Geib celebrates 175 years: A respect for tradition

Geib celebrates 175 years: A respect for tradition

Image Credit: Submitted

In 1846 when James K. Polk was president of the United States and the Civil War was still more than a decade away, Joseph McElroy, a skilled furniture and cabinet maker, migrated from St. Clairsville, Ohio to New Philadelphia and established the Joseph McElroy Co.

While he believed he could successfully operate a furniture business there, he never could have imagined his small shop would move, expand and eventually evolve into Tuscarawas County’s oldest continuing business establishment: The Linn-Hert-Geib Funeral Home & Crematory.

The 175-year evolution of this business, from simple cabinet shop to community and funeral service leader, reveals a society’s changing attitudes and needs and one family’s five-generation desire to serve them.

For McElroy, as for all furniture makers of his time, the funeral business was a side line. In the mid- to late-1800s, there were no funeral homes; instead, the deceased’s family was responsible for preparing the body and providing facilities in the home for visitation and services.

The furniture maker’s role in funeral service was simply to construct a casket and use his horse-drawn delivery cart to transport the casket to the family’s home and to the burial site following the service because there were no paved roads or automobiles.

McElroy’s company was successful and moved closer to the public square within a few years. Eventually, McElroy offered additional options to his patrons.

In 1887 he employed James Linn, who introduced embalming to the community. When McElroy retired seven years later, Linn, who had married McElroy’s daughter, purchased the furniture/funeral business and renamed it The James A. Linn Co.

In 1902 Linn partnered with Jacob A. Geib, a well-known local upholsterer and undertaker whose responsibility was to create linings for the caskets.

Still, the firm’s focus remained on the furniture division of the business, and that same year, Geib and Linn relocated the successful company to a newly constructed four-story building on East High Avenue.

Adjoining the building was a stable, built to house the delivery carriages and both black and white horses, which apprised onlookers of their wagon’s purpose: White horses delivered furniture; black horses pulled the carriage if it carried a casket for a funeral procession.

Fourteen years later in 1916, Alfred E. Hert, the former manager of Gintz Furniture and Funeral Home in Dover, joined the firm, and the Linn-Hert Co. was incorporated, according to incorporation articles, “for the purpose of buying, selling and dealing in furniture, household furnishings, undertaking supplies and other merchandise and conducting a general furniture and undertaking business.”

Linn was named corporation president, Geib was named vice president and Hert was named secretary-treasurer.

In 1920 Jacob Geib’s son, Carl E. Geib, joined the firm. Together, these four men took an innovative step that would revolutionize the funeral industry in Tuscarawas County.

In 1923 they purchased the John Marlow residence at 116 Second St. NE and opened the facility as the valley’s first funeral home. At the home visitation and final services could be conducted, and many of the details formerly assumed by family members could be handled by licensed personnel.

It was an idea well-received by the community and would preview the pioneering efforts that would become a trademark of the firm.

As the furniture and funeral home divisions of the Linn-Hert organization continued to grow, additions to the funeral home were completed in 1933, 1936 and 1949. Linn died in 1941, and in 1950, when A.E. Hert retired, Carl Geib assumed the role of company president.

The following year his son, Richard D. Geib, Sr., a graduate of Heidelberg College and the Cleveland College of Embalming, joined the firm.

The three generations of the Geib family, Jacob Geib, Carl Geib and Richard D. Geib, Sr., worked together until Jacob Geib’s death in 1952.

Carl Geib, who held sole ownership of the company in 1958, oversaw another remodeling and expansion program of the funeral home in 1966, and the name Linn-Hert-Geib was officially adopted.

Seven years later the board of directors, to which Richard Geib, Sr. had been appointed, made the decision to concentrate solely on the funeral home. The furniture business was closed and the East High Avenue building razed in anticipation of future funeral home service needs.

When Carl Geib retired in 1971, Richard Geib, Sr. purchased the company and spearheaded another remodeling project in 1973. Two years later the fourth generation of the Geib family, Richard D. Geib II, became associated with the firm. Richard Geib II, a graduate of Heidelberg College and a 1975 graduate of the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, was involved in the firm’s 1978 remodeling and in the complete renovation of the facility in 1981.

In 1984 Carl Geib died, and in 1987 the Geib Family Center was dedicated to his memory. The center, located adjacent to the funeral home, was designed as a place for families and friends to gather following funeral services and as a site for community functions. The center was a unique addition to Geib funeral service offerings and was embraced by the community.

Following the retirement of Geib, Sr. in 1992, Richard Geib II purchased the business and was named president of the firm. In 1995 he expanded showroom facilities to feature the largest selection of funeral service merchandise in the area and, sensing a shift in the climate of community opinion, included the addition of a cremation products showroom.

Two years later as cremation became a more desired form of disposition, Geib II wanted to assure families each cremation was done with dignity under the care of certified staff. To provide this assurance, he saw the need for cremation to be done locally. In August 1997 the Linn-Hert-Geib Funeral Home installed the first human crematory in Tuscarawas County.

Geib II then oversaw interior renovations at the funeral home with the creation of the Reflections Gallery, an open display of caskets, urns, vaults, flag cases, guest registers, stationery, sympathy cards, floral options, grief literature, keepsakes and pet keepsakes. Designed to simplify the selection of funeral merchandise, the gallery offered families meaningful and affordable options.

In January 2002 a fifth generation of the Geib family, Anne, daughter of Richard Geib II, and Jenny Geib joined the firm. As a licensed funeral director, she continued the Geib tradition of locally owned and family-operated funeral service, and with her degree in public communication from the American University, she oversaw community relations, marketing efforts and public service opportunities.

The two-generation team envisioned the creation of a complex that would be unique in appearance, functionality and appeal. Their vision culminated in 2005 with the opening of the Geib Funeral Center at the north end of Dover.

This 11,000-square-foot facility was designed to reflect the dignity of traditional funeral services and visitations, as well as to accommodate diverse community events. Incorporated into the Funeral Center was an additional human crematory and, in response to repeated requests, the first pet crematory in the Tuscarawas Valley.

Simultaneously, Geib Dover and New Philadelphia offered keepsake galleries with chimes, blankets, frames, candles and other memorialization items for gifting to grieving friends and families.

Anne Geib accepted the role of company president in 2011, and in 2020 she faced the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

To determine how the funeral home could comply with restrictive government regulations while safely serving the needs of grieving families, Geib met with her care team and created innovative protocols for memorialization.

Online media options were developed for families to participate in funerals from the safety of their homes, and the county’s only outdoor visitation opportunity was implemented, enabling community members to greet grieving families while remaining inside their vehicles.

Later, as governmental guidelines relaxed, both expansive Geib facilities accommodated the safe-distance mandates.

Building on the vision and insight of the firm’s founders while focusing on the needs of grieving families, five generations of the Geib family have maintained a commitment to progress, a respect for tradition and a goal of community satisfaction.