Sunday, January 26, 2014

Larkin Mortuary 1885

About Utah: Dying firm? Larkin Mortuary is marking 125 year

SALT LAKE CITY — Name the pun, these guys have heard it.
They're in a dying business. They have dead-end jobs. They never get a repeat customer. They're always pulling the graveyard shift.

Lance Larkin and his nephew, Spencer Larkin, just smile.
All they know is the business their family started in '85 is going stronger than ever.
That's 1885, by the way.

Larkin Mortuary is turning 125 this year. Very few Utah businesses have lived so long.
Oddly — or maybe not so oddly — among those firms that rival Larkin for statewide longevity are three other "pioneer" mortuaries that date back to the 1800s: Berg, O'Donnell and Lindquist. Talk about non-dying businesses.

George William Larkin was the original Larkin funeral director. A Mormon convert from England, after immigrating to Utah in 1863, his first job was with the Pony Express. After that, he was sent to Ogden by Brigham Young to be the record-keeper at the Ogden City Cemetery.
Since he was already recording the burials, it only made sense to arrange and oversee the funeral services as well.

George's son, Alma, brought the business to Salt Lake City in 1912. He was succeeded by his sons Jay and Max. At 91, Max is the current chairman of the board.

Running the day-to-day operation as president is Lance, Max's son, with two nephews, Rob and Spencer, serving as vice president and secretary-treasurer, respectively.
The point is, through thick and thin, through depressions, recessions and prosperity, through wars and rumors of wars, through statehood and beyond — and through nearly 100,000 funerals — the family business has remained a family business.

And Larkin has become synonymous with funerals.

Says Lance, "From the time you're little, as soon as you mention your last name, you get used to people asking, 'Oh, are you related to the funeral home?' "
"It becomes your identity," adds Spencer, who has an MBA from the University of Utah. "I thought it was just a job that would get me through college. But what you find is that you want to keep up the tradition." (Although some don't. Spencer's father, Ron, for instance, left the family business to become an ob/gyn. And yes, confirms Spencer, he's heard the one about "birth to earth.")
Ask the Larkins the secret to their long life and Lance points out what he calls their "vertical integration."

Not only do they provide mortuary service, they also have their own cemeteries, mausoleums, a cremation center, a monument and vault company and greenhouses where they grow their own flowers. With Larkin, dying has never been so simple. They've got you covered.
They also like to think they're pretty good at the personal touch.

They get a lot of business. They average 1,200 funerals a year and their all-time one-day high is 16. And they conduct plenty of high-profile funerals. Larkin has buried every LDS president since Heber J. Grant, most Utah governors, they did Larry H. Miller's funeral a year ago, and back in the day rumor has it that they might have buried the Sundance Kid — under the name Hiram Beebe (the grave can be found in the pauper's section of the Salt Lake Cemetery).

One big upside to the business, says Lance Larkin, is, believe it or not, listening to all those sermons.
"You're constantly getting inspired," he says. "You see a guy die in a plane crash or a car crash, and you go home (after the funeral) committed to not take things for granted, to live life fully."
As usual, Larkin will be hosting its annual Memorial Day program Monday, scheduled for 10 a.m. at its Sunset Gardens Cemetery on the southeast bench of the Salt Lake Valley.
This year's event figures to be extra special. Not only will it pay tribute to those who have passed on, but also to the company that for 125 years and counting has helped keep their memories alive.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to