Southern Cremations & Funerals and Cheatham Hill Memorial Park turn difficult days into precious memories.
By Amy Meadows
When Christine Hunsaker’s phone rings, she knows what to expect. Without a doubt, she will be speaking to someone who is experiencing one of the darkest days of their life. The conversation will be steeped in sadness, as the person’s heartbreak and sorrow will be fresh and palpable. The caller will have to make important decisions quickly and most likely will feel overwhelmed by what lies ahead. And it’s in this moment that Hunsaker is ready to offer what no one else can.
“A death is a terrible time for any family. We work very hard to listen, lean in, and figure out what our customers need,” explains Hunsaker, owner of Southern Cremations & Funerals and Cheatham Hill Memorial Park and president of Hunsaker Partners, LLC. “We are here to make a difficult day as peaceful and easy as it can be. We want to offer a sense of resolution and calmness. For us, it’s a pretty important mission.”
That mission is actually one that Christine and her brother, Robert J. Hunsaker, have been dedicated to since childhood. The children of licensed funeral director Jess Hunsaker, their first home was a funeral home. They both have spent their entire adult lives working within the funeral industry, and they each have a deep and abiding respect for the business. Six years ago, when Christine was a corporate officer for Stewart Enterprises, one of the country’s largest funeral service providers, she had an opportunity to purchase Cheatham Hill Memorial Park and the on-site funeral home in Marietta, located on 50 picturesque acres adjacent to the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. It was the largest acquisition ever made by a woman in the funeral industry, and she set out to carve an entirely new path for her newfound business. Three years ago, Robert joined her as vice president, and they have spent the last several years creating what has become one of Cobb County’s most essential and highly regarded companies.
A different approach
When Hunsaker Partners took over the property in September 2014, the campus was serving just over 125 families per year. In 2019, Southern Cremations & Funerals and Cheatham Hill Memorial Park are set to help more than 1,400 families. It’s an astounding level of growth over a few short years, and it can be attributed directly to the full-service nature of the family-owned and operated company.
“We wanted to provide everything that any family would need to celebrate the life of a loved one at one location, so everything we offer is on one campus,” Christine explains. While many families find themselves traveling from a funeral home to a church to a cemetery as they move through the process, customers who choose Southern Cremations & Funerals can focus on grieving their loved ones without ever having
to leave the property. All funeral and cre- mation services are handled onsite and are provided in a full-dis- closure atmosphere so customers can ensure that their relatives are being treated with the utmost professionalism and respect.
The facilities and grounds at Cheatham Hill Memorial Park are as beautiful as they are reverent, with customers having access to everything from a spectacular heritage cemetery, free-standing mausoleums, and elaborately landscaped burial gardens to a state-of-the-art crematorium, a distinctive indoor Columbarium, and botanical-like cremation gardens. And the Hunsakers recently added a welcoming chapel that includes elegant artwork, a baby grand piano, and a stained glass window completed by a company that has crafted products for the Vatican. They also are in the process of adding a new burial section on 20 undeveloped acres of the property. It’s all part of an effort to make the overall funeral experience one that is both simple and memorable.
“We learned from our father years ago that people expect you to be good to them because they’re coming to you on the worst day of their life. I wanted to create a campus that is geared toward the entire experience, and there is no other business like it in Georgia,” Christine says, add- ing that she and Robert have placed great emphasis on the historic property itself, which was once owned by Marietta’s beloved businessman and contractor C.W. Matthews. “We decided to focus on the beautification of this site and do it better than anyone else. We wanted to give the families of Cobb County the facilities and services that they deserve.” Robert adds, “Cobb County is rich in his- tory and heritage. We feel it’s a solemn honor to be the stewards of this beautiful property.”
Changing with the times
In many ways, Southern Cremations & Funerals truly has set itself apart in the funeral industry. For instance, Christine reveals that the company strives to offer an array of traditional funeral and cremation packages at affordable prices. By offering everything from funeral to burial services exclusively on one campus, families can save a great deal of money — between 30 and 50 percent less than a standard funeral home — while having access to some of the most beautiful facilities in the business.
What’s more, the Hunsakers have recognized that the industry itself has shifted, thanks to customers’ changing needs. “The funeral service industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Robert observes. “People are more price-conscious, but also more receptive to new ideas of memorialization. We serve all families, whether they choose burial or cremation, and have many beautiful, permanent memorial options to share with them.”
According to Christine, the market has changed so much that today approximately 50 percent of the families that choose Southern Cremations & Funerals request cremation services. To serve them properly, the company removed the need for a third-party cremation service by building a state-of-the-art crematorium on the premises; it was designed to take the mystery out of the cremation process by including a witness room next to the cremation chamber. “We want people to be able to be with their loved one all the way through the process. We welcome them to say goodbye how they want to say goodbye,” she says. What’s more, the Hunsakers found a way to help families that choose cremation memorialize their loved ones in an extraordinary way. “People choose cremation, and then what? What happens when you have an urn and no destination? We are a society of planners, but we don’t think about where the urn will be. [Southern Cremations & Funerals] are thought leaders in cremation, so we wanted to create a place where people would be able to go and grieve,” Christine continues. Therefore, the property is now home to both a Cascading Waters Cremation Garden, where urns can find a final peaceful resting place, and a Columbarium, which contains glass-front niches that allow an urn to be displayed alongside an array of personal memorabilia. “We understand the importance of family history, and this is about creating a legacy,” Christine says.
Looking to the future
Southern Cremations & Funerals is poised to grow exponentially in the coming years, with the Hunsakers expanding to new locations throughout the metro Atlanta area. Yet, for Christine and Robert, the central focus of their growing company always will remain the same.
“We are given the opportunity to be the guardians of people’s memories. To me, funeral service is a gift, and we always have to be mindful. We have to create, do, and be our best,” Christine concludes. “We are here to serve the families of Cobb County. We are blessed and grateful to be in this industry, and we want to do a good job for Cobb County.”