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Labor of Love

Frain Mortuary Owners Talk Renovations and Company Philosophy

Writer / Angela Cornell
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell

Frain MortuaryThe last two years have been difficult for many of us. Yet every so often, there’s a light in the dark hallway of time, a moment in which the heaviness of life is lifted by a respite of good news. It’s at these times that ceremonies, like funerals, are made of stronger stuff than mere tradition, and new beginnings sing of vitality.

For Jon Frain, co-owner of Frain Mortuary, this year has been one of investment and renewal, as he has renovated the funeral home in Winamac that his family has owned for three generations. In a way, this is a sort of rite of passage for the Frains as the next generation prepares to take over the family business.

“When my grandfather took over the funeral home from his predecessors, he did major remodeling, updating and investing,” Jon says. “He double-downed on his commitment. My dad did the same thing. This is my opportunity to double-down and show my commitment and appreciation to the community, and make a positive impact to the facility.”

To that end, Jon hired a longtime friend, Jill Bonnell, an interior designer by trade.

Frain Mortuary“It was an honor to be asked by the Frain family to help with this project, and a joy to give back to the community that I hold near and dear to my heart during these difficult times,” she says.

Originally, the purpose of the renovation was simply to modernize the building with fresh paint inside and out, updated flooring, and other relatively minor upgrades. However, as 1980s retro-style carpets and tapestries were removed, the building’s long-forgotten charm was revealed.

“We found beauty in the original woodwork and windows,” Jon says. “I was just stunned. I’m the third generation. I grew up in the funeral home. As a kid, never once did I look behind the curtains or think about pulling the carpet up and looking underneath it. It’s been there my whole life. For me it was just amazing.”

With that, the work order expanded to include restoring and preserving the whole building.

“While the original plan was to update the wallpaper and carpet, so much excitement grew along the way that we ended up going into great detail to restore and restyle every finish,” Bonnell explains.

For Jon, the process was astounding. For his father and co-owner, Dan, it brought waves of nostalgia.

“There were some surprises, some memories,” Dan says. “Some of it I knew about, some I had forgotten.”

Bonnell was also impressed.

“There was a lot of excitement around the history we uncovered as we peeled through layers of wallpaper and heavy drapery,” Bonnell says. “Some of the under-layers of paper date back to the art deco era almost 100 years ago.”

Much of the building’s history was already known before the renovation. Built in 1899 as a bungalow home, it was renovated into a funeral home in 1935. Since then, the building has never been used as anything else.

In 1951 Jon’s grandfather Maxwell began working there, and was trained and mentored by the owner, Walter Lange. Lange’s philosophy was that the services they offered were a chance to minister to hurting people at critical times of need.

In time, Maxwell purchased the business and educated his sons in the same perspective. That legacy is a profound reality for Jon.

“For me, it’s a labor of love,” he says. “It’s called a funeral home. It’s not just my place of business. It’s people’s home.”

The building’s modernization is another way that Jon seeks to whisper hope to the grieving.

Frain Mortuary

“We took down everything that was heavy, dark and somber,” Jon says. “We kept things tasteful and classy, but very modern and timeless. We updated it, but not to the point that people would feel uncomfortable, and we brought in a lot of light.”

For Jon, the renovations carry deep symbolism.

“The past 18 months have been very dark,” he says. “There’s been a lot of death and a lot of loss. The light reflects where we’re heading as a business, as we wrap up this year and go into the next. Funeral homes don’t have to be dark and dreary. As we went out with the old and in with the new, we kept things and set things in place. We refreshed and restored and lightened everything there.”

Frain Mortuary has locations in Winamac, Francesville and Medaryville. For additional info, call 574-946-3222 or visit frainmortuary.com. For more on Jill Bonnell’s work and services, go to jillbonnelldesign.com.

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