Nestled in between houses on Franklin Avenue, right off of Highland Road, sits the Dodge-Thomas Funeral Home, a building that has occupied the same address for more than 120 years. Now run by the Minutoli family, the business has an intriguing history—believed to be the oldest continuously run business of its kind on Long Island and possibly in New York state, it has mainly been a family business.
Founded in 1816 by a wheelright, the business gradually evolved into a furniture business, then a funeral home, out of necessity and consumer demand.
“He made such precision wagon wheels that a farmer from Brookville came up to him and said, ‘My wife died. Can you make a coffin for her? She’s this long’ and held up his hands to demonstrate,” said Guy Minutoli, who has owned the business since 1981.
And a new type of business was born.
The Dodge family owned a furniture store at 99 Glen St. The current funeral home, built in 1894 by Herbert K. Dodge, was the warehouse where he made the furniture, and he lived in the house next door where Minutoli lives now.
“Back then, he was the only funeral director around and did all the work for Sea Cliff, the Brookvilles, Mill Neck, Bayville. There was no one else around,” said Minutoli.
Minutoli explained that the business was run by generations of Dodges until George Thomas began working for him and became a partner in 1965. He retired in 1981, when he sold the business to Minutoli.
“Years ago, there were no funeral homes,” said Minutoli. “This was the first in New York state. They used to have funerals in their home or church. It started when someone wanted a funeral, but was not affiliated with a church, and they were able to accommodate the family.”
While the name remains Dodge-Thomas, there are no longer any Dodge or Thomas family members left. However, it is still a family business, run by Minutoli, his two children Gregg Minutoli and Jeanine Sand, and his son-in-law, Blake Sand.
Like the first Dodge, Minutoli also fell into the business gradually, by driving a limousine after college due to the scarcity of jobs and doing trade work for funeral homes. He began to like the field and went back to school to get a master’s degree in mortuary science from American Academy McAllister Institute on Park Ave in New York City, the same school his own children and son-in-law later attended.
“I like that you’re in a position to help people in a time of need where they really do need the help,” said Minutoli.
Jeanine Sand said that she was originally planning to go into finance until her father approached her about going into the family business.
“I was a little hesitant, but then when I started to deal with the families, it’s really what I gravitated towards,” said Sand. “It’s extremely gratifying to know that you’re helping people in a time of need. And you really get close with the families, so it really seemed so much more to me than just another job. That really appealed to me.”
With such a strong sense of caring and a longstanding reputation, business has remained steady. They said a lot of their business comes to them through word of mouth and technology—particularly the Internet, which people can use to find service times and directions without having to make phone calls—which has helped ease the burden of the constant work flow. Still, funeral directors are on call 24/7, so the job requires patience and compassion.
“What I try to do is give personal service to them,” said Minutoli. “It’s about being available to people, day and night.”
“People ask how I can deal with such a somber and morbid business, but it’s truly not,” said Sand. “It’s very warm. We deal with wonderful families here in our communities, and you really notice that, between all the different families, the different cultures, the different ethnicities, different socioeconomic backgrounds, everyone is the same at the core. It’s about the family and the love that they have.”