LONGTIME MEMBER PROFILE: Koenig & Strickland Funeral Home


John Belvill, above, is funeral director and co-owner with wife, Rowena, of Koenig & Strickland Funeral Home in La Grange. Co-founder August Koenig’s son, Gilbert, right, started work at age 12 and worked until he sold the business in 1976.  (Photo by Jay Godwin) 

By Ed Crowell 

When the big American flag flying outside the Koenig & Strickland Funeral Home in La Grange is lowered to half-staff, it’s a sign that another veteran from the area has died. Sometimes passers-by stop to ask who is being honored.
Respect and tradition rank high among the values of the 5,000 people of La Grange and in the rural families living near the town. For generations, military service has been a part of their lives.
So when it comes time to say goodbye, they do it the old-fashioned way, with an honor guard salute, a funeral service guided by religion and burial in a cemetery where the headstones tell a family’s history. 
The origins of the funeral home date back to 1894. Various descendants of the Koenig or Strickland families owned it until about eight years ago, when John and Rowena Belvill bought the business and moved from Victoria. John is the director and a certified embalmer with three decades in the profession. Rowena is the office manager. Two full-time employees and several part-timers assist them.
The funeral home offers a full range of services at the modern limestone building at 208 W. Pearl St. in La Grange, but the Belvills also have three small chapels in nearby Fayetteville, Ellinger and Industry. Right now, those chapels are opened only when a family requests a service there. Koenig & Strickland plans to break ground this year for a full-service funeral home in Ellinger and is expanding the Industry chapel. Bluebonnet supplies electricity for the chapels.
Rowena Belvill said the predominant culture in the area stems mostly from descendants of Czech and German immigrants, and it is a “very, very traditional one. And religious. They are close-knit. If family members move away, they still come back for funerals and to be buried here themselves.”
The funeral home now oversees about 175 burials and 125 cremations a year, she said. While cremations are rapidly increasing in many parts of the country (expected to reach 45 percent of U.S. deaths next year), Rowena Belvill said the people born and raised in the non-metropolitan areas of Central Texas prefer embalming and cemetery burials, even though the costs are higher. 
About 65 percent of the funerals the Belvills handle are pre-planned, which “allows parents to come in and say exactly ‘this is what we want and we’re going to pay for it,’” Rowena said. “That way, the children can simply follow their parents’ wishes.”
The pre-planned arrangements are similar to insurance policies that fix the costs at whatever year they are written. “You can save thousands of dollars that way,” she said.
Koenig & Strickland regularly holds “Lunch and Learn” seminars that lay out the paperwork, funeral details and other matters that accompany the death of a loved one. The sessions also explain the benefits of pre-planned funerals.
People frequently want mementos and items like a family Bible buried with them, she said. One woman had the ashes of her beloved little dog, which had preceded her in death, mixed with her ashes after cremation. 
While funerals are a somber business, Rowena Belvill said she found good entertainment in the 2012 movie “Bernie,” based on a true story about an eccentric East Texas funeral director.
In addition to the funeral home arranging veterans’ special services that include the playing of “Taps” and honor guards from military organizations, it also hosts a Memorial Day event in La Grange. Families of all veterans in the area who died the preceding year are invited to gather outside the home to hear speakers and patriotic music and to eat barbecue.
The Belvills take pride in the event, which has become a community staple over the past five years. John is a military veteran, as are several employees. It appears to be the right fit for residents steeped in a tradition of supportive families and service to their country. 
Throughout 2014, we are spotlighting some of Bluebonnet’s earliest commercial accounts — businesses that still get their power from the co-op.

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