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Ceres only funeral home gets a makeover
Chapel seeing more use as Ceres numbers near 50,000
Ben Sivils, the manager of the Ceres Chapel of Franklin & Downs Funeral Home, stands in the upgraded chapel. He said the Fifth Street chapel dates back to the late 1950s or early 1960s. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The Ceres Chapel of Franklin & Downs Funeral Home has a new, fresh look both inside and out since Ben Sivils became its manager in October.

"It was bad," said Sivils. "It was old and needed upgrading."

New paint, lighting fixtures and carpet have given the facility at 2561 Fifth Street, an updated look. The renovation is part of an effort to make the Ceres chapel - part of the Ceres landscape since the late 1950s - more active in a growing community. Sivils said there is an effort to maintain regular hours rather than the past practice of being open only for appointments.

"Because Ceres has gotten so much bigger the needs come up for a funeral home."

The Ceres chapel, which has a seating capacity of 80, has served eight families in March since completion of the renovation.

During the bustle of renovation of the previously mostly dormant building, a number of people were curious about what was going on. One gentleman who feared that the building was being prepared for demolition popped in almost in tears. "He said his parents had been through this funeral home and his grandparents had been through this funeral home. He said it was a Ceres landmark and ‘don't be tearing it down.'"

The natural wood ceiling was retained and refurbished at the direction of managing director Kristi Ah You.

"A lot of people like it," said Sivils.

Original pew benches, handmade years ago, were painted.

"All the chapel furniture is new. New chandeliers, a painted job on the outside, a new sign. This carpet was more of a 1980's purplish color."

Sivils also completed a new sales room to help family members decide on caskets. Because of space limitations, the chapel will be displaying only corner cuts as well as photos of models.

The Ceres chapel serves mostly Ceres families but also those living in Keyes and south Modesto, he said.

The chapel was originally constructed with a room for body preparation but was never used, said Sivils, a licensed embalmer and funeral director. That has changed.

"All of the preparation has traditionally been done up at the McHenry location for years. We've renovated the prep room here. There's always been a preparation facility here; it's just never been used. But now everything is done here, so embalming and process for cremations. We don't have a crematory here but we do some cremations at Ceres Memorial Park ... and a crematory in Tracy."

Once the funeral is over, most the bodies are buried in Ceres but can go anywhere.

Most funerals and plots can run $9,000 to $12,000, said Sivils, with cremation gaining in popularity due in part to the lower cost.

The cremation rate in the Valley is running about 50 percent.

"When I first got in the business 20 years ago we were only looking at 20 percent cremation. When I first got in the business we were burying people who were born in the 1890's and early 1900's. Everybody then was in a casket. It was taboo for that generation to be cremated. When my grandparents passed away a couple of years ago, they were the World War II generation, they went in a box in the ground. My mother wants to be cremated. My dad wants to be buried at the (San Joaquin Valley) National Cemetery. It's really a mindset that it's going to make it easier on people."

An open house for the renovated chapel is set for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 7. The public is welcome to drop by and take a look.

For more information on the chapel and its services, call 537-4111.