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'Helping people at the toughest time of their lives': KC-area funeral home celebrates 125 years

Local funeral home celebrates 125 years, looks forward
Posted at 5:51 AM, May 28, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For 125 years, McGilley Memorial Chapels has served the greater Kansas City area, caring for thousands of families during their time of grief.

Mark McGilley, the current president of McGilley Memorial Chapels, is the fifth generation of his family to look over the business. The job doesn’t come without its trials.

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“It's terribly confining, my dad was gone on Christmas. He was gone on a lot of the holidays, and so was I, raising four kids,” McGilley said. “But it just, it just becomes a part of you.”

McGilley Memorial Chapels originated as Eylar Brothers Funeral Home in 1899. Mark McGilley’s relatives came over from Ireland in 1903 and joined the family business of Meledy Funeral Homes. In 1944, they bought out the Eylar Brothers and merged into Meledy-McGilley-Eylar. In 1968, the McGilleys were the only ones left in the business, making McGilley Memorial Chapels.

“I started working regular part-time when I was 12 years old. I've got a social security card that started in 1963 and I made $37 a year and I worked at the funeral home. I cut grass, and washed cars with my brother. And it just became a part of my life,” McGilley said.

Today, the funeral home has eight locations and McGilley said they serve around 1,000 families a year.

Times have changed and the ways funerals are run have had to evolve. McGilley has seen that first-hand, reflecting on adding the internet with online obituaries, changing how funeral homes are used for services and juggling world pandemics.

“A lot of times we're not even using the funeral home. Now we still have non-Catholic funerals here. And the chapel, we have visitations there still. But these big funeral homes are probably the thing of the past,” McGilley said.

While death doesn’t observe holidays or weekends McGilley takes pride in his family’s history of caring.

“It’s the satisfaction you get from helping people at the toughest time of their lives. And that kind of keeps motivating you to do it,” McGilley said.

As for what comes next, McGilley’s sons are the sixth generation of family workers. He thinks one of his grandchildren will become the seventh generation.