Warren Marble and Granite Monument Co. Stays a Family Affair
WARREN, Ohio – Randy Miller’s father and grandfather taught him the trade of headstone engraver more than four decades ago, though he would go on to work at other places around the state.
In September 2020, he and his wife, Lori, resumed the Miller family tradition as they purchased the Warren Marble and Granite Monument Co. from the Corbin family. Warren Marble engraves and sells headstones.
Warren Marble is more than 130 years old. Miller says the Corbin family started the business in 1890 at the corner of East Market Street and Pine Avenue, where the Horseshoe Bar stands today. A livery stable there housed horses that carried monuments more than a half mile to Oakwood Cemetery.
Warren Marble and Granite Monument is now located across the street from the cemetery. It moved there in the 1920s to be near a railroad crossing, which was once used to deliver monments by boxcar.
“Things kind of evolved from there,” Miller says.
Today, customers come in with different requests for headstones. Miller’s business must merge those requests of colors, shapes and sizes to the requirements of each cemetery.
Completed headstones range from less than $1,000 all the way up to $15,000 for a family memorial. Warren Marble also sells cremation urns to hold remains, which can be incorporated into a monument or kept at home.
Master stonecutters work on the headstone before it comes to Warren, polishing it and engraving it with intricate details. The stones originate in other states and abroad.
Supply chain issues have impacted Miller’s business, delaying stones by two to four months.
“We’re starting to hear that things are starting to loosen up, but realistically it’s probably going to be next summer before things get back to a good flow,” he says.
Once the headstones are delivered, it’s up to designer and memorialist Ron Jaeger to deliver a stone that fulfills the customer’s orders. He starts by producing a stencil with lettering and designs. The stencil is adhered to the monument for engraving, and the stone then heads to a sandblasting machine.
Sometimes customers want designs and stencils that they’ve seen on existing headstones. Jaeger says he’ll go to the cemetery to procure the specifications.
“It’s tracing over the stone that is out there so you can copy everything as much as possible to the designs, to the lettering so they’re matching stones, color,” he says. “Sometimes it can be very difficult trying to find matching colors anymore. There’s new colors that are close and you just try to do the best you can.”
A three-ton crane spans the length of Warren Marble, with dangling straps used to carry the headstones or larger monuments. An average headstone weighs 230 pounds, while a monument can be almost 2,000 pounds. After they are finished, the stones are transported to the cemetery by truck.
John Miller, Randy’s son, says there’s no technical manual on how to do this job; most training is done on the job. The ones who stay in the business usually have family ties to it, he says.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve learned so much from my dad because he’s been doing it for 40 some years,” he says. “It’s those things that you don’t realize. It’s those little nuances that make it an art. It’s truly an art. I mean it’s something that you kind of have to pick up and you have to do it repetitively.
“I still go out with him and there’s so many questions I have. It’s crazy because you encounter something that you think we’ve done a million times. You got to look at the lettering on this. It’s slightly different and you have to tweak things.”
There’s a lot of pride taken into this job, memorializing a person’s life on a headstone.
“You have to make sure that product that you put out, that finished product, is up to snuff for people because that’s going to be in the cemetery forever,” John Miller says. “That’s somebody’s memory there. So you have to definitely be on your game.”
Finding younger people who want to be part of the business is difficult. Those who want to be a headstone engraver can expect to make an average salary of $33,860 a year with an hourly wage of $14.85, according to Career Trend.
“It’s not a real high paying job, and you start out sandblasting or digging foundations,” Randy Miller says. “It’s very labor intensive, and it’s a hard, dirty job. For whatever reason, people nowadays think that they can make money on a computer or in an office and not get dirty. It’s really tough to find somebody.”
John Miller, a 32-year-old firefighter, is looking to take on the family legacy someday when his father retires.
He is already looking to the younger members of his extended family in hopes some will also take up what has become the family business and continue it.
“I mean if you don’t have people to take this job over, eventually this art is going to die,” John Miller says. “It’s something that we want to carry on. We want people to get interested. Right now, I think it’s probably going to end up a family thing that people are going to want to come into. Hopefully, that’s what we can do.”
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.