Forest Lawn Memorial Park managers will build a funeral home in the historic Omaha cemetery, a move they hope will help preserve the expansive burial ground and its century-old stone chapel.
Construction could begin in April on what will be only the second funeral home within a cemetery in Omaha, said Gregory Easley, Forest Lawn's general manager. The first is at Westlawn-Hillcrest.
The new funeral home will be owned and operated by the nonprofit Forest Lawn Cemetery Association. It will add a modern touch to Omaha's largest and second-oldest cemetery, founded in 1885.
“It will help perpetuate the historic cemetery and chapel,” Easley said.
At 349 acres, the cemetery is one of the largest, acreage-wise, between Chicago and San Francisco, said Howard Hamilton, an Omaha historian who leads tours through Forest Lawn and other cemeteries.
He said the nearly 100,000 people buried in Forest Lawn's wooded, rolling hills in far north Omaha include such famous businessmen as Peter Kiewit, Gottlieb Storz and Dr. Samuel D. Mercer, as well as Jarvis Offutt, for whom Offutt Air Force Base was named after his death in World War I.
The cemetery is home to an ornate chapel designed by noted Omaha architect John McDonald, whose buildings include the Joslyn Castle.
The chapel, built in 1913 and extensively renovated in recent years, will still be used for funerals, although the new funeral home will hold many more people for services.
Families who use the funeral home and seek a funeral service at Forest Lawn will have the option of choosing the old chapel or the funeral home's chapel, Easley said.
The old chapel, which has also been used for weddings, can seat about 80 people, Easley said. The new funeral home will be able to accommodate 300 for services.
The 20,000-square-foot building will include space for preparation of bodies for burial, offices and a reception hall.
“The cemetery has been doing well, especially in the last five years,” Easley said. “The funeral home will just make it easier to do it all in one place. They won't have to drive from one place to another with funeral escorts and all of that.”
The one-story, Prairie-style building will be erected on the west side of the cemetery, inside the Forest Lawn entrance at 7909 Mormon Bridge Road. That's just south of the 48th Street exit from Interstate 680.
Doug Wilcox, who lives next to Forest Lawn, likes the cemetery's plans.
“They're good neighbors,” he said. “They're quiet.”
Wilcox said Forest Lawn managers do a good job tending the grounds. He noted that its wide variety of stately trees have made it a part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.
“We just don't get much new construction in this end of town,” Wilcox said. “Any nice construction we can get up north, I'm all for it.”
Among the notables buried at Omaha's Forest Lawn Cemetery
» 1st Lt. Jarvis Jennes Offutt, for whom Offutt Air Force Base is named.
» Dr. Charles C. Tomlinson, who planted Tomlinson Woods (near 114th and Pacific Streets) and also planted many of the original trees at the cemetery.
» Clair C. and Mabel L. Criss, who together founded Mutual of Omaha Insurance Cos.
» Peter Kiewit, who took over his father's small Omaha construction company and expanded it to become one of the largest in the world, Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc.
» George and Sarah Joslyn. He was president and general manager of the Western Newspaper Union. The present Joslyn Castle was their home; Joslyn Art Museum was built by Sarah as a memorial to George.
» Herman Kountze, who as a pioneer started the First National Bank of Omaha.
» Gottlieb Storz, a pioneer Omaha brewer and founder of the Storz Brewing Co.
» Jesse Lowe, the first mayor of Omaha, who came to Nebraska as a homesteader in 1850.