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Today is Father's Day, and you know what that means: It's a Sunday of cards, neckties, sport shirts



Published: Sat, June 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Today is Father's Day, and you know what that means: It's a Sunday of cards, neckties, sport shirts and aftershave.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are about 66 million fathers in this country, and the National Retail Federation estimates that we'll spend about $8.23 billion on gifts to honor our dads.

That's a lot of neckties.

For many people, Father's Day isn't just a day about giving something to Dad; it's also a day to reflect on gifts they've received from their father.

"He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."

-- Clarence Budington Kelland

As a kid, Chuck Eddy didn't have to look far to find a hero. The guy he admired the most was sitting at the end of the dinner table.

"I always admired my dad," said Eddy, 47. "He was a good father, a good husband, a good businessman. I admired the way he dressed. I admired the way he talked. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be just like him."

Eddy's talking about his father, longtime Austintown car dealer Bob Eddy. The elder Eddy, now 70, has a multilayered relationship with his son. They're father and son, of course, but they're also business partners, golfing buddies, traveling companions and, Bob Eddy insisted, "best friends."

Following in his footsteps

Bob Eddy has been in the car business for nearly 50 years. Growing up, Chuck Eddy's favorite place to be was with his dad. While Bob was building his business and reputation and eventually his own dealership, Chuck was using every opportunity to hang out with his dad.

"I'd go down there and sweep floors, wash cars, change flats, work in the parts department. It didn't matter to me," Chuck said. "I just wanted to be down there."

Bob Eddy remembers how his son would line up his model cars, in rows as straight as pins. Other boys were moving the cars along the floor, racing along, but not Chuck.

"He had 'em lined up, just like at the dealership," Bob said. "He didn't want anybody to touch them. He wanted it just perfect."

Chuck proudly calls himself a "car guy," something he got straight from Dad, he said.

"It's the ultimate compliment in this business," Chuck said. "To say, 'you're a car guy' means you've got a feel for the business, a passion for the business, a feel for the car."

Being close to him

Bob's dad was a coal miner who eventually moved his family to Warren to work at a gas station. He loved cars too, and he worked for his son for many years before he died in 1986.

Chuck was 12 when his father opened his own dealership in early 1970. Bob saw the "car guy" spark in him and put him to work.

"I put him through every department," Bob said.

"Did I like washing those cars?" Chuck said, laughing. "No, definitely not. I hated it. I wanted to be up here, so that's the price I had to pay. It was all about being with Dad."

Bob said he wanted his son to have an appreciation for what it takes to run a successful business.

"A lot of people see this as a glitter business," Bob said. "It's hard work. He needed to know that."

Now that he's a father, Chuck appreciates the lesson. It's one he's passing down to his own sons.

"My parents taught us the value of a dollar," Chuck said. "Too many people give their kids the keys to the ranch without them understanding how you get the ranch."

Entering the business

Working with his dad at the dealership was the only career Chuck seriously considered.

"I love to cook. I love to fly," Chuck said. "I might have opened a restaurant, or become a commercial airline pilot. Or maybe gone into law enforcement. But this was really what I always wanted."

He went away to college, arranging his class schedule so that he could come home on Fridays and work at the dealership. After two years, he came home for good.

"His mother was disappointed," Bob says. "She wanted him to stay and get his degree. I was tickled to have him."

Because he watched his father for so many years, Chuck went into the business with his eyes open. He knew about the long hours, and he knew that business has its ups and downs.

Family life

He also observed that his father had two strong support systems: his faith, and his wife, Shirley. The Eddys have been married 50 years; Chuck and his wife, Kathy, have been married for 25 years.

"I guess what I've seen from my dad is that he has the right priorities," Chuck said. "God is primary, family is second and the business is third. He doesn't live for the business."

Bob Eddy has slowed his schedule in recent years, but he still makes a daily appearance at the dealership. Father and son consult frequently on business matters, and Chuck runs the show day-to-day.

