Estes Funeral Chapel adapts to COVID crisis

Chris Juhn/MSR News Estes Funeral Chapel

Estes Funeral Chapel has been a fixture on the corner of Penn and Plymouth Avenues in North Minneapolis for over 35 years. Presently located in a new building—literally across the street from its former location—it is still committed to serving the community through times of grief—especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

While other small businesses have struggled, Estes has seen business increase as a result of COVID-19. “Yes,” said Funeral Director Tracy Wesley with a kind of a wry laugh, “business has picked up. In an average week we would conduct three to five services. Now we are up to six or seven. I would estimate about 40% have been COVID-19 victims.

“I can’t say we were prepared. I don’t think anybody was prepared for the way COVID-19 was going to affect us. The good thing is we are able to serve.”

“They helped us through the whole process,” said Cecelia Viel, who recently funeralized a family member at Estes. “They also helped us to keep this as close to our culture as possible. They allowed us to do the make-up and the programs.

Wesley pointed out that one of the other changes he is observing is an increase in cremations, adding that it is a likely consequence of the increase in clients who have expired due to COVID. He said the funeral home has been able to abide by the parameters enforced by the Minnesota Department of Health Funeral and Mortuary Science Guidance and Gov. Walz’s Stay-At-Home order and “still try to provide a service where we can honor a loved one and give them a homegoing.”

According to the funeral director, instead of the usual meeting with loved ones, most of the paperwork and business is conducted electronically.

“[The] main thing is protecting those that are living,” explained Wesley. That even extends to his staff. In order to protect morticians and funeral workers, state law requires them to wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and goggles. According to Wesley, this is something that has been observed since it was implemented by the Department of Health in the wake of the AIDS epidemic.

“We were expected to treat the individual as if they could be potentially infectious,” said Wesley. “We’ve always had our protective gear in terms of dealing with that.”

Chris Juhn/MSR News

In keeping with Gov. Walz’s Stay-At-Home order, the funeral chapel had suspended funeral and memorial services conducting them all online and limited funeral arrangements to four people for in-person meetings. All of Estes Funeral Chapel services are live-streamed and can be viewed on its website at www.estesfuneralchapel.com.

The funeral home allowed some services in which small groups were able to gather at the chapel while practicing social distancing. Staff and attendees were required to wear face masks. Other added measures and modifications include keeping chairs six feet apart and wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant between services.

“We were able to have people come to the visitation and go in and out while maintaining safe distancing. This really allowed for more than our relatives and family to say goodbye,” said Viel.

Estes Funeral Chapel was founded in Minneapolis in 1962 by Richard C. Estes, Wesley’s uncle. Estes said at the time he thought the African American community should have a funeral home that was sensitive to its needs and culture. Estes passed in 2013; his wife April Estes, currently owns the business.

Estes Funeral Chapel & Cremation Services is located at 2201 Plymouth Ave. in North Minneapolis. For more info, call www.estesfuneralchapel.com or call 612-521-6744.

About Abeni Hill

Abeni Hill is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at ahill@spokesman-recorder.com.

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