HUNTINGTON — Seventy-three year old Hubert Compton says he knew in the fifth grade that he wanted to work in the funeral home industry.
"My grandmother passed away and I saw how the funeral home people treated our family during such a horrible time for us. I thought right then and there that it was what I wanted to do when I grew up," Compton said.
In the ninth grade, Compton wrote his assigned theme paper for a class about the funeral home industry.
"Despite all of that, my mother and step-father still wanted me to pursue a career in accounting," he said.
While taking accounting classes at West Virginia University in Morgantown, Compton just made up his mind to follow his dream of becoming a funeral home director.
"I needed 60 hours of credits before I could do my apprenticeship, and I already had 81 credit hours, so I quit WVU and began at Fred L. Jenkins Funeral Home in Morgantown," Compton said.
Compton said after three months his hometown funeral home, John W. Lohr Funeral Home in Elkins, West Virginia allowed him to finish his apprenticeship.
Compton graduated from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in Pennsylvania in March 1969, and after passing his state board certifications, he received his license and began his career as a funeral director on April 17, 1969.
"I came to Huntington in 1971," Compton recalled. "I worked with Chapman's Mortuary for 22 years."
In April 1993, Compton became a funeral director for Reger Funeral Home on Adams Avenue in Huntington.
"I am in my 27th year now here at Reger's, and I couldn't be happier," he said.
Over the five-decade span of his career, Compton has seen American customs toward death and memorials change rapidly.
"When I first got in the funeral home business, all of them used to provide ambulance services for the city," he explained. "We used to make more ambulance calls than funeral services."
Compton said funeral homes in Huntington got out of the ambulance service in the 1980s.
Compton said in 1995 Reger's sent him to the National Funeral Directors Association Convention in Nashville, Tennessee to learn more about cremation services.
Cremations, once rare, exceeded burials in the United States for the first time in 2016, and may reach almost 79 percent of dispositions by 2035, according to a report by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).
Compton says many families are still unaware of the full spectrum of choices available for end-of-life services.
"This has probably been the biggest change, and also the biggest challenge, in the funeral home industry during my 50 year career," he said.
According to the NFDA report, many consumers are not aware that cremation can be accompanied by a memorial service or viewing. Less than half of Americans associate cremation with a memorial service, and just 11.8% associate cremation with a funeral that includes a viewing. Over half of Americans (52.2%) are not aware that, as part of a funeral with cremation, they can view a body that has been prepared but is not embalmed.
"We offer complete services, such as cremation, funeral services, viewings or anything a family would desire," he said.
Patrick Reger, owner of Reger Funeral Home and Cremation Services, says cremation makes up 20% to 25% of the funeral home's current business.
"That is going to continue to increase," he said. "Cremation is not a service. Our role as a funeral director is to help make sure families understand all of the available options and commemorate the life of their loved one in a meaningful way regardless of whether they choose burial or cremation."
Reger Funeral Home was founded in 1903 in Martins Ferry, Ohio by Patrick Reger's great-grandfather Henry Reger.
"My grandfather James Reger took over after that, then my father George Reger, the my brother George and I took over and now my son Andrew began the fifth generation in 2017," Patrick Reger said.
Patrick Reger says Hubert Compton is cut from the same cloth as his father.
"They are the consummate funeral directors who when they meet and take care of a family they take them under their wing as if they are part of their family," he said. "I don't know of any higher compliment that I could give someone."
After 50 years as a funeral director, Compton says the thing he is most proud of is having a small part in the apprenticeship of seven local practicing funeral home directors.
"Over the years I have seen many come and go, but these seven people are still currently practicing and helping others," he said. "I couldn't be more proud of all of them."
Compton added that he still enjoys working for the oldest family owned and operated funeral home in the Tri-State area.
"It has been a wonderful relationship here at Reger and I look forward to continuing it," he said.
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NAME: Hubert P. Compton
EDUCATION: Graduate of Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science
FAMILY: Wife of 45 years, Ellen (passed in 2016); son, David; and daughter, Becky
PET DOG: Spencer
CURRENT JOB: Funeral home director
HOMETOWN: Originally from Elkins, currently lives in Huntington
HOBBIES: Collects antique clocks
SPORTS: Avid West Virginia University football fan
FAVORITE BOOK: The Bible
CHURCH: Grace Gospel Church
FAVORITE MOVIE: Christmas vacation[STORY]