DeVargas funeral home opening gives Taos a choice

By Doug Cantwell
dcantwell@taosnews.com
Posted 7/25/19

DeVargas Funeral Home and Crematory, a longtime institution in Española, held a grand opening on Monday (July 22) at its new Taos facility just south of the …

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DeVargas funeral home opening gives Taos a choice

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DeVargas Funeral Home and Crematory, a longtime institution in Española, held a grand opening on Monday (July 22) at its new Taos facility just south of the Sagebrush Inn on Paseo del Pueblo Sur.

"What was once a dilapidated eyesore that attracted vagrants is now an icon," said Taos Mayor Dan Barrone in his remarks at the ceremony, noting the striking transformation of the long-shuttered building that formerly housed Lujan's Funeral Home. Barrone joined Taos County Manager Brent Jaramillo and Father Angelo Marquez as guest speakers at the event.

Following his welcome and introductions, founder and president Johnny DeVargas announced the selection of Joaquin Gonzales, former director of Taos County Emergency Medical Services and a current board member of Holy Cross Medical Center, as general manager of the new location. Gonzales said, "Johnny's motto has always been 'families come first.' He said no matter what their financial situation, always treat the family as if it's your own. That's my goal here in Taos. You only get one chance to honor the passing of your loved one, so we want to help you do it the very best you can."

Barrone lauded the choice of Gonzales as manager. "I knew Joaquin way back when I was county commissioner and he was head of EMS," he said. "I know he cares deeply about families and that he's a man who stands by his word."

The opening marks a new phase in an unfriendly competition among funeral home companies in Northern New Mexico, as previously reported in 2018 in the Taos News (see below). Rivera Family Funeral Home has been the only such business in Taos for years, but DeVargas and another provider, Riverside Funeral Home, have been trying to change that.

DeVargas sold the business in 2017 to The Signature Group, which was then acquired in 2018 by Park Lawn Corporation, a Canadian conglomerate that owns some 139 funeral homes throughout North America. Rivera then ran ads touting itself as the only locally owned and operated funeral provider, which prompted a lawsuit from Forest Lawn claiming that Rivera's ads had harmed the DeVargas brand. It went on to argue that Rivera was in fact a transplanted Colorado family that had formerly operated funeral homes in that state. Rivera brought a countersuit, claiming Park Lawn was a company "built on aggressive growth and acquisition."

In mid-2018, DeVargas paved the way for its expansion with ads announcing that Taos residents would now have a choice of providers. Gonzales emphasized this theme in an earlier interview. "We want to give Taos a professional, compassionate and, most importantly, an affordable choice in funeral services," he said. Instead of shying away from the topic of DeVargas' ownership by Park Lawn, Gonzales added that he feels privileged to work for a company that is able to finance a "multimillion-dollar facility in Taos."

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