|Celebrating 100 Years: Toale Brothers|
Celebrating a 100-Year Legacy
Toale Brothers Funeral Home & Crematory
By Steven J. Smith
With three locations in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the funeral home is now under the watchful eye of the third generation of Toales: Jason, 33, and Jeff, 31.
Although funeral homes are historically Mom-and-Pop operations that are passed down from generation to generation, Jason and Jeff say they never felt pressure to take up the mantle of the family business.
“We were always given the option that, if you want to, the funeral home is here,” Jason said. “But Dad said if you want another career, go figure out what you want to do.”
Jason and Jeff then sat down and discussed it, concluding they had a rare and unique opportunity — to preserve their family name and extend its indelible mark into a third generation of service.
“We have a business with a good name and reputation, and a lot of history in the community that we want to see go forward,” Jason said. “Our slogan is ‘Celebrating Life,’ and that’s what we’re here to do. We serve all faiths and all types. We are the community funeral home.”
The First 100 Years
Established in 1912 by George Thacker, the community’s first undertaker, the business (whose main chapel is located in downtown Sarasota) was purchased in 1948 by George and Jack Toale, two Bradenton brothers. Two of George’s sons (Curt and Robert) and one of Jack’s (David) succeeded them. Robert’s sons Jason and Jeff came into the business full time about nine years ago and have assured it will retain the Toale name for decades to come.
The brothers take their family heritage seriously.
“I think that knowing our grandfather (George Toale) has been very loving and nurturing, and our whole family has been very close, it’s just carried over into the funeral business,” Jeff said. “We’ve always tried to make a connection with the families we serve. Dad told me when I started here, ‘If you make a mistake, you have to walk down the street and look these people in the eye.’ It always resonated with me that we serve our neighbors.”
While Toale Brothers has organized some high-profile funerals over the last century, Jason and Jeff were reluctant to talk about them, out of respect for the families.
“I will say there are more moving parts to bigger funerals, such as crowd control,” Jason said. “But that’s part of our job and we give the same attention to smaller funerals that we give to the large ones. Each and every celebration of life is as important to us as any other.”
The brothers said they serve a unique sector of the American population in Sarasota, handling funerals for a wide variety of fascinating people that have contributed a great deal to our society — and our history.
“You hear stories about a person who served in World War II, who stormed the beach at Normandy, or people who fought in the Pacific Theater, or captains of industry, or CEOs of major companies,” Jason said. “We had a gentleman who survived the Bataan death march. The stories you hear are just incredible. It’s a real history lesson. And you see the values that got these people through such trying situations instilled in the family members I sit across the table from. It’s really, really incredible.”
Keeping Up in a Changing World
The size and scope of the funeral business has changed greatly over the last century, and Jason and Jeff have become students of its history as well as active participants in its evolution.
“You go back to when this funeral home first began, horse and buggy drawn carriages would take the casket out to the cemetery,” Jason said. “The funeral home also once ran an ambulance service, and at one time the ambulance served as the funeral coach. That was a trend that went on for years, before the formal EMS system was put in place.”
Cremation has also evolved as a popular choice since the mid-1970s, the brothers said.
“Folks think it’s greener, more earth-friendly,” Jason said. “And it’s more convenient. A lot of people move to Sarasota as a retirement community. They move away from their family up north. So instead of going through the expense and hassle of getting the whole family together down here, many choose to have a cremation here and send the ashes back up north to be buried in the family plot.”
Another trend the brothers have seen develop in their industry is the video tribute.
“We have a screen and projector as part of our funeral services, so the family can display a PowerPoint slide show of a person’s life and times,” Jeff said. “It can comprise family photos from the ‘40s or a two-minute video of home movies that can be played during the service. I think our dad was more used to moving flowers around, whereas Jason and I are more used to moving around a screen and projector!”
“We get the best reactions from attendees on video tributes, with people saying they really enjoyed seeing an intimate glimpse of the family,” Jason added. “It spurs more conversation between attendees and members of the family. It really celebrates the person’s life.”
“It’s therapeutic for the family, too,” Jeff said. “They all get so involved in developing the tribute. It brings them together as well.”
A Delicate Balance
Operating a funeral home can be demanding, because it is not a 9-to-5 kind of job. Jason confessed it can be a challenge, balancing work and a family life.
“This business operates 24/7/365,” Jason said. “Balancing my time between my own family and the families we serve is one of my biggest challenges.”
The brothers are quick to credit their employees, most of whom have been with the company for many years. “Our company success would not have been possible without the years of service of our dedicated staff,” Jeff said. “We celebrate services as a team and consider it a privilege to serve the Sarasota and Manatee communities.”
The brothers agree that running a business in such close quarters with death gives them a greater appreciation of life. Some situations, such as the funeral of a child, can be heartbreaking.
“But like a doctor or a nurse, you must be emotionally professional,” Jason said. “You have to know how to best serve the families compassionately and professionally in their darkest hour.”
Helping the community makes them feel better, too, and community service has been a part of Toale Brothers Funeral Home for generations.
“It started way back with our grandfather and great uncle,” Jason said. “Jack Toale was involved with the Kiwanis Club and George was involved with the Rotary. Same thing with my father and uncle. Both were involved with the Rotary here, they were active in the Shrine Club, and now Jeff and I have gotten involved in the Young Professionals Group through the Chamber of Commerce, and I also sit on the board of the Argus Foundation [which focuses on such local issues as governance, education, environment and land planning, health and human services, and transportation].”
The Toale brothers also take part in philanthropic endeavors like holiday giving to local charities such as the Sarasota/Manatee Police Athletic League, Goodwill, and the Suncoast Communities Blood Bank, to name a few.
“We’ve gotten on the Sarasota/Manatee County social services rotation list for the indigent, where the family is not able to provide funds for a funeral,” Jeff said. “When we’ve been assigned, we’ve worked with each county as far as handling the burial, whether through the Sarasota National Cemetery or cremation or whatever.”
Preparing for the Inevitable
The brothers stressed that preplanning one’s own funeral — which they said is done by about half of their clients — is an important part of easing the stress of one’s survivors, and alleviates additional anguish of loved ones making emotional decisions that can create division in families who are already in pain. Preplanning, they said, diffuses debates or feelings of guilt as to whether the right choices have been made.
“There are two aspects to preplanning,” Jason said. “There’s the paperwork process that makes sure I’m buried here or my ashes are spread there. Then there’s the financial part, which is pre-paying for it. We guarantee the price going forward, so it’s a good value.”
“The biggest benefit is that the framework is already there,” Jeff added. “The tough questions are already answered and when the time comes, it’s just a matter of putting the plan in place.”
The economic downturn has affected everyone, but Jason and Jeff asserted that they cannot — and will not — take shortcuts in their business.
“It’s easy for me to cut corners and outsource different aspects of our job, and cut back on staff,” Jason said. “I can’t do that and still provide the level of quality service to our families. We just invested in a new crematory two years ago that’s essential to our business. We felt if we had cut back on that we’d be doing a disservice to our families.”
“Our quality service and dedication have allowed us to celebrate 100 years, which is an amazing achievement and one I want to see continue,” Jeff added. “It’s what sets us apart and has given us our proud heritage. We look forward to serving this wonderful community for another hundred years.” Terri Harrison contributed to the research and writing of this story.