WEST JEFFERSON-Ashe County’s oldest continuously operating business, West Jefferson’s Badger Funeral Home, is now run by new management.
Joshua Roten, co-owner and longtime face of Badger Funeral Home, said this week he’s completed a purchase agreement to buy the business, and its sister service Ashelawn Memorial Chapel, Gardens & Mausoleum, in full from his former partners.
“I’ve been fortunate over the years that everything has worked out just right that I’ve been able to buy the business in full, 100 percent,” Roten told the Jefferson Post on July 31.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, though Roten said the purchase has been in the works for more than a decade.
He said the opportunity to purchase the operation first “fell in his lap,” in 2007, when he became part owner of Badger and Ashelawn.
“I was young, definitely young, at 23 but in that deal we worked out I would have the opportunity to purchase the remaining interest in the business at the 10 year anniversary,” Roten said. “We didn’t spell out a price but we did agree on the formula that would calculate the price. Thankfully we’ve been able to close on that.”
A colorful history
Located at 300 Main Street in West Jefferson, the business got its start in 1854 when founder William Badger put his cabinet making and casket making skills to good use. It operated for many years out of the second floor of what was once the Dollar Tire building in downtown, according to Roten, and moved to its current location in the 1930s, into a building that had been used as a residence and boarding house for a nearby school.
In the days of party lines and pay phones, Badger cultivated a reputation as something of a hub for local information. Since viewings and funerals were likely to draw people from across the region and state, callers would ring the business for information about what was happening locally or leave messages for friends and family on the outskirts of the community.
As was common in the funeral industry at the time, Badger Funeral Home also operated the county’s only ambulance service in its early years. And it can even claim a direct link to its founder through Gionia Badger Cook, who Roten said is just shy of her 99th birthday.
And Cook still runs the business’s phones on busy weekends.
Roten’s entry into the industry came when he was in high school. At 16, he scored an apprenticeship at a local funeral home and realized his personality was a fit for the business.
He jokes that he was torn between a career as a funeral director or a kindergarten teacher, but he ultimately elected to attend mortuary school in Cincinnati, OH, before returning to Ashe County.
He seized an opportunity to become a business owner in 2007 with Ashe County Funeral Services and today oversees operations at both Badger and Ashelawn.
‘It’s about leaving a legacy’
Roten said the 10-year period leading up to his buyout felt like an eternity initially but ultimately passed by faster than expected. He said he’s relieved to be the new owner but realizes he’ll face challenges since he’ll be the sole shot caller.
“With a partnership you need to reach some kind of consensus when you make decisions,” Roten said. “Sometimes you disagree but sometimes that process keeps you out of trouble, too. I’m really fortunate though that I was able to do what I’ve done for the past 10 years and learn what I have.”
He said clients and their families will notice new branding under the Appalachian Legacy Funeral Services banner, along with a newly updated website, which Roten said will incorporate all Badger and Ashelawn obituaries dating back to the late 1990s.
“That was important to us, to make sure all those would transfer over to the new site,” Roten said.
He also said Badger and Ashelawn will continue to offer seamless funeral planning services for families at both locations.
“That’s not going to change,” Roten said. “We’ve made a lot of really great strides over the past 10 years in terms of making sure each of our people were trained to the point where they never have to say, ‘I don’t know how to do that,’ or ‘That’s not my job.’ The goal is to make sure anybody at either place can be the person to answer whatever questions you have.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-846-7164.