by Thomas P. Healy
Sixty years of continuous operation is a milestone for any business. But for Bruce W. Buchanan, who heads one of the state’s oldest family-owned businesses, Flanner & Buchanan Funeral Centers, there’s a special connection to the 60th anniversary of the Broad Ripple facility.
“Construction was completed at the end of 1954,” he said. “the year before I was born.”
Seeds for the firm were sown in 1881 when Frank W. Flanner, the state’s first licensed embalmer, began offering his services as an undertaker to the public. In 1887, he brought in his brother-in-law, Charles J. Buchanan, as a business partner and the firm became Flanner & Buchanan.
As the city’s population expanded northward, Flanner & Buchanan moved with it: first to the south bank of Fall Creek at Meridian Street in 1925, and then in 1955 to the streetcar suburb of Broad Ripple. “At that time there was a lot of concern about the atom bomb, so they built the building to withstand any blast,” Buchanan said. “The walls are several feet thick.”
His family has a lifelong connection to the part of Indianapolis now known as Midtown. “We lived at 5452 N. Pennsylvania and I walked to School 84,” he said. When his family moved outside the Indianapolis Public Schools district in the 1960s, he attended his father’s alma mater, Park School, until high school. Even though he could have gone anywhere in the city, he chose Broad Ripple. “I chose it because I wanted to reconnect,” Buchanan said. “My dad paid tuition for me to go there. Going to Broad Ripple High School was a great experience. I made an investment in my social awareness and in the community that I still believe in.”
Community engagement is a family tradition. In 1898, his paternal grandfather’s business partner, Frank Flanner, helped establish the community service center now known as Flanner House. (It was posthumously named for him in 1912.) “My great-grandfather Charles served in the state legislature and was involved in saving the Indiana Dunes. There are things we’ve done in every generation to give back,” Buchanan said. “I think that’s how a business really survives—by serving the community.”
Flanner & Buchanan’s legacy of service continues at the Broad Ripple location, which provides office and classroom space to the nonprofit group Indianapolis OASIS, an organization that offers educational opportunities for older adults.
One of the biggest programs the firm is involved in is free bicycle helmet giveaway. “We’ve given away over 40,000 bicycle helmets to children,” Buchanan said. “There’s nothing we hate more than doing a funeral for a child. So this is therapeutic for us to feel that we’re preventing what might be injuries or death.”
As Midtown struggles to stem population loss, Buchanan’s business has had to adapt to changing demographics. “Broad Ripple at one point was conducting 700 to 800 funerals a year. There’s nowhere near that now,” he said.
Given such changes, what does a business do? It looks for new opportunities. “We’re trying to expand to some degree the types of events we do in our business,” he said. “It’s a little harder in Broad Ripple. There are tens of thousands of people who have had a funeral experience in that location. And we have served multiple members of some families—that’s pretty special. Those people count on us.”
In addition to traditional funeral and memorial services, the Broad Ripple mortuary offers cremation and green burial services as well as food and beverage catering for all types of life celebrations in the center or at other locations. The center features “Growing Up on the North Side,” a display of historic photos to which visitors may contribute, and a collection of fine art that includes works by well-known Hoosier artists.
What does the future hold for the Broad Ripple mortuary? “That building is not going away because it’s solid. We can continue to diversify our services, so we’re good for as long as I can perceive,” Buchanan said.
“Our commitment to the community is the same,” he added. “When you’re in a business like this, when you serve so many families, you become a steward of something greater than just your business.”