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Published: Friday, 4/17/2009

Mortician dedicated to service

J. Jeffrey Fretti, 48, owner of a West Toledo funeral home for 18 years and a funeral director for nearly 25 years, died of heart failure Sunday while visiting his mother, Shirley, in Sarasota, Fla., with his two sons.

He complained of not feeling well and lay down, his wife, Tammy, said, and later was found unresponsive by his mother. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital.

Mrs. Fretti is the sister of actress Katie Holmes.

Mr. Fretti opened his own funeral home in 1991 at 5045 West Sylvania Ave. after a decade at the Ansberg-West Funeral Home. His aim was to emphasize the "home" in funeral home and so avoided colonnades and other trappings of mortuary architecture.

"I wanted it to look as homey as possible, as warm and comfortable as possible," Mr. Fretti told The Blade in 1992.

Paul Ihnat, a director at Ansberg-West hired in 1991 to replace Mr. Fretti, said, "Jeff went out on his own and knew what he wanted to do with his business.

"He didn't want a big business, but just a nice-sized business, which he had," said Mr. Ihnat, president last year of the funeral directors' association. "He accomplished what he set out to do."

Bill Urbanski of Bedford Funeral Chapel, a former association president, said: "He was always a gentleman and a professional. He had a fine reputation."

Mr. Fretti was a former trustee of the association.

He was a student at St. John's Jesuit High when his principal recommended him for a temporary job washing cars and planting flowers at the Coyle Funeral Home. He found he liked working with people and liked the business.

He was a University of Toledo student when he decided to make a career of the funeral profession. He knew he'd be on call around the clock.

"He was just a passionate person, and he was everybody's caretaker. That was Jeff all the time," said Andy Anderzack, a friend since high school.

Mr. Fretti was a 1983 graduate of the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and was licensed by the state of Ohio in 1984 as an embalmer/funeral director. He worked at Ansberg-West while in mortuary college and continued there until 1991.

He was on the student advisory group at Christ The King School. He was a member of the St. John's Aegis Council; the St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center Foundation, and the board of Visiting Nurse Service.

Surviving are his wife, Tammy, whom he married in October, 1995; sons, Joseph J., Jr., and John J. "Jack" Fretti; mother, Shirley Fretti, and sisters, Jodi Olsen and Kimberly Fretti.

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday in the J. Jeffrey Fretti Funeral Home. Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Gesu Church.

The family suggests tributes to Christ the King School or the Fretti Family Scholarship Fund at St. John's Jesuit High School.



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