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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

James F. Reid, 1917-2011: Local casket maker helped area families for 70 years

James F. Reid, 93, a Toledo native whose chance encounter with a businessman during the Great Depression led to a 70-year career in the casket industry, died in his Point Place home Saturday.

He had bladder cancer and was being cared for in his home by hospice the past six months, son Thomas said.

Mr. Reid was born in Toledo in 1917 and was a graduate of Waite High School. He found a job during the Depression moving machinery for a stove company at Bancroft Street and Auburn Avenue, where he met the owner of Superior Casket Co. "He had just gotten a laborer's job" when he struck up a conversion with a businessman and was offered an entry-level sales position with the casket company, his son said.

When World War II broke out, he changed jobs and worked as a foreman with Willys-Overland, which was serving as a defense contractor.

After the war, he returned to the casket business, joining Chicago Casket Co., working from Toledo as a sales representative for northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Mr. Reid's wife of 55 years, Emeline Petsche Reid, died in 1998.

In 1968, Mr. Reid and his son Tom formed James Reid and Son Casket Co., a two-man operation that since has grown to nine employees on Monroe Street near Auburn Avenue.

Mr. Reid said his father loved the camaraderie of one family business owner serving another family-owned business, which makes up much of the funeral-home industry.

"It was the people he served and worked with on a daily basis that was the biggest attraction for Dad," Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Reid developed his company into a boutique firm that served a smaller market that specialized in crafting personalized caskets that differed from the mass-market caskets available from national firms.

Joe Coyle, funeral director and owner of Coyle Funeral Home, said Mr. Reid was able to fulfill the wishes of families seeking a particular style of casket "in a timely basis and with particular attention to detail."

"And they did it with kindness and true concern for the families," Mr. Coyle said.

The business was his hobby, but Tom Reid said his father was especially close to his family and would use his time traveling on business to visit customers, to also visit extended family members and "generations of cousins."

Even in his 80s, he was still out delivering caskets to funeral homes and visiting with his customers. "He just enjoyed that so much. That's what he missed about his forced retirement," Tom Reid said.

Mr. Reid said his father was a devoted Catholic and lifelong member of the Knights of Columbus. As part of the Knights' service he served Mass in the chapel of Mercy St. Charles Hospital. He began that ritual in the 1950s and continued until he was 70.

Mr. Reid is survived by his friend, Margie Rose; daughters, Judith Aubry and Bobbie Reid; sons, James, Jr., and Tom Reid; eight grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren; 12 step-grandchildren, and 30 step-great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday at Coyle Funeral Home. His funeral, to be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, will be preceded by visitation at the church at 9 a.m.

Memorials are suggested to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com, or 419-724-6050.



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