Charlie Kassly is the third generation of his family to lead Kassly Mortuary, which has been serving the metro-east for the past 108 years.
Charlie recently sat down and talked with business writer Will Buss about the family business:
Q: Who established the morturary?
A: "The business was started by our grandfather in 1906 in East St. Louis on Exchange Avenue, which is now an on ramp to the new (Stan) Musial (Veterans Memorial) Bridge. It's interesting when you Google it now and that hole in the ground where the on ramp is, is where our business was. I grew up in East St. Louis and we moved to Fairview Heights in 1973. The business was relocated here in '71, and we closed in East St. Louis probably about two years later. My dad was Joe Kassly Sr. and his brother was John and they were both the second generation. They were here until 1984, when they both died. Myself and my two brothers were licensed directors and we kind of took over the business."
Q: Why did they move it to Fairview Heights?
A: "I think the main reason why Dad and John built here is because of the central location. It's worked out as an excellent location for us."
Q: Where do your clients come from?
A: "We have families that used to be 4 or 5 miles away that are now within 40 or 50 miles. It's now expanded to where we even cover St. Louis County."
Q: Is there is fourth generation in the family business?
A: "My son, Pete, who has been licensed for about a year, and then my brother Jim, whose son Jimmy will actually start mortuary school later this year in Chicago. So we're hopefully not transitioning from the third generation, yet. I've got a few more years left in me."
Q: How many family members are operating the mortuary now?
A: "Currently it's just myself and my brother Jim. We're incorporated and a closely held company. Myself and my brother Jim are the owners of the stock. We have our two sons and we have a sister, Cecillia, who has since become one of the librarians at (Southern Illinois University) Edwardsville. She went back to get her master's and has kind of transitioned from the business. She still carries her license and can contribute here to the business if she wants to."
Q: What has changed about this business over the years?
A: "After doing this for over 30 years now, it's always interesting when you sit there writing obituaries when we first started back in the late '70s and think 'How could somebody do this for 30 or 40 years?' And now here I am, for the last 30 or 40 years. But there have been a lot of changes. We have gone from two-wake nights to one-wake nights or even same-day services. Cremation has gone up from when I started, from maybe 5 percent to now about 30 percent. People also like to have a lot more detail and customized services with a lot of their own touches on it. Still, by and large, the presence of the body is probably still the single biggest important factor of funerals. Obviously, with more cremations, the remains are still present. There is also video or maybe one or two pictures or wedding pictures, whatever is the case. That has turned into hundreds of pictures, wedding videos with sound tracks and things like that."
Q: What has kept the mortuary operating for more than a century?
A: "We've had very smooth transitions. Obviously with the death of my father and my uncle, aburptly, in '84, we were operating and my dad was actually semi-retired and my uncle was not, but we pretty much knew what needed to be done. We had the guidance of a good support staff, such as our accounting firm and our legal firm, to be able to let us do that. I don't want to be bragadocious, but I just want to say that I think we have good people who work here and work with us, and it just makes it a lot easier. With our name on the front sign, we've always taken a very personal and a very precise approach to how we run and operate a business and how we want to be treated, kind of like the golden rule."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.