By Burton Speakman
Wally Sinn didn’t plan on spending nearly 50 years working in the funeral-home industry.
He first started at Lane Funeral Home working in the ambulance area because he wanted to get medical experience and had plans to be a doctor.
But for nearly 50 years, Sinn has been one of the constants, first at Lane’s original location in Mineral Ridge and then at the Austintown location starting in 1974.
Sinn said the inspiration that brought him to Lane was seeing a bad automobile crash when he was young and watching the ambulance workers.
“At 15 years old, I went and applied at Lane. They told me I was too young and to come back in a year,” he said. “I came back on June 9, 1965, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Sinn initially would do things such as washing ambulances and then became an ambulance attendant, but he eventually discovered that instead of going to medical school, he enjoyed working with the families who came into the funeral home, he said.
As funeral director at the Austintown site, Sinn has seen a number of families who came to Lane because he had arranged a funeral for a relative years, if not decades, before, he said.
“It helps a lot of families to come in and see a familiar face,” Sinn said. “In this business, you don’t always realize all the lives you’ve touched.”
Joe Lane, who has taken over the family business from his father, said that he and Sinn grew up together working at the funeral home.
“Wally was the seventh employee in the company’s history, and I was the eighth,” Joe Lane said.
Seeing Sinn around the building is comforting to a lot of people, Lane said.
After Lane’s father died, Sinn was able to keep things operating just like his father would have, Lane said.
“Wally spent a lot of time around dad and could think like him,” he said.
Sinn’s duties recently have moved him away from the funeral home in Austintown to Lane’s administrative building next door, but he still comes over to talk to families and help whenever he can, Sinn said.
Sinn said he has considered retiring in June 2015 when he reaches 50 years with Lane.
But Lane said he doesn’t want him to go.
“We’ll just have him slow down, take a little more time off. That sounds a whole lot better,” Lane said. “We’ll have him take some longer vacations.”
A lot of things have changed in the funeral industry over the past 40-plus years, Sinn said.
“When I first started, there was a calling night for the family and then three days of viewing. Now, there is never more than one day of viewing,” he said. “The family comes in an hour before the public, and the funeral is the next day 99 percent of the time.”
In addition, at one time, cremations were less than 1 percent of Lane’s business, but now they take up about 40 percent, Sinn said.
People also dress much more casually now when they come to a funeral, he said. At one time, every man wore a suit, and women typically wore dresses.
Also, nearly every funeral home ran its own ambulance service, Sinn said.
“Now, I think we’re the only one left. [The late] Joseph Lane’s love of the ambulance services is why we still have the ambulance service,” he said.
The ambulance service was a big part of Sinn’s early career in the industry when he was on duty every other night and weekends for ambulance runs, Sinn said.