Family affair

Warren Marble and Granite Monument Co. Remains a Family Business Business Journal Daily

WARREN, Ohio — Randy Miller’s father and grandfather taught him the trade of gravestone engraver more than four decades ago, though he continued to work in other locations across the state.

In September 2020, he and his wife, Lori, carried on the tradition of the Miller family by purchasing the Warren Marble and Granite Monument Co. from the Corbin family. Warren Marble engraves and sells headstones.

Warren Marble is over 130 years old. Miller says the Corbin family started the business in 1890 at the corner of East Market Street and Pine Avenue, where the Horseshoe Bar stands today. A boarding stable housed horses that carried monuments more than half a mile to Oakwood Cemetery.

Warren Marble and Granite Monument is now located across from the cemetery. He moved there in the 1920s to be near a level crossing, which was once used to deliver monuments by boxcar.

“Things kind of evolved from there,” Miller says.

Today, customers come in with different requests for tombstones. Miller’s company must merge these color, shape and size requests with the requirements of each cemetery.

Completed headstones range from under $1,000 all the way up to $15,000 for a family memorial. Warren Marble also sells cremation urns to hold the remains, which can be incorporated into a monument or kept at home.

Master stonemasons work on the headstone before it arrives at Warren, polishing it and carving it with intricate detail. The stones come from other states and from abroad.

Supply chain issues impacted Miller’s business, delaying stones by two to four months.

“We’re starting to hear that things are starting to loosen up, but in reality it’ll probably be next summer before things get back to a good pace,” he says.

Once the headstones are delivered, it is up to designer and memorialist Ron Jaeger to deliver a stone that meets the customer’s orders. He begins by producing a stencil with letters and designs. The stencil is glued to the monument for engraving, and the stone then goes to a sandblasting machine.

Sometimes customers want designs and stencils they have seen on existing headstones. Jaeger says he’ll go to the graveyard to get the specs.

“It’s tracing on the stone that’s there so you can copy everything as much as possible on the designs, on the lettering so they match the stones, the color,” he says. “Sometimes it can be very difficult trying to find matching colors. There are new colors that are close and you’re just trying to do the best you can.

A three tonne crane spans the full length of Warren Marble, with dangling straps used to carry larger headstones or monuments. An average headstone weighs 230 pounds, while a monument can weigh close to 2,000 pounds. Once completed, the stones are transported to the cemetery by truck.

John Miller, Randy’s son, says there is no technical manual on how to do this job; most training is done on the job. Those who stay with the company usually have family ties to it, he says.

“It’s one of those things that I learned so much from my dad because he’s been doing it for 40 years,” he says. “It’s those things that you don’t realize. It’s those little nuances that make it an art. It really is an art. I mean it’s something that you have to kind of figure out and you have to do it repetitively.

“I’m still dating him and I have so many questions. It’s crazy because you come across something that you think we’ve done a million times. You have to look at the lettering on it. It’s kind of different and things have to be adjusted.

There is a lot of pride in this work, commemorating a person’s life on a tombstone.

“You have to make sure that the product you put out, this finished product, lives up to people’s expectations, because it will stay in the cemetery forever,” says John Miller. “It’s the memory of someone there. So you absolutely have to be on your game.”

It is difficult to find young people who want to be part of the company. According to career trend.

“It’s not really a well-paying job, and you start off by sanding or digging foundations,” says Randy Miller. “It’s very laborious, and it’s hard, dirty work. For some reason people today think they can make money on a computer or in an office without getting dirty. It’s really hard to find someone.

John Miller, a 32-year-old firefighter, is looking to one day take over the family legacy when his father retires.

He is already looking to the younger members of his extended family in hopes that some will also take over what has become the family business and continue it.

“I mean, if you don’t have people to take over this work, this art will eventually die,” says John Miller. “It’s something we want to continue. We want people to be interested in it. Right now, I think it’s probably going to end up becoming a family affair that people will want to get into. I hope that’s what we can do.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.