After the death of her father in 1991, funeral director Marilyn Gubbiotti has kept the family business going the past 25 years. Now, Gubbiotti Funeral Home is celebrating its 65th year in business at its location in Exeter.
Marilyn was featured in the Sunday, Jan. 17, 1993 edition of the Sunday Dispatch’s “Spotlight” for being the first woman elected president of the Luzerne County Funeral Directors Association. And while the times have changed and there are now more women in the industry, she still gives all the credit to her father and mentor, Frank.
Three years ago, Marilyn’s nephew and Frank’s grandson, Frank, became the business’ third generation when he received his funeral director license.
“My parents would be very proud to know that their grandson is now following in their footsteps to carry on the business,” Marilyn said. “It’s a wonderful thing. You don’t see too many generations coming into the business that really care about the families.”
An industry pioneer
Marilyn graduated from Wyoming Area in 1967 and attended King’s College. Her father did not want her to pursue the funeral industry and hoped her two brothers would take the reins.
After working at the funeral home for five years, she attended the Simmons School of Embalming and Mortuary Science in Syracuse, New York. She got her license in 1975. At the time, she was one of four women in a 70-person class at the Simmons School.
When she was named as president of the Luzerne County Funeral Directors Association, there were only a handful of women directors in the area. When nephew Frank graduated from mortuary science school in 2013, he said females made up about 50 percent of his class.
In 2014, the percentage of women members in the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) was 16.5 percent, up nearly 10 percent from a decade earlier. In 2014, the NFDA said more than 60 percent of mortuary science students in the United States were women.
The life as a female funeral director was not easy at the time, Marilyn said. However, she is happy with the things she was able to promote and get done within the organization.
“Women are more accepted now,” she said. “When I was named president, they put you to task for everything. During my reign we brought more speakers and seminars to the association.”
All in the family
The Gubbiotti business started in 1947 when Marilyn’s father decided to get his license after working for many years in the coal mines. Marilyn said he was injured and almost lost both of his legs in the mines and decided it was time to get out.
Knowing a funeral home family from Old Forge, his hometown, Frank got the idea to embark into the business. People believed Frank, whom which they called “The Duke,” would make a great funeral director.
“As a child, my dad would hold services for his animals,” she said. “I guess it was always in him to be a funeral director.”
In 1949, the homestead on Laflin Road in Inkerman was converted into the family’s first funeral home. Four years later, the family built their business on Wyoming Avenue in Exeter.
Marilyn’s father also owned the Monarch Casket Company on Luzerne Avenue in West Pittston until the flood of 1972.
For 17 years after Frank’s death, Marilyn worked with her mother, Rose, who passed away in 2006.
Now, it’s the younger Frank’s turn.
“I’m just trying to hold up my grandfather’s standards,” he said. “He passed them to her, and she passed them to me, and it’s hard to walk in her shoes. She has done so much.”
Marilyn said having another funeral director at Gubbiotti’s takes a lot of weight off her shoulders, and she’s excited for Frank to continue the family business.
Marilyn admits she used to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and though sometimes it’s still the norm, technological advancments have changed aspects of the business.
Communicating via email with newspapers and families has made the process of preparing and receiving obituaries much quicker.
In the past, people weren’t aware of someone’s passing until the next day’s paper. Now, if someone passes, everyone knows immediately.
“It’s so instantaneous nowadays,” Frank said. “No one has to wait for the newspaper the next morning.”
The funeral home does approximately 60 funerals per year, but that number varies. On average, according to the NFDA, nearly 60 percent of funeral homes handle 150 cases or less per year.
Over the past decade or so, the family has upgraded the building and it’s now completely handicap accessible. The inside of the building, Marilyn said, still holds true to the original, with a few modern amenities. As one walk into the building’s vestibule, a portrait of the funeral home’s founder hangs on the wall.
“I think it’s a positive thing, what dad had started, and we kind of just polished it up,” she said.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick