Tonganoxie couple puts warmth into cold memorial stones
Tuesday morning, Bill Jones was preparing a granite stone for a trip through a sandblaster.
In addition to the names and dates that will transform the slab of blank granite into a gravestone, the stone will have carvings of a dump truck, tree, dog and horse. The elements represent important aspects of the life on the man the stone will memorialize.
“Every stone tells a story about that individual,” Jones said. “The part I like about my job is having people tell me about the loved one they just lost.”
He’s easily bored, Bill admitted. But executing intricate details on the cold stones and enjoying the warmth of customers keeps the monument business fresh, he said.
“That’s the thrill of it all,” he said. “It’s nice talking to people and doing the small things that make something different for customers.”
Bill and his wife, Jan, have owned Eagle Memorials for about five years. Bill said he started it because he had the sandblasting equipment central to the business from a truck painting shop he closed when he “retired” in 1999.
The monument business became much more visible in December to Tonganoxie residents when the couple moved its site to the closed Phillips 66 station on the southeast corner of Kansas Highway 16 and U.S. Highway 24-40. There they display the monuments and limestone yard markers they make in the shop at their homestead south of Tonganoxie.
“People stop at the stoplight and look around,” Bill said. “You would be surprised how many phone calls he had because they see what we have while at the stoplight.”
Business hours at the store at 327 West St. are 2-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or by appointment. More information can be found at the business’ website at eaglememorials.com.
As Bill worked Tuesday on the memorial, Jan was busy at a nearby workbench pressing down masking around the letters spelling “Harley Davidson” on a small limestone block that also contained two K-State Powercats. Once the stone passes through the enclosed sandblaster programmed to move back and forth and up and down over the right area, it will be chopped into four decorative markers.
“I do the things Bill doesn’t like to do,” Jan joked. But she added it was important to pay attention to detail when pressing the masking into place or removing the letters so that the interior of an “A” or some other letter didn’t get blown out in the sandblasting process.
This past weekend, the couple was among the vendors at the Kansas Sampler Festival in Leavenworth. Bill said he was amazed at the size of the crowds and the interest in the limestone yard markers they craft.
Bill believes in the message of the festival. Although the blank granite cemetery monuments are quarried in Georgia, South Dakota, Pennsylvania and Canada, the couple order limestone from St. Marys and shop locally for the couple’s ongoing renovation of the Tonganoxie store.
He added the yard marker part of the business because he didn’t like “starvation,” Bill joked. He’s found other ways to diversify, as well.
“One thing we are seeing increasing is cremations,” he said. “We carry urns in town. We’re thinking about carrying caskets — I haven’t really decided that yet.”
Bill said he hasn’t yet told his own life story on a stone. But he said there were times his job made him confront his mortality.
“The one time I was spooked was when I made one for someone with my birthday,” he said. “That will make you stop and think. There’s a lot about this business that will make you stop and think.”