The Gilman and Valade Funeral Homes have long enjoyed a tradition of service to families in Putnam and surrounding towns in their hour of need.
The Gilman funeral business was founded in 1919 by Alexander Gilman. Mr. Gilman had previously been affiliated with other local funeral directors, but eventually ventured into the funeral service field on his own. The business was to be an extension of his other enterprise – a hardware store. This followed the New England tradition of the time, as the overall population was smaller, and it was necessary for most funeral practitioners to operate a second business in order to help them meet their financial responsibilities. As a general rule, most funerals, and even embalming, were performed or conducted in private homes. These services required a considerable amount of time to perform them properly. Operating two businesses usually provided the necessary staff when needed.
In 1924, Mr. Alphonse Valade, of North Grosvenordale, became affiliated with Mr. Gilman. The two businessmen shared a common track, as both were licensed funeral directors, and both operated hardware and paint businesses. Together, they conducted their joint venture, sharing the work of conducting funerals for their clientele. Their partnership was more or less confined to the North Grosvenordale area, as Mr. Valade did not possess the necessary license to prepare the dead for burial. It became necessary to have Mr. Gilman do so for him.
In this same time period, the Gilman family incorporated their two businesses, resulting in a name change to “A. Gilman Co., Inc.” The Valade family continued to operate their businesses. However, from a practical point of view, the partnership more or less dissolved. Both firms now enjoyed the independence of a son who possessed the licenses necessary to practice both the funeral directing and embalming professions.
The year 1938 brought about a historical change for the Gilman firm. The business was about to move into its first real “funeral home.” During their first 19 years of operation, the firm had occupied two locations along Main Street in Putnam. In these years, a trend to move away from the private home to a more “public” facility began to emerge. Although family circumstances often dictated that things remain as they had always been, some families began to use the one or two-room facility, frequently referred to as the “undertaking parlor.” When this occurred, embalming was also done in this facility. As more families requested these services and facilities, the need to find more suitable quarters arose. The Gilman family soon bought the “Johnson” residence, an elegant Victorian home located at 104 Church Street, Putnam, overlooking the Quinebaug River. In the years following their relocation, thousands of families have been served and continue to be served from this exceptional facility.
In 1950, following the death of Alexander Gilman, his son, Leonard Gilman sold the hardware business and with help from his cousin, Rheal Gilman, concentrated all of his energy in the funeral business. This area of interest had grown substantially and was a profession requiring the concentration of two licensees on a full time basis. In 1958, a third embalmer/funeral director, Lawrence Bellerose, joined the firm.
In 1961, Adrian Valade and his wife, Sylvia, purchased their first funeral home, which is still located at 23 Main Street, North Grosvenordale. It is adjacent to their original facility. Their son, Joseph A. Valade, came into the business soon thereafter, due to the illness of Adrian. Upon Adrian Valade’s death in 1966, Joseph and his mother continued to operate their business. In the spring of 1980, Joseph Valade was stricken ill. His mother continued to operate the business with the assistance of Mr. Bellerose and other funeral service personnel.
In January of 1973, Mr. Bellerose purchased the Gilman Funeral Home from Mr. Gilman, who continued with the firm until his retirement in May of 1975. On October 10, 1980, Mrs. Valade sold the Valade Funeral Home to Mr. Bellerose, a native of their community. At that time, both Mrs. Valade, and her son, retired. In 1982, Mr. Bellerose was joined in the operation of the firm by his wife, Arlene Boynton Bellerose.
Mr. and Mrs. Bellerose continued to operate the Gilman and Valade Funeral Homes until 1995, when they sold the businesses to a funeral home corporation in Canada, which later became the Alderwoods Group. Mr. and Mrs. Bellerose continued to work for the Alderwoods group until their retirement in 2001. They were also joined by William Thurston, who worked for the funeral home from 1995 to 2004.
In December of 2005, Robert “Bob” Fournier purchased the Gilman and Valade Funeral Homes from the Alderwoods Group, bringing the businesses back to local ownership. Bob grew up in a family devoted to funeral service. A third generation funeral director, his family’s funeral service history goes back to the year 1914 in Woonsocket, RI.
In 1914, Stanislaus Fournier purchased a door-to-door funeral contract business, The National Funeral Association. He then sent his youngest son, Arthur V. Fournier, to school to be a licensed funeral director and embalmer, and founded the Fournier & Fournier Funeral Home. Shortly after his other two sons, Ovila and Hector, joined the family business.
The funeral home was originally run as a storefront business, similar to the Gilman and Valade history, with wakes and funerals held in a family’s home. A multi-family tenement home on Cumberland Street was purchased in 1921, which is the location of the present funeral home. In 1937, the building was renovated to include visitation rooms, and just as was occurring in Putnam at the time, wakes were moved from private homes to the funeral home.
Arthur Fournier became the sole owner of the funeral home in the early 1950’s. He was joined by the second generation, his daughter, Muriel G. Fournier, two sons-in-law, Robert E. Darling and Robert G. Rock, and a nephew, Roger H. Fournier.
In 1984, the third generation of funeral directors and embalmers joined the Fournier & Fournier Funeral Home. Renee Darling, Robert Darling’s daughter, began her career in funeral service and continues to operate the family business with her husband today. In 1989, Bob Fournier, nephew of Muriel Fournier, Robert Darling, and Robert Rock, joined his cousin, Renee, and served the Woonsocket area through his work with the family business until 2004, when he joined B. Maceroni and Son Funeral Home in North Providence for a brief tenure before coming to Putnam.
As the owner and operator of the Gilman and Valade Funeral Homes, Bob brings his own personal experience in funeral service together with the rich histories of the Gilman, Valade, Bellerose and Fournier families to give outstanding service to the families he serves in northeast Connecticut.