November 8, 2010
Tribune Business Weekly article
A funeral home and a whole lot more
Space suits for meetings, reunions, community gatherings, even weddings 
By Gene Stowe Tribune Correspondent 

The 5-year-old Granger Chapel of McGann Hay Funerals Cremations Gatherings lives on the leading edge of the funeral home business, hosting wedding receptions, reunions and other social events between services. 

The 10,400-square-foot building on three acres off Indiana 23 is part of a rising trend in the industry and one of only two in Indiana with its array of potential uses. “That's the trend,” says Pat McGann, who bought the family business from his grandfather in 1979. “Any funeral home has a lot of excess capacity. We're looking for opportunities.” 

Modern funeral homes are equipped with the kitchen and banquet facilities to support such activities because they serve food to families who in earlier times would have held such meals in religious institutions' halls. “There seems to be a new trend nationwide for funeral homes to have a place for families that aren't necessarily affiliated with a religious organization that offers meals after funerals,” McGann says. “We're also very well adapted to serving food during the visitations and such. We actually have two buffet areas. The state inspector told me the first day he came he had never been in a nicer funeral home and he'd never been in a larger funeral home inside.” 

The building has three themed chapels — Waterfall, with a cathedral ceiling, Gothic window and earth tones; Crystal, with a 10,000-crystal chandelier that shines 24/7 through an arch-topped window; and Presidents, inspired by McGann's grandmother's mahogany Martha Washington desk and appointed with statues and other executive memorabilia. The spaces can be opened to make one area large enough to seat 300 to 400 people. The building also has a grand entrance and lounge. 

“We've done meetings — neighborhood meetings and gatherings for the Granger community,” McGann says. “We can have a meal with a dance floor.” One high school reunion held 265 people plus a dance floor and DJ. Most of the Granger facility is public space because other company facilities supply plenty of storage space. 

McGann Hay traces its roots to an undertaking service started in 1842 at the University of Notre Dame by Father Edward Sorin and Brother Francis Xavier Bartholomew Crowley. McGann's grandfather bought the business when it was on Notre Dame Avenue, where the Morris Inn now stands, and moved it to North Michigan Street to be near a trolley car line until the mid-1960s, when parking posed a problem. The property was sold to McDonald's and the business moved to Notre Dame Avenue south of campus. 

In 1985, McGann moved the main chapel to higher-visibility Edison Road east of campus. He acquired Forest G. Hay Chapel on Ironwood Drive, a funeral home that dates to 1920. The company also owns Morningstar Funerals and Cremations on Cleveland Road and American Cremation Society, the oldest in Indiana, next to the Edison Road home. McGann says the Granger market for decades was considered demographically attractive — except that residents were too young to be ready for funeral homes. 

“Ever since I've been in the business, within the industry people said whoever was first to build in Granger is going to have a gold mine, but it's very young,” he recalls. “I figured those people who were very young 40 years ago are 40 years older and starting to die.” The first funeral in the Granger chapel was in November 2005. The location has drawn earlier customers' children who have moved to Granger as well as residents from southern Michigan counties, including lakeshore dwellers, as well as northwestern Elkhart County. 

A church meets in the facility on Sunday mornings, the second since the chapel opened — the first grew enough to buy its own building. 

Mid-States Construction builtsays, adding that customers seem happy to dance, worship, feast and celebrate in the space when the funeral home is the chapel to McGann's specifications — no dropped ceilings, fluorescent lights, flat roofs or drains in parking lots. The land is a National Wildlife Federation-certified backyard wildlife habitat, providing animals with food, water and a place to raise their young. “It is very homey,” he says, adding that customers seem happy to dance, worship, feast and celebrate in the space when the funeral home is not occupied with its original use.