John F. Slater Funeral Home marks 75 years in its Brentwood location
October 4, 2012 9:30 AM
The former White Hall Tavern in Brentwood in the 1800s, home of the John F. Slater Funeral Home for 75 years.
By Margaret Smykla
Andrew Slater considers a funeral home a safe place rather than a sad one.
"People can show emotion and be themselves, and it's OK," the sixth-generation Slater said of the family business.
Mr. Slater, 26, is a funeral director at the John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood, which is owned by his father, John F. Slater.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the business at its current location, an open house will be held Oct. 14 at the funeral home at 4201 Brownsville Road. The open house will run from 1 to 4 p.m. and include light refreshments, music and a video history of the funeral home.
"It has been our honor and privilege to serve literally hundreds of local families over the years with dignity, respect and discretion," John Slater, 59, said.
The roots of the family trade can be traced to John Slater's great-great-grandfather, William Slater, who founded a dry goods store on Mount Washington around 1870. Because he owned flat-bed trailers and teams of horses for deliveries, neighbors sometimes asked him to transport their deceased family members to the cemetery.
The practice led him to open a funeral home next to the dry goods store at Virginia Avenue and Kearsarge Street.
In 1902, William Slater's oldest son, John Henry Slater, founded a funeral home at 228 Brownsville Road in Mount Oliver. By 1930, John Henry's three sons -- Herbert, John H. Jr. and Arthur -- had joined the business.
In 1937, Herbert and John Jr. bought the Brentwood property where the funeral home now stands. The land had been the site of the White Hall Tavern until the tavern burned down and a large house was built on the property. A year after the Slaters bought the property, that house became the John H. Slater Sons Funeral Home.
Herbert's son, J. Fred, joined the business in 1948. The first addition to the structure was completed in 1955, and a new entrance was added a year later.
By 1957, Herbert and John Jr. merged the Mount Oliver funeral home into the Brentwood business. Herbert retired in 1968, and John Jr. in 1974. J. Fred assumed ownership that year.
In 1984, J. Fred sold the business, which was incorporated in 1972 as the John F. Slater Funeral Home Inc., to sons John and Stephen.
Stephen left to open the Stephen D. Slater Funeral Home in Jefferson Hills in 1997. Another brother, Timothy, operates Timothy K. Slater Funeral Services, the former Farnsworth Funeral Home, in Mount Oliver.
John's son, Andrew, joined his father in the Brentwood business in 2008, becoming a licensed funeral director in 2010. John's sister, Sherwyn Repp, also works part time there as an administrative assistant.
Among the 20 full- and part-time employees are six funeral directors.
"It is an on-demand job by necessity," John Slater, of Bethel Park, said. "But there are enough of us we can alternate weekends."
He continues to upgrade the facility, adding new windows, doors, front roofs, pillars and side entrances last year.
He disagrees with a recent ruling by a federal judge that struck down several provisions of the state's 60-year-old Funeral Director Law, including the provision that limits ownership of funeral homes to licensed funeral directors and their spouses, children, grandchildren or estates.
The judge also rejected the mandate that funeral homes be named after the proprietor in most cases. The state is appealing.
John Slater said that requiring a license to own a funeral home ensures consistency and an appropriate level of service.
"Public service is No. 1," he said. "The owner's name on the sign says if you are not happy with the service, there is someone you can talk to."
He said he felt no pressure as a youth to carry on the family tradition.
During summers in high school and college, he cut grass and trimmed trees on the funeral home grounds. At times, he had to change quickly into a suit to transport bodies.
"I got used to it," he said, later enrolling in the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.
Andrew Slater, of Brentwood, said he, too, made his decision to follow the well-traveled family path for what he sees as the profession's toughest challenge yet biggest reward.
"It is seeing people at the worst time in their lives and helping them get through things," he said.
Those who want to attend the open house at John F. Slater Funeral Home are encouraged but not required to call 412-881-4100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org beforehand. Parking will be available at the funeral home and at the Greater Beneficial Union building at 4254 Clairton Blvd., where shuttle bus service will be provided. More information: www.johnfslater.com.