, said as he walked through the just-opened RJ Slater IV Funeral & Cremation Service in the former John F. Krupa Funeral Home on Freeport Road in New Kensington.
“It was a funeral home at one time, it has a good reputation in the community, and everyone knows the location,” he said. “We looked at the building as something that we could remodel and get up to date and service families in the area.”
Slater said he and his wife, Molly, bought the red brick building Oct. 27 for $125,000 from a bank. The Krupa funeral business was nearly a century old when it closed in July 2014 after defaulting on a loan.
The building originally was a residence and was expanded, Slater said. It became the Krupa funeral home in the early 1950s. The Krupa family had been in business in other locations since 1917.
The Slaters have extensively renovated the building, turning one large open room that the Krupa business divided with curtains into two connecting rooms with new furnishings and decor in shades of blue, brown and beige.
The roof over the viewing room was replaced, and two flat roofs were repaired. Wallpaper was removed and replastering was done, carpeting was replaced and light fixtures were installed before the Slater business opened Feb. 27. Slater declined to say how much the renovations cost.
“We haven’t had any traditional funerals,” he said. “We have had a lot of inquiries about price and prefunding, pre-need. We have met with a few families there. It will take time to get our name out in the community, and get people familiar with us.”
The Slater name is familiar in Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington neighborhood, where the business started, and through the city’s south suburbs.
R.J. Slater’s great-great grandfather, William, founded the Mt. Washington funeral home in 1875. His uncle William Slater II now runs that funeral home plus locations in Bethel Park and Scott, and three cousins operate funeral homes in Brentwood, Carrick and Jefferson Hills. His father, Raymond III, is a state licensing inspector for funeral directors, he said.
“We all originally started in Mt. Washington, and then the family branched out,” Slater said. He has worked at the Mt. Washington, Bethel Park and Scott businesses, and he and his wife, a native of Plum, looked for about four years for their own business location.
“Our family has been in it for generations. I grew up in a funeral home. That’s just my calling,” he said.
Prices vary, but the basic funeral with a one-day viewing at the Slater home is $3,995, he said, not including merchandise such as a casket and cash advances for services for outside vendors. The business offers cremation services, but actual cremations are done elsewhere, Slater said.
Pennsylvania’s cremation rate is at 44 percent now, and is expected to be 51 percent by 2020, said Kathleen K. Ryan, executive director of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association.
She said she’s “known the Slater family for years” and always found them to be reputable and dedicated.
While the number of funeral homes statewide rose from 1,575 in February 2016 to 1,613 as of last month, it’s down compared to 2013 when 1,640 funeral homes operated across Pennsylvania, she said.
“Pennsylvania historically has had a lot of funeral homes,” she said, but many have been small, mom-and-pop businesses that were impacted by church consolidations and population loss.
The industry generally has been transitioning, with some families choosing innovative places for services and making funerals “more about celebrations of life” than typical religious events, she said.
Slater said New Kensington and other areas of Western Pennsylvania tend to remain traditional.
He and his wife are staffing the funeral home for now. “Once business picks up we will look for part-time staff, preferably people in the community, who know the area,” he said.
And, when the weather improves, Slater plans some exterior painting and landscaping. “We look forward to making it a pleasant site, when you drive by,” he said.
Kim Leonard is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 724-226-4674 or [email protected].