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Saturday, Sep 23, 2017
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Wells Memorial changing name, opening to events

PLANT CITY - Wells Memorial Funeral Home has been in the business of dealing with families of the dearly departed for more than a century. But it doesn't want to necessarily be known as a place of weeping and mourning. The business is changing its name to Wells Memorial and Event Center as it seeks to rent out its chapel for all kinds of celebrations – ones for both the dead and living. "We're expanding our horizons," said Verna McKelvin, manager of Wells Memorial at 1903 W. Reynolds St. "We're not just a funeral home."
So far, Wells has hosted a Mother's Day dinner sponsored by a church and a couple's 50th wedding anniversary celebration. McKelvin said she had her fellow members of the Plant City Lions Club over for a tour. A marketing employee developed the concept, and McKelvin and other company officials liked the idea so much they are changing the name of the funeral home, one of the oldest businesses in the city. "So far all I've gotten is positive feedback," McKelvin said. John Ricco, executive director of the Florida Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, said he's heard of other funeral homes opening their facilities to event rentals. McKelvin said she's had visits from fellow funeral directors in the Dignity Memorial network who are interested in opening their homes up for special events as well. The new name will be posted at the funeral home in a few days. The concept of event rentals is just one of several changes at Wells, including some involving funeral services. The Wells Memorial chapel, which at one time had pews, is available for families that prefer nontraditional funeral services, complete with themes. She said one family dressed up the room with decorations that reflected their loved one's passion for cats. In recent months, the business has been remodeled to include a coffee bar featuring Starbucks, a room where mourners, particularly mothers with young children, can watch funeral services via closed circuit television, and a room with a bed where bodies set for cremation can be displayed for family visitation. Wells also has tables that its employees can set up in the chapel when they are needed for a special event. Wells still offers traditional funeral services, though. "We want to give them a lot of other alternatives," McKelvin said.

dnicholson@tampatrib.com (813) 394-5103

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