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The oldest operating business in Hardin County is being passed on to a fourth generation of family workers.
Kenton Marble and Granite Company was incorporated in 1893, but it can trace its history back to 1850, when J.D. White opened the Kenton Marble and Granite Works on East Franklin Street. Over the following years the company changed names, owners and locations until 1903, when Henry Price incorporated Kenton Marble and Granite and established it on South Leighton Street.
One of the workers for Price was Surgis Millisor and his son, Walter, bought the business in 1963.
“Dad worked here in the ‘50s,” said Jan Spearman.
As she was growing up, said Jan, she had no interest in the monument business. It was a place her father and grandfather had worked at for most of the 20th century, but Jan had no plans to be a part of that history.
“I never thought I’d be here,” she said.
But her husband, Russ Spearman, began working at Kenton Marble and Granite and after the death of Jan’s mother in 1982, the Spearmans purchased the family business.
For one year, Russ operated the office and cut the stone by himself before Jan quit her job as a legal secretary to help him.
Jan quickly learned she was working with people who are at a very vulnerable time in their lives.
“Jan does a heck of a job,” said Russ.
“I learned to do a lot of listening,” said his wife.
Many times, she said, families want a marker that will be unique in the cemetery where they take their loved ones. She is helping her daughter-in-law, Faith, as she now helps families memorialize their deceased family members. Faith’s husband, Tim, has worked with his parents for nine years and the new generation is in the process of taking over the business so Jan can join Russ in his retirement.
Like Jan, Faith didn’t expect to be in the office of Kenton Marble and Granite. She is a registered nurse and had worked for ten years at Hardin Memorial Hospital and the Arlington Family Practice.
“I have a good knowledge of what people experience with death or an illness,” said Faith. “Like most people, I thought monuments just appeared in the cemetery, but there is a lot more involved with it than I ever thought.”
The monument business has changed greatly over the years, but it also has retained many of the physical work and skills stone cutters of the past incorporated. The family members go first to the showroom at Kenton Marble and Granite, where a variety of colors and shapes are on display.
The color stones are imported, said Russ. The black markers come from China and the red often originate in quarries in India. America has only gray and mahogany granite, which is the only stone used now for the monuments, said Russ.
“The black stone is harder and takes longer,” he said. “They used to use marble and sandstone, but they were hard to read over time. Now it’s just granite. It holds up better.”
Once the stone is selected, Tim moves the polished rocks, which weigh an average of 800 pounds, with a hoist which has been part of the business for many years. Stone cutters used a stencil for the lettering and designs on the rock, but computers generate the stencils now.
A cutter will knock off the polish for the engraved area, sand blast the stone and handle it at least eight times before it is ready to be set at the cemetery. In recent years, said Jan, families are wanting more and more information and design on their markers.
“They will want maiden names, wedding dates, children’s names or pet names,” she said.
“It’s gotten to be a scrapbook in stone,” said Faith.
“Genealogy is the big thing anymore,” said Russ. “Some families want to leave room on the stone so they can add names later.”
In the past decade or more, said Jan, it has become popular for photos to be etched into the stones. That work is done by a laser company in Lebanon. With the lasers and the computer-generated stencil, there is still plenty of skill involved with creating a monument, said Tim.
He has learned skills from his dad and when he has time, practices his stone-cutting talents.
“I’m still learning,” he said. “Each time I do it, there is something new.”
Shape carvings give the images a special effect, he said, and has become a “lost art”.
“That takes a lot of time,” said Faith, “but they are beautiful. It is unusual for a business our size to offer all the things we do and at the quality we offer.”
But there is a pride in the completed stone, Russ and Tim agreed. Throughout the office are photos of the business and pictures of stones created by the Spearmans. Tim and Faith said they will expose their children to the stone-cutting business, as Tim and Jan both were when they were young. They want them to have that experience for themselves, but will not pressure the fifth generation to continue in the monument business.
“We want them to do what they want to do,” said Tim.
Jan is giving Faith more and more responsibility of running the office as her retirement approaches. Russ turned the stone cutting over to his son three years ago, but is often close for advice and to serve as a gofer.
The young couple said they understand what Kenton Marble and Granite customers expect from the business and are determined to maintain that relationship with the families they serve.
“We have always stood behind our work,” said Russ.
“Once it’s in the stone, you can’t erase it,” agreed Faith.
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer