SIDNEY — The Cromes family torch is now in the hands of another local family.
Cromes Funeral Home, which was established in 1939 by Ralph V. Cromes, is now owned by brothers Aaron and Erik Edwards, both of Sidney. They purchased the business from Ralph V. Cromes’s grandsons, Gary and Ralph Cromes. The first day of ownership for the Edwards brothers was Sept. 1.
The decision to sell the funeral home was something Gary and Ralph had thought about over the years.
“We wanted it to be our family passing the torch to another family,” said Gary. “We’re not leaving the funeral home. We want to do what our dads did. We’re going to help Aaron and Erik for years to come.
“This has been our life and we can’t walk away from it,” said Gary. “People still expect us to be here and we will be. We’re only a phone call away … but I won’t have to shovel snow anymore.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but Aaron and Erik have been handling everything for the past three years,” he said.
The Cromes family was originally from the Houston, Ohio, area. Ralph V. Cromes went to college in Columbus, Ohio, where there was a mortuary school.
“I remember being 2 or 3 years old and Lloyd was 1 1/2 years older,” said Norris, “and I remember us living on the main road in Columbus. We’d hear sirens all the time.”
Once Ralph V. graduated, the family moved to St. Paris where he worked for the Burt Richardson Funeral Home.
“I started grade school at St. Paris,” said Norris.
The family moved to Sidney, where Ralph V. worked for another funeral home. After learning more about the business, he opened his own funeral home in January 1939.
The funeral home’s legacy continued when Norris and Lloyd Cromes joined their father in the funeral home business in 1946. Both men had served during World War II and had returned home to Sidney. They attended mortuary school in Cincinnati for two years and then joined the family business.
“The original building for the funeral home is where we’re still located,” said Norris.
The home was built in 1860 for an attorney. The house was sold to Ralph V. in 1938 by Mrs. Ringlespaugh.
“In 1952, the first addition was added on as the business was growing,” said Gary Cromes. He is the son of Norris Cromes.
“At that time, there were five funeral homes in Sidney and they all had their own niches,” said Gary. One funeral home, he said, served those of the Catholic faith, another was for Protestants.
Gary started to help at the funeral home in January 1969. Ralph, who is the son of the late Lloyd Cromes, started in January 1970. In 1975, the funeral home incorporated and they added the large chapel at the business.
“Once again, the addition was needed to accommodate the growing needs of the community,” said Gary.”Things have really progressed in the last 15 years. We’re seeing more same day services and cremations.”
“This is all we’ve every known,” said Gary of the family heritage. “As children we played here. Our grandparents lived at the funeral home. This was our second home.”
“Our grandparents babysat for us,” said Ralph. “Our moms were working so we spent a lot of time here.”
When Ralph and Gary joined their fathers at the funeral home, each funeral home in town did the ambulance work for the city of Sidney. They did a lot of the transport work during emergencies.
The funeral home also rented out hospital beds and other medical supplies.
“All the funeral homes gave the city a deadline that they would have to take over the ambulance service,” said Gary. “That was in the late 1970s. The city had to scramble to set up the service.
“The sheriff used to call us to transport people to the hospital,” said Ralph.
“We had no medical training,” said Gary. “We just had oxygen. The city was one of the last groups in the county to implement an emergency service. We had given them a year’s notice that we were getting out of the business. We called them in January and told them we were done at the end of March. We gave them a cot for their first emergency vehicle.”
Flash forward to 2006 and the Edwards brothers began their journey which has resulted in the purchase of the funeral home.
Aaron Edwards joined the staff in June 2006 following a phone call from Gary and Ralph. At the time, he was working for a funeral home in Bellefontaine. A graduate of the University of Toledo’s College of Business, the slow economy forced him to explore other options for his career.
“Our dad, Phil Edwards, was the county corner,” said Aaron. “He had talked that this (funeral home director) was something he had wanted to do.
After mulling over his choices, Aaron went back to school and attended mortuary college in Cincinnati. He was working as a licenced funeral director with Eichholtz Funeral Home, Bellefontaine, when the fateful call came from the Cromes cousins.
“Ralph and Gary called me and Gary said there could be a future here for me and carry on their work,” said Aaron. “They wanted the funeral home to stay local and have local ownership.”
“Both of us wanted to move back home to Sidney and be funeral directors together,” said Erik, who joined the business in April 2009.
“There’s nothing better than working in your hometown,” said Aaron.
After graduating from the Ohio State University Business College, Erik also attended mortuary school in Cincinnati. He was working for Rutherford Funeral Home in Columbus before joining his brother at Cromes Funeral Home in 2009.
“Our dad played a big role in our careers,” said Erik. “He really encouraged us. Since he was coroner we were exposed to death since we were young. I also used to stop in the funeral home to see what Aaron was doing also.”
Gary said it was good that both worked at other funeral homes before coming home to Cromes.
“Both had three years of experience before they came here,” said Gary. “I’ve taught them everything I know about the business. Now they have the experience of running a business.”
