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New Altoona celebration of life center to open

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Elizabeth Dohms | Leader-Telegram

Helping mourners memorialize their loved ones by celebrating those they lost in a brighter, less somber venue is the goal of a recent undertaking by Chippewa Valley Cremation Services.

The Altoona-based company is moving forward with plans to build a 6,000-square-foot facility featuring 24-foot-high ceilings, an outdoor patio and lots of light to serve as a venue for people wanting space to host funeral service celebrations.

The Chippewa Valley Celebration of Life Center, to be located at what was formerly The Potting Shed Garden & Gifts at 1717 Devney Drive in Altoona, will likely be able to serve alcohol and cater meals in a more celebratory manner to send off those who passed away.

"It's going to have a really nice, warm, contemporary feel to it," said Matt Thompson, owner of Chippewa Valley Cremation Services. "We want people to walk in the front door and say, 'This doesn't look like a funeral home.'"

The building that formerly housed the Potting Shed will be renovated, and two additions will be added to the east and west sides. The patio will be in between them and serve as overflow in cases of large funerals. The venue will have a capacity of 250 people.

Thompson said the center is expected to cost about $1 million to build, and the projected opening date is Oct. 1.

City planner Josh Clements said he sees the move as reflective of how people want to be remembered.

"Perhaps (loved ones) are looking at different venues that are more upbeat by nature and looking for businesses that are able to provide those kinds of experiences for the family," he said.

Mike Golat, Altoona city administrator, said he hopes the project is something that will not only help Thompson build his business but also distinguish Altoona as a leader in this type of celebration. 

"It's representative of the new approach to how we celebrate someone's life - it's a little more progressive," he said.

The idea to build a venue for celebrating the life of a loved one had been on the mind of Thompson for a while, he said, noting that he's seen funeral services heading in this direction. 

"So many families we serve say, 'It's too bad you don't have a facility to have a funeral in, or we would do that,'" he said.

He's seen a growing trend of more families without religious affiliation and said this could be an alternative to those who don't want a funeral in a church. 

Others might prefer the venue for its amenities.

"We're not for everybody and we're building this with the mindset that we're not for everybody, but we are for most," he said. 

The site plan for the celebration funeral home was approved by the Altoona Plan Commission and most recently got the go-ahead from the City Council. 

Thompson was a former owner of the Potting Shed and said that while the location off U.S. 12 wasn't ideal for that business, it works well for a funeral home, particularly since it'll be visible but without much noise from nearby traffic.

"We're trying to cater to all those people who want from nothing to extravagant and everywhere in between," Thompson said, noting that prices will go up slightly to help pay for the facility that will be licensed as a funeral home.

Chippewa Valley Cremation Services will continue to operate its current building on Spooner Avenue in Altoona where the crematory is located. 

"We kind of did that on purpose," Thompson said. "People don't like celebrating where they know right behind the wall people are being cremated."

If desired by customers, the site could also be open to other types of get-togethers. 

Contact: 715-833-9206,, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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