For more than 40 years, if you took a walk on Kearny Avenue near Laurel Avenue, chances are — at least before COVID-19 hit — Barbara Condon was inside 684 Kearny Ave. — working hard, preparing funerals for those who had died and being present for generations of survivors.
But now, after following in her dad’s footsteps after his untimely death in 1979, the Condon Funeral Home is no more — she recently sold the business and home to another funeral director — and she’s permanently retired to the Adirondacks of New York state.
Her dad’s tragic death, sadly, was several years in the making.
“In or around 1974-1975, dad had a mechanical valve replacement and it was defective,” Condon recalls. “He died in 1979.”
At the time, she wasn’t yet finished with mortuary school. But she knew she wanted to keep the family business going. So despite losing her dad at such a young age, Condon took courses at Montclair State and got her funeral director’s license thereafter.
Aside from the obvious, though, what other reasons drove her to keep going despite such a tragic loss? For many, selling and moving on would have been an easy option. But for Condon, it was quite the opposite. In fact, her reason for carrying on was easy — she wanted to show the world she was more than capable of running a successful funeral business in New Jersey, despite the odds against her being overwhelming.
“At that time, in 1979, 99% of the business was men,” Condon says. “My family wanted us to sell the business. But I didn’t. Selling the business was not an option for me.”
And in retrospect, that decision not to sell was a brilliant one.
When she first took over, her grandma ran the office. And for the years that followed, her work, though challenging, left a lasting memory on her heart and will do so in the years to come.
“I have so many memories of my own,” Condon says. “There are generations of families and people I’ve buried. I’ve buried grandmothers, mothers, fathers, husbands, aunts, uncles — and throughout it all, people would always come back.
“This was very important to me because there were so many times people would call the funeral home — I can’t even tell you how many times this happened — and people would say, ‘I’m looking to reach Barbara Condon,’ and when I’d tell them they’d reached Barbara Condon, so often, they’d say, ‘Oh thank God you’re still there.’”
One of those instances involved the burial of a man who Condon says died 35-40 years ago in Indiana. The deceased man’s body was flown to Newark and she handled the arrangements here. At the end of that timeframe, the man’s wife, too, died.
“The family was so happy I was still there — after all that time,” Condon says.
But it was much more than the generations who trusted her care that sustained Condon. She says she’s will miss the day-to-day workings of the funeral home and all that came with it.
“I will certainly miss visiting with families, listening to their stories,” she says. “But it was time.”
And while Condon is excited to enter full-time retirement in the oft snow-covered hills of the Adirondacks, where the town she lives in doesn’t have a blinking light, let alone a working traffic light, where the mail has to be picked up because there is no delivery route and where the nearest hospital is almost an hour away, Kearny will always be home, even if she has no family left here.
“I will certainly miss the town, the restaurants, the organizations, the people,” she says candidly. “Yes, I will miss the social scene. I was involved in every branch of the Woman’s Club of Arlington. I enjoyed it all.”
What she won’t miss, however, is the heartache caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was heartbreaking,” Condon recalls of the 2020 outbreak. “Funeral directors weren’t even allowed into cemeteries for a while. It was a terrible time in our history.”
And yet, she conquered it all, despite what COVID did to so many.
Now, she’s volunteering to drive elderly people around the Adirondacks to doctor appointments and elsewhere. And it’s all led to something unexpected.
“When I got my New York license, the photo was great,” she says. “That almost never happens!”
That Barbara Condon sense of humor is certainly well in tact — and we’re sure it will be for many, many years to come.
Even if there is entirely too much snow.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.