CROWN POINT — The Geisen name has been a staple of the Lake County community.
For more than 150 years, Geisen Funeral Homes has provided funeral services and a familiar shoulder to lean on for those suffering the loss of a loved one.
That legacy will continue on as Anthony Geisen, the sixth generation, joins the family business.
Anthony, son of Larry Geisen, president of Geisen Funeral Homes, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps after recently graduating from Purdue’s School of Business and Worsham College of Mortuary Science.
Growing up, the 24-year-old worked around the funeral home alongside Larry and his mother, Kim. He parked cars and helped assist families during funeral services.
“In college, I told my dad that I was going to officially come in. I was going to focus everything to the business,” Anthony said. “The more I worked over the summers, the more I started to really like it. I enjoy there being two sides of the business — the upfront, very personal side and then there’s the science side in the back.”
The Crown Point facility, on 113th Avenue just west of Interstate 65, houses a banquet room that can serve catered meals; a showroom that provides families an opportunity to look over casket options; an on-site crematory; and pet loss center, which has its own crematory.
Larry and Kim opened the state-of-the-art funeral home in 2007.
“It’s an awesome feeling to have your son take over the job you have put so much time and effort into over your life,” said Larry, who took over the business after his father, Robert, retired in 1996. “I’m proud of him just like my dad was very proud of me when I came in.
“It’s exciting and a great honor for me and the community to see the next generation come through. That personal family touch is what has made this funeral home so successful.”
The company, which was started by Larry's great-great-grandfather, Peter, began as Geisen Furniture & Undertaking, a furniture business in 1867.
During that time, funeral homes didn’t exist. Peter built coffins in his furniture shop and took care of arrangements for the deceased. Viewings were held privately in homes and the process of embalming recently had been developed following the Civil War.
Peter’s son, Charles, joined his father and became one of the first licensed embalmers in Indiana.
The two built the first stand-alone funeral parlor in the Region in 1929 on East Street in Crown Point. This was considered groundbreaking at the time, Larry said.
“They built the first freestanding funeral home — a new modern facility that had never been done before,” he said.
From then on, the sons of each generation have continued to expand the business. Today, Geisen Funeral Homes has locations in Crown Point, Hebron, Merrillville and Michigan City.
Over the years, Geisen Funeral Homes has presided over some of the Region’s most historical figures' funerals.
One of Larry’s fondest memories was the burial of Richard Collins in 1998. Collins was Crown Point mayor from 1968 to 1984.
His four terms as mayor came during population surges in the late 1960s and '70s, and Collins oversaw projects that provided the underpinnings for new development, according to The Times archives.
“The funeral home back then was right next to City Hall. When I was a kid, I would pass by the mayor every day and say hi and give high-fives. We were friends,” Larry said.
“Right around the time of his funeral, there was a huge snowstorm that came through and we got like 13 inches of snow. It was hard for people to come in person, but it was important for me to get that funeral right for him and be a part of that story.”
The Geisens always have been a part of the story, said Tom Hawes, director of the city's Historic Maplewood Cemetery.
Hawes remembers the funeral home playing a prominent role in the historic 1993 return of Crown Point founder Solon Robinson.
Robinson, a farmer, agricultural lecturer and merchant, founded the city after arriving in Lake County from the East Coast in 1834, according to Crown Point Community Library archives. He is credited for building a post office and government building structures around the highest point, which became the center of town, known today as the Crown Point square.
Robinson's first wife, Mariah, and their children remained in Crown Point after he moved back to Jacksonville, Florida, where he died in 1880.
With the blessing of Harold Wheeler, Robinson’s great-great-great-grandson, the city transported Robinson’s bones to Indiana to be reburied in the Historic Maplewood Cemetery, facing the elementary school named in his honor.
“During that time, we had to find a funeral director to help facilitate the safe return of Robinson’s bones. We thought, ‘Who better to handle this than the Geisens?’” Hawes said.
Once Robinson returned, the Geisens helped coordinate a funeral mirroring one of another time.
Robinson’s bones were placed in a wooden casket, carried by a horse-drawn hearse, surrounded by participants wearing ditto suits and corseted gowns of the 1800s. The service started at the courthouse and then the group walked the casket to Robinson’s final resting place.
“I remember Larry riding on top of the horse-drawn hearse,” Hawes said. “The Geisens were a big part of all of that.”
With every service, Larry said he challenges his staff to add something unexpected to help bring a smile to families “celebrating a life.”
“Before the funeral, we heard that the lady owned a Dairy Queen, so we all got Dixie Cups of ice cream and handed them out to the family as they went through the chapel to leave,” Larry said. “We didn’t tell the family what it was. We just said, ‘There is a little item out in the hallway for you to remember Mary.’ It was very special.”
The National Funeral Directors Association awarded Geisen Funeral Homes the 2018 Pursuit of Excellence Award. The award is given to firms that demonstrate funeral service excellence and outstanding service to families and communities.
From attending church to volunteering for nonprofits, the Geisen family and staff have continued to stay active in their community over the years – something that set the funeral business apart from the rest.
“It’s important for us to be active outside of the funeral home. We don’t have to, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Larry said. “Having those relationships and face-to-face connections mean everything, especially for those who have to come to us later for service.”
“It seems like everyone here in Crown Point knows the Geisens, which is a good thing and sometimes a bad thing when you’re trying to get out of the church line,” Anthony said with a chuckle and smile, looking at his dad.