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 firstname.lastname@example.org