Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Fourth-Generation Success: A Conversation with Karen Rabenhorst Kerr of Rabenhorst Funeral Homes

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Fourth-Generation Success: A Conversation with Karen Rabenhorst Kerr of Rabenhorst Funeral Homes

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

The story of Rabenhorst Funeral Homes begins in 1842, when a 14-year-old Prussian boy was sent by his family to America to escape the series of wars then plaguing the European continent. The boy, Charles F. Rabenhorst, landed in New Orleans and settled there. Charles met a young German girl, Caroline Focken, and married her in 1858. Although he came to America to escape war, Charles formed a company and joined the Confederate Army, serving as a captain in the 21st Louisiana Regiment during the Civil War. Rabenhorst served with distinction until 1864.

After returning home from the war, Charles moved his family to Baton Rouge and in 1866 opened a furniture store, cabinet-making and undertaking business. Furniture making was Charles' trade, not the funeral home business. However, this was before the modern days of specialization when businessmen did whatever was needed in their local communities. Charles Rabenhorst died at age 52, and Caroline Rabenhorst, his widow, took over the management of the funeral business with the assistance of some loyal employees. The Rabenhorst's two sons, Alvin Eugene Rabenhorst (1875-1946) and Oscar Ferdinand Rabenhorst (1870-1942) were only five and ten years old respectively when their father passed away. Fortunately, Caroline was able to keep the business going until her death fourteen years later in 1894. Gradually, Oscar, the older son, took over ownership and management of the company. Oscar invited his brother, Alvin, to join him in the business in 1915.

The funeral home had several locations in old Baton Rouge. In 1932, Alvin E. and Oscar F. Rabenhorst supervised the completion of the construction of the Government Street location, which is still in use today. The builder, L.W. Eaton, charged the grand sum of $32,000 to construct the new funeral home, which contained 28 rooms and four halls. In the same year that construction was completed on the funeral home, Alvin E. and Oscar F. Rabenhorst founded another company that was originally named the Mortuary Benefit Association. This company offered funeral benefit policies in the form of membership certificates. In 1939, the name was changed to Rabenhorst Industrial Life Insurance Company. Over the next few years, the company was authorized to issue cash policies and then whole life funeral policies. These two forms of insurance still serve as the core of the business today. In 1964, the name of the company was changed again to Rabenhorst Life Insurance Company to reflect increased capitalization. The insurance company offices are located adjacent to the funeral home; the family continues to operate both businesses.

The second generation of Rabenhorsts continued to manage the funeral and insurance businesses for another ten years. Oscar F. Rabenhorst passed away in 1942 and his brother, Alvin Eugene Rabenhorst, died four years later. The third generation of Rabenhorsts consisted of Alvin E. Rabenhorst's only child, a son, Alvin Phillips Rabenhorst (1915-1997), and Oscar F. Rabenhorst's sons, Harry A. Rabenhorst (1898-1972) and Alvin Eugene Rabenhorst II (1905-1988), known as AlHe. Harry Rabenhorst was active in the business briefly, but spent the vast majority of his career as a football, baseball, basketball coach and athletic director at Louisiana State University. Harry coached the 1935 national champion basketball team at LSU. Although Allie held the title of president, he pursued other interests and most of the ownership and management decisions for the two businesses were left to his cousin, Alvin Phillips Rabenhorst.

Unfortunately while in his early 40s, Alvin Phillips Rabenhorst became a paraplegic. Fortunately, in the funeral home business, the Rabenhorsts enjoyed the services of an extremely talented non-family manager, C.B. Knight. Mr. Knight started with the company as an embalmer in 1938 and worked his way up to funeral director, general manager, and president over a 53-year period. …

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