A defunct funeral home might not be the ideal place to start life as a married couple, but for Al and Connie Mueller, this was the beginning of their story together. In 1946, the couple started Mueller Memorial, the first Catholic funeral home east of St. Paul.
“He and Mom lived in the basement of the funeral home,” says Scott Mueller, their son and second-generation owner. “I’ve since gone in there; it’s shocking. They started out and they were poor ... they were just poor.”
In 1954, Al Mueller built a second funeral home in White Bear Lake and in 1964, he rebuilt the St. Paul funeral home on Johnson Parkway, a facility Scott Mueller calls “stunning.”
And all of this innovation and development from a boy who grew up on a farm in Savage.
“When my dad announced he was going to college to be a mortician, his dad, a farmer, was more than surprised,” Mueller says. “But my dad saw something in this profession. People who are good at it have a compassionate gene. They’re able to communicate empathy without becoming part of the family’s grief or drama. And Dad had that ability.”
Turns out, Mueller did too. He knew at a young age that this would be his career path. “Originally I wanted to be a cardiologist,” Mueller says. “But when I was about 16, I quickly saw that there was more to this business than pushing a casket down an aisle.”
And just as Al Mueller was innovative in the 1940s and 1950s in a business that was not accustomed to innovation, his son is following that same path by offering, among other things, online communication, including obituaries, live webcasting of services and sympathy messages.
“For a small business, we’re pouring money into nontraditional things that we never had before,” Mueller says. “Our website is incredibly interactive; people can communicate with the family, watch videos of loved ones, even light a virtual memorial candle.”
Scott Mueller’s daughter, Taelor Johnson, director of community relations at Mueller Memorial, says they are choosing to embrace social media. “Today, people have so many opportunities to make contact with grieving friends and family members,” she says. “But a post on Facebook will never replace giving condolences and support in person.”
Even so, Mueller Memorial is making a major effort to change the way their funeral homes—and funerals themselves— are viewed.
Mueller is planning to build a third funeral home in North St. Paul, but will first be making changes to the White Bear location, breaking ground this spring.
“Funerals are taking place outside of traditional funeral homes at places like country clubs and golf courses for two reasons,” he explains. “One is the cost, and the other is people don’t feel like a traditional funeral home is relevant anymore.”
So they’re making Mueller Memorial a more relevant facility.
Mueller plans to expand the lobby area and add more natural light throughout the building. Oh, and he’s adding a wet bar. That, Johnson says, will accommodate the baby boomer generation, whose members are often requesting a celebration in addition to a church service.
“I love when a family takes over our reception room with memorabilia. It’s like a temporary museum of that person’s life,” Johnson says of the new “celebration of life” services. “It’s wonderful to see the conversations sparked by an old letter jacket or dog tags. The more personal we can make a service, the more meaningful it will be.”
This, coupled with the 10-person, dedicated team on-call 24/7, is a recipe for success. And with Mueller leading the pack, others would be wise to notice.
4735 Bald Eagle Ave.
White Bear Lake