Life goes on

Janice Man­nal in­side the Robert L. Man­nal Fu­ner­al Home, a May­fair land­mark for more than sev­en dec­ades. KEV­IN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

Janice Man­nal’s long ca­reer of run­ning her fam­ily’s fu­ner­al busi­ness has been capped by a key hon­or.

Janice Man­nal plans a busy year as pres­id­ent of the Pennsylvania Fu­ner­al Dir­ect­ors As­so­ci­ation.
Man­nal owns and su­per­vises the Robert L. Man­nal Fu­ner­al Home, a staple at Frank­ford and Tyson av­en­ues since 1937.
In June, she was in­stalled as pres­id­ent of the 130-year-old or­gan­iz­a­tion dur­ing its an­nu­al con­ven­tion in Her­shey.
“I’m look­ing for­ward to it,” she said. “It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to get out of the of­fice a little. I’m go­ing to be do­ing a little bit of trav­el­ing. I’m about to see places in Pennsylvania I didn’t know ex­is­ted.”
The fu­ner­al home sits on a little more than an acre at the south­east corner of Frank­ford and Tyson. The ori­gin­al build­ing, con­struc­ted in 1908, was once a private home.
Today the build­ing is lar­ger be­cause of an ad­di­tion, and the barn has been con­ver­ted to gar­ages.
Robert L. Man­nal, Janice’s fath­er, opened the fu­ner­al home in 1937. He died in 1955, when she was 8 years old.
Helen Man­nal, who died in 1996, took over as own­er after her hus­band’s death, but she did not have a fu­ner­al dir­ect­or’s li­cense. A su­per­visor was hired to keep the busi­ness go­ing.
Young Janice was a stu­dent at the Frank­ford Friends School, and she and her older broth­er fre­quently wel­comed friends in­to the home.
“It was my nor­mal life,” she said. “We lived up­stairs and had a tele­vi­sion on the third floor, so nobody would hear us dur­ing a view­ing.”
The fam­ily’s plan was for Robert Man­nal II to take over his par­ents’ busi­ness, but he died at age 21.
At the time, Janice was about to start her seni­or year at Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln High School. She would go on to study at Temple Uni­versity, gradu­at­ing with a de­gree in pre-mor­tu­ary sci­ence. She earned a de­gree in mor­tu­ary sci­ence from the New Eng­land In­sti­tute.
“I thought I’d get my li­cense and go on to do something else. I al­ways wanted to work in pro­duc­tion,” she said, re­fer­ring to a be­hind-the-scenes role in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dustry.
In­stead, start­ing in 1969, she took over the fam­ily busi­ness.
The staff in­cludes Dav­id V. Peake Jr., her 35-year-old son, who ex­pressed an in­terest in the busi­ness while work­ing there dur­ing sum­mers between col­lege semesters.
“It’s worked out well,” she said. “He’s good.”
Her oth­er son, 31-year-old Robert “Lig­gett” Man­nal Peake, is in the U.S. Army, sta­tioned in Ger­many. He has served a tour of duty in Afgh­anistan.
His moth­er is tak­ing care of things at home. Forty-two years in the busi­ness and Janice Man­nal shows no signs of slow­ing down.
“I really didn’t think I’d be do­ing it forever in my sweet youth,” she said.
So, what makes a suc­cess­ful fu­ner­al dir­ect­or?
“I think you have to have a huge level of com­pas­sion,” she said. “It’s all about the fam­ily. I think I learned it by liv­ing it.”
One oth­er key is the con­di­tion of the in­teri­or and ex­ter­i­or of the prop­erty. Like many fu­ner­al homes, the Man­nal site is im­macu­late.
The grounds in­clude plenty of park­ing spots, with spaces clearly marked with painted lines. Con­stant at­ten­tion is paid to the grass, snow and win­dows.
“Real es­tate is para­mount,” Man­nal said.
Over the years, she has been act­ive in in­dustry or­gan­iz­a­tions. She’s the former pres­id­ent of the Phil­adelphia Fu­ner­al Dir­ect­ors As­so­ci­ation. She served 10 years on the Pennsylvania State Board of Fu­ner­al Dir­ect­ors, in­clud­ing two terms as chair­wo­man.
In all of her lead­er­ship roles, she’s been the first wo­man to hold the posts. The cur­rent po­s­i­tion, which is a vo­lun­teer role, is par­tic­u­larly pres­ti­gi­ous.
“Pennsylvania is one of the old­est as­so­ci­ations and the largest. There are el­ev­en-hun­dred mem­bers out of six­teen-hun­dred fu­ner­al homes in the state,” she said.
For Man­nal, the de­cision to branch out has been a nat­ur­al one.
“Why not be in­volved in an or­gan­iz­a­tion that sup­ports what you do?” she asked. “All of us can get com­pla­cent. Any kind of con­fer­ence or brain­storm­ing en­er­gizes you.”
Already, she has traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a lead­er­ship con­fer­ence and is plan­ning a trip to Chica­go for the na­tion­al fu­ner­al dir­ect­ors as­so­ci­ation con­ven­tion in Oc­to­ber.
Dur­ing her one-year term, she ex­pects to pro­mote a long­time as­so­ci­ation ob­ject­ive of en­cour­aging fu­ner­al dir­ect­ors to pur­sue con­tinu­ing edu­ca­tion cred­its. The over­all goal is to main­tain the in­teg­rity of the in­dustry.
In ad­di­tion, she’ll lead a dis­cus­sion on con­sumer trends. “Cer­tainly, there’s been an in­crease in crema­tions,” she said.
Man­nal es­tim­ates that tra­di­tion­al fu­ner­al ser­vices, which end in a buri­al, make up 75 per­cent of her busi­ness. The rest are crema­tions, just about equally split between ser­vices with ashes or a body that is later cremated.
In states such as Flor­ida, Ari­zona and Cali­for­nia, which have a lot of re­tir­ees with chil­dren of­ten liv­ing out of the area, crema­tions make up more than 50 per­cent of busi­ness.
Fu­ner­al ser­vices have evolved in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to Man­nal.
“A ma­jor change I’ve seen is per­son­al­iz­a­tion,” she said. “More people are do­ing video trib­utes, memory boards and per­son­al­ized pray­er cards.”
A state sur­vey shows that the av­er­age fu­ner­al costs $8,000.
Some people, Man­nal said, have stopped run­ning death no­tices in  news­pa­pers be­cause of the rising cost.
Oth­ers count on fu­ner­al dir­ect­ors to handle all as­pects of the ser­vice.
“Ten years ago, I didn’t have a file of fu­ner­al lunch­eon menus,” she said, hold­ing a stack in her hand. “Nor was I or­der­ing flowers.”
In try­ing to main­tain and build her busi­ness, which is a mix of Cath­ol­ic and Prot­est­ant fu­ner­als, Man­nal ad­vert­ises in church bul­let­ins, spon­sors church cal­en­dars and sup­ports seni­or-cit­izen or­gan­iz­a­tions.
The ser­vices can take place at either a church or the fu­ner­al home, and Man­nal said her busi­ness has be­nefited by word-of-mouth.
The in­dustry has been good to Man­nal, and re­tire­ment is not on the ho­ri­zon.
“I love what I do. I’m very for­tu­nate,” she said. “I get a great deal of sat­is­fac­tion. Hav­ing done it as long as I have, it’s a part of who I am.” ••
Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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