New lease on life for funeral home

Staff Writer

By linda denicola

Marie Ortiz  Bruce Thompson purchased the former Adams Memorial Home on Broad Street in Red Bank, closing the deal Jan. 17. Thompson plans to continue accepting business while the building undergoes renovations. Marie Ortiz Bruce Thompson purchased the former Adams Memorial Home on Broad Street in Red Bank, closing the deal Jan. 17. Thompson plans to continue accepting business while the building undergoes renovations.

Another sign of changing times occurred rather quietly last week on Broad Street in Red Bank. It is literally a sign change. For nearly 50 years the sign in front of the stately Colonial with chipped white paint and light blue shutters said "Adams Memorial Home." Last week the old sign came down, and a new one went up, reflecting the new owner of the house, Bruce S. Thompson. Fittingly, the new sign says "Thompson Memorial Home."

Adams Memorial Home was the oldest, family-owned and operated funeral home in Red Bank, and one of the oldest in the state. The history of the business goes back to the year after the Civil War, when R.R. Mount and Son Funeral Home opened on West Front Street in Red Bank, according to Ruth Connelly, who along with her husband, William, ran the business for the past 35 years.

After working for the Mount family for 46 years, Fred Adams became the owner of the business in 1953. Just two years earlier, the business had moved to the present location.

The Connellys, Oceanport residents, purchased the house and the business in 1967, after Adams’ death, but with the retirement of the Connellys, the Adams funeral business will cease to exist.

"Mr. Thompson bought the property, but not the business," said Ruth Connelly.

Thompson, who plans to renovate the large house, closed on the deal Jan. 17 after negotiating with the Connellys for more than a year.

Ruth Connelly said it was a big decision to retire. "My husband has been a funeral director for over 50 years," she said.

Thompson has already held two memorial services, one that was called into the Connellys the night before the sale. "I will be doing business even while the renovations are going on," Thompson said.

Thompson plans to add new landscaping out front that he hopes will draw more attention to the beautiful Colonial revival house that was built in 1915 as a private residence. At the time it was nicknamed "Elm Court."

Thompson said he plans to repaint the outside, but will keep it white, the same color it has been through the years, but instead of light blue shutters, they will be navy blue.

"It is probably one of the prettier pieces of property on Broad Street, but it is set so far back that nobody notices it," Thompson said.

A Fair Haven resident, Thompson plans to renovate the upstairs to include an apartment for himself. Painters are coming in this week, he said, and for the rest of the house, he is working with a decorator that specializes in funeral homes.

The house has five fireplaces — four downstairs, one upstairs — beautiful pocket doors and classic moldings. It came furnished with period pieces that Thompson plans to refurbish, but hanging in the main chapel is a large, ornately framed oil painting that Thompson brought with him.

"It’s of Jenny Hasting Stevens, a former first lady of New Jersey," Thompson explained. "She was married to Archie Harry Moore, governor of the state during the 1920s-30s."

The painting fits very well in the large, main room of the house that must have been at its prettiest around that time, but has seen so much life and death over the years.

At the age of 42, Thompson already has 20 years’ experience as a funeral director at John Day Funeral Home in Red Bank, which is part of Sidun Funeral Group. It is where he started his career as a high school intern and where he came back after his professional schooling.

Thompson grew up in Fair Haven and attended Rumson-Fair Haven High School. While in high school he did an independent work study at John Day. That experience eventually led him to the American Academy/McAllister Institute of Funeral Services in New York City where after a 12-month course, he served a two-year apprenticeship at John Day.

Besides holding a funeral director’s license, he is a licensed life insurance agent. "I have to do continuing education for both," he noted.

"A lot of family-owned parlors have been sold to public companies, but I read an article in The New York Times recently that the trend is moving back to independent ownership.

"I’m a small-business person. Small family business is in my blood. My mother’s father founded X. Smith, greenhouse manufacturers, in Eatontown, and my brother and cousin run it now. My other brother owns Guaranteed Plants and Florist in Locust, and my mother owned Peppermint Tree, Fashions for the Young, in Fair Haven.

"It was always a dream of mine to own my own funeral home. It’s a very exciting time for me," he said.

Thompson’s family has a long history in the area. His grandfather, S. S. Thompson, owned a construction company that built bridges, including Cooper’s Bridge on Route 35. He was active in the community and was one of the founders of Riverview Medical Center and the Red Bank United Methodist Church.

Thompson said he has never been tempted to move away. "Both sides of my family are longtime residents," he said. "I love the area, the ocean, the town of Red Bank. To be able to serve the community that I grew up in should be a great experience," he said.