Gent Funeral Home has been chosen as the September 2021 RiverBend Growth Association Small Business of the Month.
Operating now for 86 years, Ralph Bowles is the third-generation funeral director at Gent Funeral Home in Alton. Located at 2409 State Street, at the Y-intersection of State and Belle Streets, the funeral home was started by Ralph Bowles’ maternal grandfather, Ralph A. Gent, in 1935.
“My father, Les Bowles, took over the business from his father-in-law in 1970. I left for years of college, then started working at the funeral home in 1987. My father semi-retired about 10 years ago,” said Bowles.
“The only advice my father gave me after high school was to get a degree in business before attending mortuary school in case I discovered that a career in funeral services was not a good fit for me,” Bowles added. “My father said to me, ‘It’s a calling, son, like a ministry. Don’t come back here if you are not called.’”
Bowles has been a licensed mortician now for over 30 years and has led operations since his father’s retirement. His son Ben works at the funeral home now as well, representing the fourth generation of the family to become involved in the business.
Gent Funeral Home continues with its mission to celebrate life and serve families. This mission may seem a bit different from the norm within the industry. The funeral home’s website describes this unique distinction in more detail:
“Ever since we opened our gates, we have approached life (and death) differently. While some just see the end of a loved one’s life as a time for grief and mourning, we prefer to think of it as a time for reflection, appreciation and even celebration. This is evident in everything we do; from the way we conduct our services to the amenities we choose to offer. We are not a burial ground. We are a close-knit community dedicated to honoring, sharing, and preserving the amazing and inspirational stories that are life.”
In 2020, Gent Funeral Home completed construction on a 2,300-square-foot addition to its facility. The project involved adding new accessible restrooms, an indoor accessibility ramp, a lounge, and office space, as well as a thorough redecorating of the older part of the building. The funeral home opened its cremation facility in 2005.
“Our staff has grown in the last five years,” Bowles further noted as part of the changes Gent Funeral Home has faced. “This was needed to accommodate the addition of our monument company, as well as our casket and burial vault business.”
“Licensed staff are also required to complete 24 hours of continuing education every 24 months,” Bowles said. “We pay for these classes, as well as for participation in conventions occasionally that take place throughout the country.”
“We strive to continue serving our community in the most compassionate and professional way possible,” added Bowles. “All the while trying to weigh the balance of keeping prices affordable and yet taking care of our staff and their quality of life. We still offer paid vacation time off, full benefits, and a 401(k) plan for them, which is something most small businesses struggle to do these days.”
Being an active part of the communities of the families they serve is important to Gent Funeral Home. Over the years, they have been a viable and visible part of many organizations, such as Rotary, Lions, and area churches. They are also currently involved with the North Alton-Godfrey Business Council and the Alton Owl’s Club.
“We just enjoy working with the people of the community. Helping them navigate through a rough time in their lives is very fulfilling for us,” said Bowles. “I think having a business survive and thrive for generations is a challenge, but our community embraces us, and I think that is a large part of our success.”
More recently, just as for everyone, the COVID-19 crisis has been a big challenge for Gent Funeral Home. “We have tried to improve many aspects of how a funeral is accomplished to better meet the needs of the grieving family as well as to stay compliant with the law,” Bowles said.
“A movement away from ‘traditional’ burials as well as a trend of no religious affiliations within families has further drastically changed our funeral services,” he added.
And when asked why Gent Funeral Home chose and continues to be a member of the RiverBend Growth Association, Bowles said, “When I started working here with my father in the late 1980s, we were already members. I think the networking, and the sharing of information with other member business owners continue to be very valuable.”
To learn more about Gent Funeral Home and the services they offer, visit them online at gentfuneralhome.com, find them on Facebook, @gentfuneralhome, or call (618) 466-5544.
The RBGA’s Small Business of the Month Committee recognizes a different member business each month for its outstanding efforts and leadership in the community. To learn more about membership in the RiverBend Growth Association and its Small Business of the Month recognition, visit the RBGA website or call their Godfrey office.
The RiverBend Growth Association is the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization for the 11 communities known as the Riverbend. For more information about the Growth Association, please visit www.growthassociation.com or call (618) 467-2280.
This article was prepared for the RiverBend Growth Association by Melissa Meske Publications, macmeske.com.