In October of this year Michigan Memorial Park, or MMP as it has come to be known, will turn 90. During those 90 years it has become the final resting place for more than 76,000 Downriver residents. That means that MMP is home to more people than the population of any city in the Downriver area and it also makes it one of the largest cemeteries in all of Michigan. Those things were most likely very far from the mind of Judge William “Willie” Heston as he looked out over 150 acres of rural land in sparsely populated Huron Township in the 1920’s and thought of developing a burial ground there.
Another thing that the Judge probably never gave much thought to is that his cemetery would still be family-owned, by its 4th generation, after all of these years. But, it is. Or, maybe something too ridiculous to even be considered by him – being that he was an All-American football player at the University of Michigan, a successful businessman and, by any definition in early 20th century, an all-round “man’s man” – is that MMP would be owned by his great-granddaughters, Kelly Dwyer, President and Heidi Umin, Vice-President (their mother Barbara Heston preceded them. Her father, Jack Heston, preceded her). That would probably really freak him out. Maybe just for a minute. Then, he’d become very proud of how the last two generations of ownership, all female, have continued to grow Michigan Memorial Park beyond his 1926 dreams, both in size and innovation, to meet the demands of the 21st century world. MMP now covers 300 acres, serves more than 2,000 families annually in both pre-need and at the time of need services, and has 14 mausoleum complexes, private estates, bronze memorials, upright monuments, three lakes, more than 20 cremation burial options and much more.
Michigan Memorial has continued to evolve because its management listens to its customers. One of the major changes over the last 35 years has been the growing trend toward cremation. To address the need, MMP built and operated the only crematory in the Downriver area (it was located in the Shrine of Remembrance mausoleum) and also began to develop more individually-tailored burial options for people who were choosing cremation so they would have a final resting place more suitable to their personal style. Although the crematory served its purpose well, it wasn’t exactly “family-friendly”. Instead, it was very industrial, just like most other crematories in Michigan. “Industrial” and being like everyone else didn’t fit very well with the image or environment that Kelly and Heidi were trying to create. So, in 2012, they teamed up with Kelly’s husband Dan Dwyer, owner of Michigan Memorial Funeral Home (located next to the cemetery), and designed a crematory with comfortable finishes to be built inside of the funeral home. The idea made great sense, not only for its surroundings, but because it would allow both Michigan Memorial Park and Michigan Memorial Funeral Home to have much greater control over the cremation process. Essentially, once a family contacts Michigan Memorial Funeral Home, their “loved one never leaves our care.”
Construction began in late 2012 (this latest addition was the third time that the funeral home had to be enlarged since Mr. Dwyer opened it in 2001). It included a crematory, an adjoining private room (where a family can spend time with their loved one before the cremation takes place) and a garage where families may select a hearse (traditional, horse-drawn or customized Harley-Davidson), when needed. In March of 2013, MMP opened the “Witness Crematory” at Michigan Memorial Funeral Home with two important guarantees; every cremation will be conducted individually and “your loved one will never leave our care.” The Witness Crematory has certainly been successful in differentiating itself from the industrial settings in which all of the commercial crematories operate.
Since its opening, Michigan Memorial Funeral Home has evolved much like MMP and has now become the most frequently selected funeral home Downriver. In 2015, it served more than 900 families in both pre-need and at the time of need services. During the past 15 years, Michigan Memorial Funeral Home has seen many changes with among the most notable coming in 2014 when Corey Calderone was named the President of the funeral home and Renee’ Miles was named Vice President. Corey began her career there in 2003 as a pre-arrangement specialist and Renee’ began her career with the funeral home as its first receptionist several months before it opened. These changes are notable because, although the funeral home is family-owned, the leadership is outside of the family. It’s also quite notable because, in the male-dominated world of funeral service, the President and Vice-President positions of both companies are held by women.
With another 130 acres to develop at MMP and a planned 11,000 square foot addition to the funeral home later this year, it will be interesting to see what the next 90 years brings. Whatever it is, Michigan Memorial Park and Michigan Memorial Funeral Home, along with a full-service flower shop and on-site Witness Crematory, are more than ready for it. We know that the Judge is smiling.
For additional information regarding Michigan Memorial please visit MiMemorial.com