“We’ve learned a lot from the generation behind us,” said Erik.
“We also learned from the other funeral homes we worked for. We’ve taken the good from them and leave other things behind us,” said Aaron. “It was a learning experience for us of what to do and what not to do.”
Erik said during the three years he was in Columbus, he personally knew one family he assisted with a funeral. Coming back to Sidney, he has grieved with the families he knows when they lose a family member.
“We are all more personally involved with the funeral process,” said Ralph.
The funeral home, said Gary, has “four of the best embalmers and makeup people in the area.”
Both Edwards brothers, plus Lucas Snapp and Jeremy Richards have dual licences as funeral directors and morticians. Ralph and Gary Cromes, along with Bill Stamm, are licensed funeral directors.
“There’s not a week that doesn’t go by that we don’t hear comments about the appearance of the deceased,” said Gary. “We have built our reputation how we serve our clients. We have taught the two new ones (Edwards brothers) the same things.”
“The majority of what we’ve learned, we’ve learned from Ralph and Gary,” said Aaron. “They are very particular on how the deceased looks.”
“One night I was working in the prep room and Pug (Norris) sneaked up on me to make sure I was doing things right,” said Erik.
Snapp has been with the funeral home for four years, while Richards has been with them for 1 1/2 to 2 years.
Stamm joined the funeral home full time in May 1984.
“He helped us for 26 years while he worked at LeRoi Dresser,” said Gary. “He loves this business. He would help us on the weekends and helped with the ambulance service. He loves to stand and greet the people as they come in the front door.”
“He knows everybody and he has a personal touch when he opens the door for them,” said Ralph.
After the Edwards brothers joined the funeral home, the decision was made to add a crematory to the business in 2010.
“Families can set down with us and never have to worry about their loved ones leaving the funeral home,” said Erik. “We are accountable for everything that happens here.”
“Families appreciate that everything can be done here,” said Gary. “They appreciate the fact their loved one never leaves the funeral home from the time we pick up the body at the hospital or at the their home.”
Gary said the funeral home has served 230 families each year for the past three years.
“These have been three of our busiest years,” said Gary. “The crematory has added to the increase. It has been our privilege to serve each family.”
Both Norris and Lloyd remained an active part of the funeral home. Lloyd passed away on Feb. 7, 2016. Norris, who is 96 years young, lives next door to the funeral home and runs errands, gets the mail and is a maintenance man for the business.
“He’s here every morning to get the newspaper and take it home to read it,” said Gary. “He’s in the building every day.”
With the sale of the business, the funeral home is now Cromes-Edwards Funeral Home. According to Ohio law, the Edwards brothers have two years to change the signage at the funeral home to reflect the new name.
“Things aren’t going to change,” said Erik. “The staff will be the same people. Sometime within the next two years our name has to be on the building. The Cromes name will always be there.”
In addition to the friendship that has grown between the Cromes and Edwards family, there is also a family tie with Aaron and his wife Kelly’s family. Cromes Funeral Home founder Ralph V. Cromes’s wife, the former Carrie Short, is the sister of Kelly’s great-grandfather, Walter Short.
“We have a picture of Kelly’s great-grandfather sitting with Pug and Lloyd,” said Aaron.
So Norris (Pug) and Lloyd’s uncle is Kelly’s great-grandfather.
Aaron and Kelly have two sons, Clayton and Carter, and a daughter, Callie. Erik and his wife, Holly, enjoy playing the role of uncle and aunt to Aaron’s children.
“They play here just like the Cromes boys did growing up,” said Aaron. “The oldest one will probably be mowing the lawn in a couple of years.”
Both Aaron and Erik are happy with the course their professional careers have taken.
“Erik and I feel blessed and honored to serve the people of Sidney and Shelby County,” said Aaron.
“We’re humbled by the opportunity to continue the Cromes legacy,” said Erik. “This is a huge undertaking for us. Our focus will continue to be on Sidney and Shelby County.”
“We don’t need to change anything,” added Aaron. “The last three years Gary and Ralph have let us make some changes, like adding a big screen for funerals and adding the crematory.”
And those changes will help with the growth of the funeral home for years to come.
While they will remain a part of the funeral home, both Cromes cousins look forward to pursing other interests.
Gary, who says he’s an outdoors man, plans to spend time with his wife, Pat, at their home in Florida and at a hunting preserve in Georgia that he’s involved with.
Ralph, who has experienced some health issues the past few years, said he is going to take things easy for a while. He and his wife, Jo Ann, are also raising two of their grandchildren.
“We’ll still help them if they get busy,” said Gary. “If someone asks for us, all they’ll have to do is call us.”
The Cromes cousins know they are leaving their family’s legacy in good hands.
“We send out family surveys to the families we have served,” said Gary. “The families have all praised Aaron, Erik, Lucas and Jeremy by name for what they have done for them. There have been no negative responses.
“Their kindness, paying attention to details and safisfying the families’s needs are very important to us and them,” said Gary.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.