"We certainly have our times when we agree to disagree. When that happens, we shut the door and pray," Bob said.

"I could count on my left hand and have fingers left over the number of times Dad and I have had a knockdown," Chuck said. "But I respect him and I know my place. He's the big kahuna and I run things for him."

Away from work, father and son enjoy church work, playing golf and big family gatherings. And always, cars.

"Do people think we're weird?" Bob said. "Absolutely. But I also think they envy us, being so close."

"I talk and talk and talk, and I haven't taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week."

-- Mario Cuomo

Kelly Becker-Rumberg grew up in Struthers, the daughter of the local funeral director. For much of her childhood, she lived right beside the funeral home.

Death, she says, was a natural part of life, certainly nothing to fear.

But go into the business herself? No thank you, she said.

Dan Becker has five children, and none of them seemed interested in going into the family business. Kelly headed toward a career in business, but something that happened her first year in college gave her a jolt.

A professor threw out words and phrases and asked students to describe what the word meant. A classmate stood to talk about "funeral director."

As the person spoke, trotting out words like creepy, Kelly went on the defensive.

Realizing his role

"It was the first time in my life I had ever thought that's the impression some people might have," she said. "I just didn't look at it as an unusual part of life. My dad loved his work. But as an adult, going beyond Struthers for the first time, I saw it for the first time."

Dan Becker, now 69, kept work away from his home life. Every night, he came home for dinner at 6 p.m.; he usually had to return to the funeral home for 7 p.m. calling hours, but for that one hour, he was at the dinner table and it was family time, Kelly said.

Kelly wanted to move beyond Struthers; her goal was to be a flight attendant. When that didn't happen, she went to work with the ambulance service her father owned. She was running the office, with no plans to go to work at the funeral home.

"My father didn't encourage me one bit," Kelly said. "He wanted all of us to have the freedom to choose our careers. He didn't want us to feel obligated. If we were going to go into the business, it would have to be our own idea."

Inspiration

When Kelly, now 44, was in her mid-20s, she was helping out in the office at the funeral home. As she worked, she had a front-row seat to watch her father work with grieving families. The service aspect of the business intrigued her; it was something she had never thought much about.

"I remember thinking, 'This is what he's been going through all these years,'" she said.

So she approached her father with an announcement.

"I said, 'I think I would like to be a funeral director,'" she said, remembering. "And he asked me, right then, 'Do you want to learn to embalm?'"

Kelly's answer was swift: She wanted to work with families, but she didn't want to do embalming.

No deal, her father said. He would love to have her join the business, he said, but she would have to learn it all. He offered to send her to mortuary school anywhere she wanted to go.

"I got on the phone and I called schools in Florida and San Francisco and a lot of other places," she said. "It was about 3 in the afternoon, and the last place I called was Pittsburgh. The woman said they were having orientation the next day and the term would start on Monday."

Kelly relayed the information to her dad. Within two hours, the two of them were in Pittsburgh, rushing through enrollment and picking out an apartment.

She was committed.

"My whole life had changed in a matter of hours," she said.

Filling his shoes

She loved mortuary school because she was focused on the end result, working in the family business. After graduation, she served a one-year apprenticeship with her father. She's now president of Davidson-Becker Funeral Homes, and her father, now semi-retired, is chief executive officer.

"We make all decisions together," she said. "And even after all these years, I am still learning from him."

One of those lessons is patience, she said.

"My dad always says, 'Take your time. Don't be impatient,'" she said. "He's always fair and honest, and those are lessons I have learned from him."

Her father is always open to new ideas, and Kelly admires his willingness to embrace innovation.

"He's a very progressive man, not the least bit old-fashioned," she said. "He's a sincere, honest person, just an all-around good guy. If I could be half the person he is, I would consider that a great success."

Looking back, she's glad he got her into mortuary school quickly. In the past 18 years, she learned why her dad loved his work so much.

"We are helping people through one of the worst times of their life," she said. "It's very rewarding."




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