FAIRFIELD — Craig Bryan walked inside the Chapel of Light at Fairmont Memorial Park and looked at the various displays kept in glass-fronted niches.
The niches held containers with cremated remains. They also contained items ranging from a Brett Favre football card to family photographs to statuettes of Mary and Jesus and of Betty Boop, the keepsakes and reminders of lives that have passed on. There is nothing anonymous about them.
“I’ve been with a family for one-and-a-half hours making sure everything is just right,” Bryan said. “Each one is its unique story.”
Bryan-Braker Funeral Home has been helping families deal with the passing of loved ones for almost 60 years. Bryan, the owner and president, is in the thick of things.
“A family owned business means you’re involved day-to-day,” Bryan said.
Bryan-Braker Funeral Home helps people design funerals and make arrangements. It works with local cemeteries and also operates Fairmont Memorial Park, with its mausoleums, columbariums and memorial walls. Bryan said the funeral home offers options so families can decide what is best for them.
“Our job is to make sure it happens and happens smoothly,” Bryan said.
The business started in 1954, though its roots go deeper. That’s the year that Bryan’s father, Paul C. Bryan Jr., bought the Suisun City-based Hansen Funeral Home, which had a lineage dating back to about 1906.
Fairfield outstripped Suisun City in growth and Paul Bryan moved the business to Fairfield in 1964. It’s located on what was then the outskirts of town along West Texas Street, near to the county hospital, the state Department of Transportation corporation yard and the large park that would later be named Allan Witt Park.
His father figured those three neighbors would remain a constant, Craig Bryan said. He was right in two of the three cases – the park and Caltrans yard are still there, but the county hospital was torn down in 2002 and replaced with apartments.
Craig Bryan initially had no intention of carrying on the family business. He went to college to learn about finance and business and then returned to Fairfield about 30 years ago to work with his father for one year. He thought he could learn from his father, but that a year would be enough.
But Craig Bryan and his father got along well at work. As it turned out, Paul Bryan retired about five years later and Craig Bryan is still there.
“This is an interesting business,” Craig Bryan said. “It’s different every day.”
The business has changed with the times. It opened funeral homes in Dixon in 2008 and Vacaville in 2010. It has added such technological twists as making DVDs of the deceased’s life to be shown during services.
“We’re also able to webcast for those who are unable to attend,” Craig Bryan said.
Bryan-Braker Funeral Home has been involved in the community. Among other things, it started a venture called the Bryan-Braker Railroad.
Chris Donhost of the funeral home owns a small steam train that is a couple of feet high and runs on 7.5-inch gauge track. The cars are big enough to sit on. He brings the train set to various events, sometimes offering free rides to children and sometimes charging a couple of dollars, with the money going to charity.
The venture allows the funeral home to give back to the community and also have people meet the funeral home workers in a different context, he said.
“We’re nothing like what Hollywood makes us out to be,” Donhost said.
The train raised $670 for Solano County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates at the Vacaville Kid Fest in October. The nonprofit CASA provides volunteer advocates for children in foster care.
“It did two things,” CASA Executive Director Candy Pierce said. “It helped raise funds, which we’re always in need of, but it also raised a little awareness about what CASA is and what CASA does.”
Craig Bryan’s wife, Francie Bryan, who works for the business as a cemetery and trust administrator and prearrangement counselor, joined him recently to walk through Fairmont Memorial Park on Union Avenue. Francie Bryan noted the vacant lot behind the developed section leaves room for growth for years to come.
Craig Bryan walked over to a mausoleum that has seven levels for coffins and a canopy supported by pillars. It is framed by palm trees and overlooks St. Alphonsus Catholic Cemetery. The hustle and bustle of the city, while very near, seems far away.
“This is my favorite location,” Craig Bryan said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.