A new space for changing funeral customs

The Examiner

Oak Ridge Gathering Space has a grand opening at 11 a.m. Friday. It's at 1440 W. Lexington in Independence. 

“It is a place for families that are doing cremation, primarily,” said Brad Speaks, president and CEO Speaks Chapels. 

Jeff Fox

It's an adaptation to changes in the ways families mark the passing of loved ones. 

“It's a place that's sacred. It's special. … We were noticing more and more families saying to us, 'We would like to attend the cremation,’ Speaks said. “And we wanted to accommodate that, but we want to do it nicely, so this space is designed to make that a very comfortable experience.” 

The funeral home commissioned work by artist Chad Elliott, a native of Lamoni, Iowa. Those images include a cardinal, a burr oak tree and the seasons of life – all drawing on the ideas of family, connectedness, loss and new life. 

“So there's a full circle of life that comes.” Speaks said. 

The funeral home also offers a place at its Oak Ridge Memory Gardens for a place to permanently place the cremains, if that’s what the family wants. It's all a way of keeping up with changes in the culture, and Speaks said the company believes it's the first to offer this service in this kind of way. 

“We're very excited about this offering for our community,” he said. 

Quick hits 

Ground has been broken for a Panda Express in Grain Valley. It's scheduled to open in September. Plans call for 70 seats inside plus a drive-through. The location is the northeast corner of Interstate 70 and Buckner-Tarsney Road, an area taking off with restaurants and other businesses since the state upgraded that interchange a few years ago. … Missouri's unemployment rate slipped slightly in April, to 4.1 percent, down one tenth of a percentage point from March. That compares with 12.5 percent in April 2020, when the pandemic hit the economy hard. But that was the peak for joblessness in Missouri last year, and that figured drifted down to 4.4 percent by the end of the year. The Department of Economic Development says 2.8 million Missourians had jobs last month, and more than 126,000 were looking for work. 

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or on Twitter at @FoxEJC.