by Dan McClelland
Tupper Lake residents now have a new funeral director to handle their final arrangements.
He's Ryan Frary, an energetic 27 year old with a strong passion to help people at difficult times in their lives.
Ryan's company this summer purchased Stuart-Fortune-Keough Funeral Home from Shawn Stuart and Brendan Keough. The new firm is called Frary-Stuart Funeral Home, as Shawn will be staying around to help out the new funeral director and his staff when he can.
Ryan's family has been in the funeral business in North Country communities along the St. Lawrence Seaway for decades.
His father Mike started working for Jimmy Phillips of Phillips Memorial Home in Massena as a young man.
Ryan's uncle, David, also worked for that firm. David’s son now owns the Phillips funeral home in Massena.
Both brothers attended mortuary school at Canton ATC.
Ryan's father after college worked for a time for the Lundy Funeral Home, situated in Carthage and Harrisville.
He purchased the LaLonde-Briggs Funeral Home in Ogdensburg in 1986. The family's State St. location soon became headquarters for not only the funeral home and its offices, but also for a medical transportation business, which the elder Frary started in 1994, and a monument company.
The transportation company was later expanded to Massena.
Talking about the need for ambulance services for the elderly, Ryan notes that by next year, 10,000 people in this country will be turning 65 years old each year. “That's the Baby Boomer generation!”
Ryan, the youngest of five children, grew up in Ogdensburg and attended local schools and went on to study finance at the University of San Diego in San Diego, CA, intending to become a stockbroker. With the job market still very shaky in 2013, he decided to head home after college and join the family business. Back in New York he completed mortuary school in New York City and completed his year-long residency in the family business.
Soon thereafter the company purchased the Adirondack Funeral Home in Harrisville, previously owned by the Sam Lundy family.
Frary Funeral Homes and Cremations Services currently operates homes in Ogdensburg and Harrisville, and now Tupper Lake.
Ryan purchased his father's share of the business in April, 2018.
He explained that part of the business involved selling caskets to other undertakers around the North Country, out of a warehouse in Heuvelton. Shawn and Brendan were his clients.
“Through that arrangement I got to know Shawn.”
Working with Ryan at the Tupper site will be an intern, Jade Kenyon, originally from the Buffalo area, and funeral director Dick Azar, who has been in the business a long time here.
Ryan said that what he calls hybrid funerals are becoming popular today where there is a time for viewing at either a funeral home or church, followed by a funeral service and cremation. The opportunity to view a loved one is very important, he knows, adding it helps with closure.
He notes that at one time wakes and funerals spanned multiple days, drawing it out for the immediate family. With modern transportation, now, people can get home or to the funeral site in less than a day.
The young funeral director said families often regret not having a funeral service when they go right straight to cremation or burial. “There is an emptiness families sometimes experience” when there is no service or viewing.
The building which Ryan recently purchased was built by the late Clarence Rennell in 1976 where he opened his new funeral home there. It was formerly the site of a paint and glass store.
At that time the Knights of Columbus lodge was next door in the apartment which was eventually purchased by Mr. Rennell and later by Shawn and Joni Stuart. Their son, Alex, now owns it.
Shawn started working for Clarence in 1993. In about 1998 he and two partners in Saranac Lake- Brendan Keough and Andy Fortune formed the Stuart-Fortune-Keough company and purchased the business from Mr. Rennell.
The company bought the Richer Funeral Home from Michael Richer and his family in about 2003, consolidating their services under one roof at the Cliff Ave. site.
Stuart and Brendan bought out Andy, the third partner, in 2007.
Shawn succeeded Clarence Rennell as county coroner in the mid-1990s after his retirement until about 2000. He stepped down for a time and ran again in or about 2009, and has served continuously since that time.
The four coroners are charged with investigating every accidental or unattended death in the county, and cover each other in this vast and remote county.
Of his time as both funeral director and county coroner Mr. Stuart said that he “has hoped he has helped people” here and around the county in tough time.
As a funeral director, he says he has tried to outline fully to people the various options at their disposal. “Some people and families know exactly what they want. Others however have never talked with loved ones about death and dying. They are eager to hear about the options.”
The veteran funeral home director has seen the industry change dramatically over the past decades. He says instead of full-blown traditional services, many people are now opting for what he called “limited services.”
Many funeral services today are held at the funeral, versus the church, where services were traditionally held, he notes. Many arrangements today are one day, not two or three.
Cremation has become a favored option for many now, according to the funeral director. His business uses Mountain View Crematory in Alburgh, Vt .
Since about 1994, the state barred funeral homes from owning crematories, many have been transferred to either towns, not for profit companies, or are grandfathered.
The Whispering Maples crematory in Ellenburg Depot, where many North Country residents have been cremated over the years, is now owned by the Town of Ellenburg.
Another option today for families is to rent caskets at funeral homes.
It's a humbler cardboard and plywood casket within a very nice casket and the inside one is the one that goes to the crematory. The outer casket is a little oversized to house the interior one where the body is placed.
The inner casket is lined with all the conventional materials that the deceased rests upon and the entire assembly can be removed by opening the one end of the outer casket.
“It's a perfect situation for families who want a traditional casket and setting for their loved ones, but who also want cremation,” he explained to the Free Press in recent weeks.
“The interior of the rental casket is brand new every time.” The outer shell can be used over and over, and when it gets damaged or scratched it can be returned to the casket company for refinishing.
It's a less expensive option for families, he notes.
Outside of business and his coroner duties, Mr. Stuart has also served for three terms on the town board and the town and village planning board, and currently serves as it chairman.
Shawn plans to be what he calls “a familiar face” at the new Frary-Stuart Funeral Home, helping out where he can. “Joni and I are hoping to do a little traveling and spending time with our grandchildren.”
Mrs. Stuart retired this year after 25 years as a school nurse for the school district.
This week the Free Press welcomes Ryan and his staff to Tupper Lake and offer best wishes to Shawn and Joni on their new retirement.