With the recent retirement of Johnny DeVargas, of DeVargas Funeral Home in Española, and selling his business to a large Texas corporate funeral home chain, the Rivera family is proud to be the last family- and locally-owned and operated funeral home and crematory serving Taos, Española, Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
"Rivera Funeral Home and Crematory has been locally owned since 1933," says Tim Rivera, owner and director. "We have fought for generations to be locally-owned."
This is a significant point when one considers that all the other northern New Mexico funeral homes have succumbed to being part of one of the several Houston, Texas conglomerates that own thousands of funeral homes in the United States and Canada.
"It is hard to believe that we are the last family standing," says Rivera. "The DeVargas, Berardinelli, Block-Salazar and McGee families that served northern New Mexico have all sold out."
Rivera explains that every time the conglomerates take over, they downsize staff and increase prices at the expense of customer service. Beyond the predictable staff downsizing, the new corporate ownership is devastating to communities in northern New Mexico because of the lack of cultural understanding. Out-of-state companies are often out-of-touch: they operate local funeral homes in the same way they do in large metropolitan cities.
Rivera notes that they have already started to receive calls from long-time DeVargas and Berardinelli employees who lost their jobs due to corporate
"Our staff are considered family," Rivera says. "One of my greatest prides is that we have staff that worked for my dad Amos and have been with us for almost forty years."
Rivera personally notes that the worst part of working with large funeral corporations is they they don't understand the beautiful and, in many cases, historical rituals of northern New Mexico.
"Whether it is our rural cemeteries, ancient prayers, green burial or cremation, we do things so much different than the ways of big-city corporate culture," Rivera says.
Rivera Funeral Home and Crematory operates the only Crematory Ritual Center in New Mexico. Unlike anywhere else in the world, crematories in the US and New Mexico are operated in warehouses that are sterile, factory-like and set up for efficiencies.
"Our crematory is completely unique because it is located in a ritual center where families can say prayers and have ceremony in a respectful and sacred space. That is part of our cultural understanding of northern New Mexico," Rivera says.
Rivera Funeral Home and Crematory encourages, endorses and facilitates the respect and sacredness that is part of life's transitions. They serve a wide variety of spiritual expressions including Christian, Native American, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu families.
"Being from northern New Mexico, we are kindred spirits with the families we serve. Our staff loves the intimacy and beauty of our cultural richness," Rivera says. "The idea of some huge funeral home conglomerate bringing their corporate ways to Taos, Española or Santa Fe is a horrific thought."
An example of the attribute of local ownership is Rivera's collaboration and sponsorship of Ted Wiard's Golden Willow Retreat and other organizations like the Sangre de Cristo Funeral Fund for indigent families and Gerard's House that provides support for children who have experienced the death of a parent.