Spotlight on Allen-Beyer Funeral Home – Key Largo, Florida

Kevin Watts is a funeral director and embalmer at Allen- Beyer Funeral Home in Key Largo, Florida. He shared his experiences with running a successful funeral home that has been around for more than 50 years.

How was your funeral home founded, and how does it operate today?

The original funeral home was named H.W. Beyer Funeral Home, Inc. and was founded by Harry W. and Marilyn J. Beyer in 1971, renting the front half of an old hardware store. After Mr. Beyer died in 1984, Marilyn raised their kids and kept the business running for over 40 years. William "Bill" Langstaff, worked as a funeral director with the funeral home for over 15 years, until his retirement in June 2010. 

There have been a lot of changes to our island chain over the years. It has gone from being a lovely, sleepy little fishing village to a vacation resort area. The funeral home changed as well, with new ownership in October 2010 by Anthony "Tony" Allen to carry on the family-owned tradition as a funeral director with years of funeral service experience. He updated the name of the funeral home to what it is now: Allen-Beyer Funeral Home.

I have been with the firm since moving to the Keys in January 2021. It was always the dream of my wife and I to retire to the Keys. We just happened to make that dream a reality, move sooner and take positions locally to enjoy the area that we’ve spent years visiting.

Why do you believe funeral service is important?

I believe the values that we were always taught about our profession are important. Acceptance and understanding of death can be a very difficult thing for most people to grasp. It's up to us to try to take our experiences and ability to assist people during a very difficult time. I've always been a people person and enjoyed talking. I like to talk to the family and learn about the individual, and they often wind up sharing a story or two. I feel it’s helpful in getting them to open up and helps me learn more about their life.

What is the most rewarding part of working in funeral service?

I have always found being a funeral director rewarding in the sense that I am helping people through a difficult time. I've always had a knack for talking to people, asking questions and getting them to share stories and even helping them find comfort and humor in the stories that they share. If I can get them to smile or even laugh, I feel that I have helped brighten their day during a difficult time.

That's one of the reasons that I authored "Dead Serious: My Life as a Funeral Director" in 2020. There were several "touchy/feely" books out there, but I wanted mine to make people laugh and experience a wide range of emotions. I wanted people to see the side of a funeral director that they probably wouldn’t have without my book. There can be humor and an upside to any situation, you just have to find it.

What makes your funeral home unique?

I think location, mores and traditions play a big part in differences in funeral homes. Located in the Keys, we have many people who have retired and relocated here from other parts of the country. We have many who wind up being shipped back to their prior place of residence to be buried traditionally and we have many who want cremation and to be scattered in our local reef environments. Many of the Keys residents have a different outlook on life and memorialization. We have services at churches, celebrations of life at the beach and people who simply want a scattering of cremains, hoist a glass in toast and followed by a reception at night on the beach. At Allen-Beyer Funeral Home, we try to go over and above in whatever the family desires for their loved one.

What does your funeral home do in order to create a strong community presence? Do you believe that this is important?

We are all very involved in the community outside of the funeral business, being members of our local Chamber of Commerce; the Upper Keys Sons and Daughters of Italy; and the Upper Keys Orchid, Fern and Bromeliad Society; as well as supporting the Upper Keys Athletic Association, Upper Keys Humane Society, Children's Memorial Tree Gardens and many other community activities. I absolutely think being active in the community is an integral part of showing support and putting back into the people who support you. “Keeping Business Local” is a big thing here in the Keys and amongst the locals.

In what ways do you use technology to further the services you offer?

Located in a resort/retirement community, we often deal with making arrangements with a family member's next of kin over long distances. With modern technology, electronic signature and email, we are much quicker and more proficient than we have been in previous years. I think everyone in the funeral profession has seen the benefits of technology, especially during the past year and half of going through COVID-19 and still being able to conduct business with the limitations that it brought.

What growing trends have you noticed in the funeral service profession? How do you keep up with these changes?

With being a funeral director for the past 30 years, I've seen lots of trends, as we all have. Cremation will always be a changing area and companies will always try to stay on their game with more ideas of memorialization. As professionals, it is up to us all to try and stay in tune with new products and services that may benefit the families we serve, including new methods and means of memorialization, ideas of how people want their lives celebrated and the products to do so.

What do you value most about OGR? Why did you become a member?

I always knew the Order of the Golden Rule existed but I never really looked into it. When I became employed at an OGR firm, I took an interest in learning more about their mission, their pledge and Standards of Ethical Conduct. I think it is an honor to be a part of the organization and to exercise the 11 Ethical Standards.

Is there anything in particular that you do at work to keep your spirits high or the spirits of your staff high?

I think community involvement is a large factor. We stay involved in local charities, community affairs and civic functions, after-hours events in the community, fundraisers, etc. It gives us time to get together out of the office, relax, converse and stay energized and focused.

What are three future goals that you have in mind for your funeral home?

Expansion, expansion and expansion, hah! I think expansion is always a good thing. You don't necessarily have to build or enlarge until you get to a certain point, but you should always be looking for ways to make your business grow whether it is by the volume of families you serve, catering to the public, ideas to better assist with new means and ways to memorialize their loved ones or in new methods of disposition.

In our case, we're currently in the process of a literal expansion. We are pleased to announce our new sister location, "A Green Cremation," will open in the near future on a date to be announced. The new location will still serve the Florida Keys Communities.

Also, everyone seems to be more eco-conscious these days. That is certainly the mentality here in the Keys with our sea life, beaches and reef systems. I can see green burials and Alkaline Hydrolysis becoming more popular, as well as natural organic reduction (human composting).

Anything else you would like to share?

Since my education and days as an apprentice in Boston over 30 years ago, it’s been one fun ride! I don’t see myself retiring any time soon. 

I published "Dead Serious: My Life as a Funeral Director" in January 2020. I had originally thought my second book would be more of a crime drama/fiction piece, but I have since changed my mode of thinking. The more I live and work in the Keys I feel more of an inclination to publish the stories I have encountered since living here. I already have several legal pads of stories, police and medical examiner reports of unusual deaths, murders, unsolved crimes and mysterious happenings from Key Largo all the way down to Key West. The hard part now is getting it all in order to begin typing. I don’t think I could ever see myself doing anything other than being a funeral director. I just kind of fell into it and have been comfortable ever since. I have had the honor of being able to handle the preparation, funerals and dispositions of some very notable people and to be involved in several famous forensic investigations. I can honestly say I would not trade any minute of it for the world.

This message was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Independent® magazineClick here to read the entire issue.

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