Gerharz Funeral Home celebrated their 150th Anniversary in 2012. The following article of our history is excerpted from The Lemont Reporter authored by Janice Hoppe, Staff Reporter.
This funeral home is obviously rich in history.
It all started in 1852 when Joseph Urban Gerharz moved to Lemont from Cochem, Germany at age 19. As a cabinet maker, he opened a furniture shop at 226 Main St. Soon after, Joseph Gerharz took on casket-making. The rest is history.
“He started making caskets because there was a demand,” Puddy Gerharz said of his great-grandfather. “They would come to my great-grandfather to build a casket in the 1850s and 1860s. In 1862, he started the business.”
The funeral home business evolved from there.
The casket-making side of business didn’t last very long, though, as competition got hot and Joseph Gerharz decided to focus on offering funeral services instead. Puddy Gerharz explained that in the 1800s, wakes typically took place in the family’s home — and that’s the atmosphere the Gerharz family tries to offer to this day.
“We always say it’s a home for a funeral,” said Cappetta, who is unrelated to the Gerharzs but was entrusted to take over the business in 2004. “We offer you a home here to have a funeral in.”
In fact, it was in 1949 when the Gerharz family purchased an actual home to convert into a funeral home. The home, 501 State St., was originally owned by Gilbert Helbig, and he built it in 1917. Since 1949, the home has been expanded and restored a number of times. It boasts a screened-in porch, living room, couches and chairs, offering the “cozy” home-feel for those mourning a loss.
“You get a chance to serve people in a distraught time in their lives,” Puddy Gerharz said.
About eight years ago, Cappetta became the new majority owner of the funeral home. Before that time, a Gerharz family member had always been the sole owner of the funeral home.
“Because of Tony, I was able to get out and retire,” Gerharz said. “I was in it for 50 years, that’s enough. (Cappetta) was a Godsend to me. I always say if you are dealing with Tony you might as well be dealing with me. He treats people the way I treat people.
Puddy Gerharz became owner in 1983 after his father, Urban M., passed away. He ran the business for the next 17 years until Cappetta took over. Gerharz is still a part owner but has since retired to Mexico, where he’s lived in retirement since 2000 in a small fishing village near Guadalajara.
Cappetta got involved in the funeral business through his family. Cappetta Funeral Home was located on the west side of Chicago from 1994 through 2004. He left the family business to work with Gerharz in 1990.
“He hired me as an employee and we hit if off and had a great relationship like a father and son,” Cappetta said. “This type of business is handed down generation-to-generation. We are a family serving families is what it amounts to.”
Cappetta tries to emulate Gerharz’s emotional connection to each of his customers.
“(Urban) would call me to pick up a loved one and he would give me a five-minute story on every person,” Cappetta said. “He would tell me all about the person then finally give me the name and say now you can go to the hospital (to pick up the person).That’s a good way of putting how we operate at Gerharz Funeral Home.”