‘Families first’ says new owner of Altamont funeral home

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Jeffery Collett likes this cozy parlor, with fireplace, in Altamont’s Fredendall Funeral home and plans to “freshen it up a little bit.” 

ALTAMONT — For Jeffery Collett, directing funerals is a family affair.
He learned the business from his father-in-law and is now working with his son, Daniel.

This month, the family purchased Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont — its third funeral home and Collett says it will be the last.

“Our philosophy is based on families first,” said Collett. “It’s not about what we want. It’s about what we can do to make this path easier to walk for grieving families.”

He stressed, “This is not a corporate chain.”

Joe Konicek, the father of Collett’s high school sweetheart, Mary, owned a funeral home in Watervliet. The family lived upstairs.

After graduating from Siena College with a degree in finance, Collett started his career as an administrator for a large medical firm and would help out his father-in-law at his funeral home, which is now named Konicek & Collett.

“My father-in-law felt very strongly, he wanted my name to join the family firm,” said Collett. “He was overjoyed that his grandson would become licensed.”

Daniel, 31, is the oldest of the Colletts’ three children. Daniel and his wife, Lehneya Ciccarelli Collett, have a daughter, Freya Ann, who will soon be 1 year old.

Jeffery and Mary Colletts’ daughters, Grace and Meagan, both work in retail.

“They all grew up in the funeral business. Grandma and Grandpa lived upstairs in the funeral home ...,”  said Collett. “They’ve come to understand what the families are going through. They understand when we need to step away, even when we’re at an event.”

A decade ago, the Colletts purchased the Daniel D. Purcell Funeral Home in Troy. As with Fredendall, they kept the original name.

 

History

“The name is recognized in the community and is an important part of this history,” Collett said of Fredendall.

Harry Fredendall bought the business in 1921 and the name hasn’t changed since. Dating to around 1860, the sprawling white building, an Altamont landmark, was initially a cabinetmaker’s shop, according to Jim Yohey, who sold the business to John Gulino in 2007. Yohey guessed that it evolved into a funeral parlor when people came to the woodworker for coffins. Until recently, he said, it wasn’t unusual for funeral parlors to have furniture stores attached.

Yohey had been at the helm of the family business for 27 years when he sold it, and said he was disappointed his children didn’t want to take it on as it had been in the family for five decades.

He conceded it was a hard business. “Over the years, we’ve become so close to the people, the funerals we have now are becoming very personal,” said Yohey in 2007. On burying friends, he added, “There’s an emotional toll for that.”

Gulino, who also has a funeral home in Windham, owned Fredendall for 14 years. Collett said this week that Gulino wanted to focus on his Windham business but is helping the Colletts with the transition.

“My wife and I are into preserving community and tradition,” said Collett.

He went on about Altamont, “We fell in love with the village the first time we came to see the funeral home … We will become part of the community.”

Although Collett would not divulge the purchase price, he said, “This funeral home is here to stay. This is not a short-term investment; it’s a commitment to the community.”

 

Future

For the building itself, while Collett wants to maintain all of its traditional elements, he has plans to “freshen it up a little bit.” He keeps the curtains open because he finds light uplifting. “Light is good,” he said.

“If it’s velvet, it has to go,” Collett went on, adding that, when mourning, “Your heart is heavy; you don’t need anything else bringing you down.”

As far as running the business, he said, “We love tradition but we like to stay cutting edge.”

When he was young, Collett said, a death in the family was a six-day ordeal with callers at home and church services. “The period of mourning is now more a celebration of life,” he said.

Often modern-day families are scattered and members can’t get back for services. Collett and his son offer videos so mourners at a distance can participate in honoring a person’s life, he said.

The funeral home has several large-screen televisions on which the Colletts project videos they’ve made from pictures families have supplied.

“It really took hold during COVID,” said Collett of gathering and mourning through teleconferencing.

Collett said he listens to exciting new ideas from his son and they offer many choices for mourners. “People aren’t being pushed into one-service-fits-all,” he said.

Some families still prefer a traditional viewing during calling hours with a church service. Others prefer cremation and a celebration of life.

“Everything doesn’t have to be dark and sad,” Collett said.

Mourners will ask if they have to wear suits or if they can play happy music, Collett said. “We say to families, ‘What do you want? How do you want your loved ones to me memorialized?’”

In the few weeks that the Colletts have been running Fredendall Funeral Home, they have been meeting pastors, cemetery staff, and making friends in the community, Collett said.

“Everything’s computerized,” he said of how his business is set up. “We can work from any location. We’re available 24 hours a day.”

What sets their funeral homes apart, Collett said, is the personal service. “We’ll go to their home. I’ve gone to hospitals,” he said, explaining that some people while in hospice care want to make their own choices about their funerals.

Asked if years of helping mourners deal with death has taken a personal toll, Collett said, “I’ve had times where friends have called on us. I’ve lost family members. It’s never easy.”

But he went on, “I have to put my own grief, my own sadness on the back burner. The family always comes first.”

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