Mike Barrett asks his customers when they come in the door how they heard about Centralia Monument. It’s not unheard of for them to reply, “You did my great grandfather’s stone.” Or “You’ve been doing my family’s memorials for 100 years.” It’s almost a tradition. Founded in 1896, Centralia Monument is over 120 years old – the oldest monument company in Washington State.
The Monument business is unique when compared to other forms of retail. Most of the things that are purchased in our world – cars, appliances, furniture, you name it – they only last for a finite time, but monuments or memorials are meant to last for hundreds of years. It was this reality that drew owner Effie Stilnovich and her husband Robb Stilnovich into the business 14 years ago.
“We thought it was really interesting,” explains Effie, “and we liked the idea of making a product that meant something, would last a long time and could potentially be around forever. And each one is unique, each one tells a story. It was appealing to us for that reason.”
The folks at Centralia Monument can make anything you can imagine a reality in stone. In addition to memorial stones, they have created signs for businesses and housing developments. Their sister store, Premier Memorial out of Tacoma was commissioned to do group historical memorial walls like the Coal Miner’s Memorial in Roslyn and Black Diamond.
But creating stones for loved ones is their prime business. One thing Mike has discovered since taking on this job seven months ago is that it requires a high level of precision. He finds himself triple checking his work since if he makes a mistake, it’s carved in stone. Mike has also become a wealth of knowledge in his short tenure by studying how stones have changed over the years and what is trending today.
“The ability to customize a stone has become so much more affordable because of technology over the last 30 years,” he explains.
Today, stone memorials are highly customizable. Families can sit down with a book of etchings and pick the perfect design for their loved one. And if the perfect thing isn’t in the book, they can probably find it. “There are a lot of ways we can really personalize a marker,” says Effie. “Maybe dad had a specific corvette that he loved. The family can give us a picture of his corvette and we can put it on a stone to make it personal.”
Folks shopping for a memorial stone for the first time are often surprised by the array of products that are available. Photo portraits can be added, etched or done in durable porcelain. There is also an array of bronze medallions that represent trades, causes and years of service. They symbolize things as diverse as “teacher,” “breast cancer awareness” and military emblems.
Another trend that Effie and Mike have noticed is more people are being cremated. Consequently, more people are sharing a plot and sometimes investing in larger or taller stones that can accommodate multiple inscriptions. When cremains are interred they can either be buried in a plot with a memorial stone or placed inside a special memorial made for that purpose.
Many cemeteries have columbariums which are walls with niches for individual cremains. But stones with hidden alcoves for cremains can also be placed on a cemetery plot. Centralia Monument carries cremation benches with niches for three cremains under the seat. Personal family columbaria towers may be placed on a plot and accommodate up to four urns. However, it is important to know the rules of your cemetery when making a selection.
Sometimes picking out a stone for a loved one is a difficult thing for the family, who sometimes don’t agree. According to Effie, there is a solution.
“A lot of people don’t know you can order your stone before you need one. I think many don’t look forward to doing it but it’s a nice thing to do. We are really easy to work with. Mike is a great guy and they think, ‘Wow, that wasn’t as hard as I thought.’ It’s nice because when you take care of it, you can pick out what you like whether it’s for one person or a couple. We can put the stone out in the cemetery and all kids have to take care of are the dates. There are a lot of options for getting it done now and some people just don’t realize that.”
“I’m seeing seniors come in, in advance and taking care of [selecting memorials] themselves,” chimes in Mike, “because they are buying the plots ahead of time. Then they can get what they want and their kids won’t fight about it. They are buying hopefully ten years before they need it and getting what they want. It takes a load off the family.”
But the experience really does depend on the family. Sometimes even during a time of grief, it becomes a great experience, a time to sit down and remember. For families it can be bittersweet to share memories as they select artwork for a stone. Something very positive can come out of a sorrowful time. Mike enjoys being a part of that experience.
To learn more about Centralia Monument you can visit their webpage or stop in at 502 South Tower Avenue in Centralia, Washington.