Two of the four funeral homes on Whidbey Island closed last Friday.
Services Corporation International, which does business as Dignity Memorial, shuttered Burley Funeral Chapel in Oak Harbor and Visser Funeral Home in Langley.
Officials at the two remaining funeral homes, Whidbey Memorial Funeral &Cremation Services and Wallin Funeral Home &Cremation, say they are able to fill any void left by the closures.
“I definitely feel bad for people who put their trust in that company,” said Paul Kuzina, owner of Whidbey Memorial. “But we’re stepping up to the plate to assist people in any way we can.”
Both of the funeral homes are located in Oak Harbor, but they offer services on South Whidbey. Bryan Stucky, funeral director at Wallin Funeral Home, said the company plans on expanding to have a physical presence on South Whidbey in the near future.
Whidbey Memorial also has a strong presence on South Whidbey, Kuzina said. He said he’s already received calls from people who are concerned because they have prepaid plans through Burley or Visser. He explained that those plans, which are similar to “funeral insurance,” can be taken to any funeral home.
It’s no coincidence that the two remaining funeral homes are locally owned and operated, Kuzina and Stucky agreed.
“We are a lot more in tune with the community,” Stucky said, “and we have had less turnover.”
At least three different corporations have owned Burley in the last 20 years, which may have impacted its ability to build loyalty in the community, Stucky said.
Nevertheless, Burley and Visser have long histories in their communities.
Burley Funeral Chapel began as Bartleson’s when Wayne Bartleson purchased the business from Ben Ronhaar in 1961, according to Burley’s website. Bartleson moved the business to its present location on Ely Street in 1962.
“Like many funeral homes of that day, Bartleson’s became the headquarters for the local ambulance and remained so until 1974 when the business split,” the website states. “In the early 1970s the funeral home also became the answering service for physicians in the area, expanding to region-wide and eventually state-wide coverage. It was the actual roots of McCawTelepage.”
Mark and Merrie Burley “came into the picture” in the mid-1970s, the website says. They purchased and renamed the business in 1984.
Kuzina worked at Burley Funeral Chapel for nine and a half years. He said the Burleys were “good people” and operated the business without competition for many years.
The Burleys sold the business to a corporation around 2000. Kuzina opened his own funeral home in Oak Harbor in 2007. The late Gary Wallin and his wife Martha Wallin opened their funeral home in 2010.
Visser Funeral Home in Langley was also locally owned for years before it and Burley Funeral Chapel were purchased by Key Memories network in 2009, according to a South Whidbey Record story.
The corporation purchased the Visser Funeral Home from Brent and Marge Trimble, who owned it for the prior 13 years.
Employees at Burley and Visser either declined to comment for the story or didn’t return phone calls last week. A spokesman for Dignity Memorial said the company didn’t have any information to share at this point.