Facelift for local funeral home
The Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home on Indian Springs Road in Punta Gorda, trashed eight years ago by Hurricane Charley, is undergoing a major, 8,000-square-foot, $500,000 facelift.
The facility’s new co-owner, Rick Tuss, a native of Opportunity, Mont., said that when the facility and its adjacent cemetery went on the market recently, it represented another significant opportunity in his life.
Tuss, of Venice, a 27-year veteran of the funeral business in Sarasota and Collier counties but never before a funeral director, said he and his partner, Michael Fuller, who built funeral homes in Naples, jumped at the chance to purchase and restore the Punta Gorda business.
Before Charley blew away part of the funeral home’s roof, flooded the facility, and left much of it a moldy ruin, “it was a beautiful property, like a ski lodge,” Tuss said. His intent is to restore it to a full-service, state-of-the-art facility.
For many years, he said, the business was operated out of double-wide trailers on the property, before previous owner Brian Strauch restored some 3,500 square feet of the original space, installing offices and a small chapel.
The new restoration, scheduled for completion in November, will include expanded meeting rooms and a large chapel, complete with an audio-visual room that will be able to broadcast funeral services to family members out of the area.
He’s gratified, he said, that the facility’s veteran staff, some with up to 25 years service, “loyally stuck with us,” as did many patient families with pre-arrangement contracts “who had been told for many years” that the facility would be restored, and only now it will finally happen.
He’s most proud, he said, of the home’s Veterans Gardens with armed forces flags ringing a unique marble statue of an angel carrying a deceased soldier aloft, where veterans and their spouses are offered free interment space.
“We intend to be an integral part of the community,” Tuss said, including joining both the Punta Gorda and Charlotte County chambers of commerce, and supporting community events and endeavors.
To become a state certified funeral director, Tuss, who served for much of the past 15 years as sales director and general manager of Venice Memorial Garden’s Farley Funeral Home, had to go back to school, earning an associate degree in mortuary science at St. Petersburg College.
“I did it backwards,” he smiled, earning his four-year degree in 1977 (in public relations, advertising and journalism) from the University of Florida, before returning to college 32 years later for the associate degree.
Then there were the state certification boards to pass before he could become, for the first time, a licensed funeral director.