Paul St. Pierre makes the most of his time — both on and off the clock
By Jon Shoulders | Photography by Josh Marshall
Paul St. Pierre currently owns nine funeral homes in central Indiana and runs the only three crematories in Johnson County. As a sixth-generation funeral director who has been in the business for more than 20 years, one might assume his duties dealing with grieving families day in and day out could wear down his positivity and perspective of life over time. But he doesn’t see it that way.
“It is always a sad time when the death of a loved one happens, but we try to remind people that it’s a time to reaffirm life, too,” he says. “It’s not just about caring for those who have died; it’s also about opening the eyes of the living and helping people celebrate life.”
Paul, 43, clearly heeds his own advice, given the lengthy list of community organizations, committees and professional endeavors he is devoted to, and the delight he seems to take in maximizing time with family and friends.
Born and raised in Greenwood, Paul knew as early as age 16 that he would likely follow in the career footsteps of his father, Michael St. Pierre, and grandfather, Robert St. Pierre.
A part-time job at a shoe store in the Greenwood Park Mall quickly prompted some long-term career consideration for Paul. “I worked there for three years in high school, and the same company for four years while at college,” he says. “I realized it was really no different than working with families. You’re identifying a need and trying to help someone solve it. I thought maybe I could deal with the service industry.”
Paul spent five years in Cincinnati after high school — the only time he has lived away from Greenwood — studying business administration at Xavier University and subsequently completing an associate degree in mortuary sciences at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. He’s been at Wilson St. Pierre Funeral Service & Crematory continuing the family legacy ever since — a legacy that goes back to 1897 when owner J.C. Wilson opened a funeral home in Greenwood.
Robert managed the business for several years before purchasing the company in 1964, and Michael came aboard in 1969 before his brother, Steven, followed suit four years later. “I was never pushed by my father or my uncle, or anyone in my family, to go into the business,” Paul says. “It was a very natural decision and process.”
An unexpected family tragedy hit last August when Steven passed away at age 61 of lung cancer, necessitating a more demanding role for Paul within the company. “Steven was quite an influence to me and to my father,” he says. “He was president of our company at that time. Those are the shoes that I’ve had to fill, so things have really changed.”
On top of his role as president of Wilson St. Pierre’s six chapel locations, Paul owns Ellers Mortuary, which has two locations in Kokomo, and Brown-Butz-Diedring Funeral Service & Crematory in Anderson. Such a multitude of responsibilities might seem like a great deal to put on the shoulders of someone still relatively young in the industry, but he takes the pressures in stride.
Paul says the need to stay relevant in an ever-evolving business has prompted Wilson St. Pierre to branch out into a few new services over the years, including a pet crematory in Greenwood and the Walker Cottage Family Center at Wilson St. Pierre’s Greenwood Chapel location. “A lot of families are unchurched and don’t have a place to go to for a meal after a funeral,” he says. “We wanted a center where we could say, ‘Here’s a place you can go.’ The crazy thing is, it’s turned into a place for birthday parties and rehearsal dinners. I’ve had families just come in at Thanksgiving because they’ve realized their home is too small.”
Involvement in multiple community organizations in central Indiana is nothing new to Paul, who became president of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce by age 30, after serving on the chamber’s board of directors for several years. Past commitments also include serving as president of the Greenwood Rotary Club and the Sertoma Club of Greenwood, and he’s currently a governor-appointed member and past chairman of the Indiana State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service. As one of four trustees at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis, Paul is assisting with efforts to raise funds for an almost $3 million restoration project for the building’s exterior. “It is the most beautiful building in Indianapolis, and I’m honored to help keep it up,” he says.
Matthew Drury, owner of Strawmyer & Drury Mortuary in Lebanon and member of the Indiana State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service, recalls one of the first funerals he assisted with while working for the St. Pierre family early in his career. “It was for a member of the Johnson County Mini-Mystics, and they actually brought in his go-kart and displayed it on a table and put his fez on the seat,” he remembers. “Paul and his family really opened my eyes to what you can do as a result of forward thinking and encouraging people to think creatively.”
Wilson St. Pierre recently partnered with several funeral associations to promote a program spearheaded by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council known as “Have the Talk of a Lifetime,” geared toward encouraging families and their friends to share stories about special moments and events throughout their lives. “So many times we hear people talk about someone’s good attributes at a funeral, but a lot of time a person’s important stories and important moments aren’t told,” Paul says. “So the program is there to say, ‘Talk to your family and don’t wait until it’s too late.’” Individuals and families can link to a three-minute video on the home page of the Wilson St. Pierre website (wilsonstpierre.com) to learn more.
According to Paul, every family who has lost a loved one presents its own unique set of challenging circumstances. “The toughest part for funeral directors is typically burying children, young mothers and young fathers,” he says. “We often stand in the back of the chapel and cry with families. Most of my friends have jobs that are 8 to 5 and can walk away, but we can’t. That emotion stays with you through the evening.”
You wouldn’t guess it by talking to Paul. He exudes a calmness and inner joy, which at first seems at odds with 20-plus years in a melancholy profession. “Luckily I have a lot of support and a great family,” he says.
That support includes his wife, Kristin, a Franklin College graduate who met Paul on a blind date in Franklin several years after they each finished college, and who has worked at Pfizer since 1996, currently as a senior therapeutic specialty representative. The couple’s elder son, Avery, 12, attends Center Grove Middle School and is involved with traveling basketball and baseball teams, while Ryan, 9, goes to Maple Grove Elementary and recently achieved Bear Scout status with his local Cub Scout chapter at Mount Auburn Church. As a third-generation Eagle Scout, Paul is excited about Ryan’s involvement with scouting but says he and Kristin are careful not to put any pressure on their children to continue the family scouting legacy.
“I was able to travel the world as a scout when I was a kid, to the World Scouting Jamboree in Australia in 1988 and hiking at the southern Rocky Mountains,” he recalls, adding that his father has maintained his membership with the Boy Scouts of America, Crossroads of America Council for 57-plus years and remains involved with scouts on a regional level.
The St. Pierres try to make it to downtown Indy every weekend and have remained dyed-in-the-wool Colts and Pacers fans over the years. “We’re season ticket holders for both, and we try to get to as many of those as we can, especially with two young boys that love sports,” he says. “They’ve each had their special game this year. One I took to the Lakers and the other to the Heat.” Wilson St. Pierre also has been a lap sponsor for the Indy 500 since the 1960s, and the family seldom misses a race.
When not investing themselves in community projects or spending time with Avery and Ryan, Paul and Kristin say life is all about staying close with friends, family and even neighbors near their home in the Kensington Grove subdivision in Greenwood. “We and our friends spend a lot of time in each other’s homes—a lot of (playing) euchre and just talking,” he says. “We’re real social butterflies. We’re always out having a fun time reminding us of what is important in life.”