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East County Saturday, May 28, 2022 4 weeks ago

New Lakewood Ranch funeral home on the cutting edge

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Celebration of Life Center is set to open in Lakewood Ranch with a rousing open house.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

The organ definitely will be a thing of the past when Robert Toale & Sons hosts an open house for its new 7,000-square-foot Celebration of Life Center in Lakewood Ranch.

Those heavy, deep — and somewhat depressing — tones will give way to the rock and blues of the popular regional band, Kettle of Fish. Those who visit will be treated to craft beer, spirits and barbecue. The party is on.

Jeff Toale, the vice president of business development, said it is an exciting start for a modern funeral home concept that will become the first of its kind in Lakewood Ranch.

It's also the first of its kind that has been built from the ground up for Robert Toale & Sons, which broke away four years ago from Toale Brothers Funeral Homes to join Dignity Memorial and to go a new direction. Robert Toale & Sons has three other locations — two in Sarasota and one in Bradenton — but those existing buildings were transformed to a new concept.

This one was built with the new image in mind.

Owner Robert Toale said he had heard about other funeral homes' move to more of a "celebration of life" offering and thought, "What are they doing?"

But after seeing the switch to the "celebration of life" concept over the traditional services, he decided it was the way to go.

"It is what the people want," he said. "It was a matter of seeing so many people satisfied."

The Celebration of Life Center will have lots of area for families to display vignettes that will tell the story of a life.

The Lakewood Ranch building, at 4310 Solutions Lane, has high ceilings and lots of natural light. All the modern electronic gadgets and sound systems allow clients to design a service in any manner they choose. The Celebration of Life Center's biggest room for a celebration is filled with round tables (if needed), which prompts those visiting to mingle and tell stories. Areas for vignettes allow families to present items that tell every aspect of their loved one's story.

And while that story is being told, the new center will have catering capabilities so people can enjoy food right on the spot.

"People can celebrate a life, and food is a big part of it," Robert Toale said.

Jeff Toale said those who visit the open house will immediately notice the changes.

"Everyone knows what an old funeral home looks like," he said.

Although the Celebration of Life Center opened his month, Jeff Toale said his intention was to introduce the building to the public with a bang, after the construction was finished and the contemporary furniture was moved in and the multimedia features were online.

Jeff Toale said it was important that the Celebration of Life Center has high ceilings and lots of natural light.

"I felt like we had something special here," he said. "It's a different feel all together."

Although it's a different feel, Jeff Toale emphasized that Robert Toale & Sons will have the capability to offer any type of services the clients desire. If a more traditional service is desired, the building has the space to accommodate those requests.

"We do a lot more cremation now (no cremation actually will occur at the Lakewood Ranch site), but there still is a lot of burial," Jeff Toale said. "We can offer a more traditional service, or we can incorporate the celebration of life aspect, present an uplifting service, offer tributes, and catering, and more. We can create it however the family wants it to be set up. We like to think we are on the modern edge of funeral service."

The location will also increase in visibility in the next few years as work finishes on 44th Avenue and connects west Bradenton with Lakewood Ranch.

"It's going to be a major thoroughfare," Jeff Toale said of their decision to build just off 44th Avenue. "And Lakewood Ranch is such a great spot."

While the look of the Celebration of Life Center will be different, Jeff Toale said the work ethic that is required to run a funeral home remains. He said that although stated hours for the center at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, the phones are monitored 24/7.

"One of us always is available," he said. "Even in the middle of the night."

He said his father's work ethic made him want to get into the business.

"There was something to be said about working for my father," he said. "When people were struggling at the toughest time of their life, I would see him make an impact. It's a challenge to step forward when people want to step back. Grief can be an interesting thing. My dad's attitude always has been 'We're here to help.' This is my mindset."

Now it's just a matter of learning everything about their new home.

"We still are trying to figure out where the light switches are," Jeff Toale said.

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