Mueller Funeral Home celebrates 90 years in business
Fourth-generation brothers now at the helm

By Laurie Arendt - News Graphic

Oct. 17, 2017

 Brothers Scott, left, and Mike Mueller are pictured in front of multi-generational
photos of their family.
Photo by Laurie Arendt

CEDARBURG — Sometimes the sustainability of a family business really comes down to whether or not it was simply meant to be. Such is the case with Mueller Funeral Home, which is celebrating 90 years in business this year.

“Our grandfather, Ernst, was actually introduced to the business by working for an upholster in Grafton,” said Scott Mueller, who now co-owns the business with his brother, Mike. “The gentleman was also an undertaker, and those two occupations sometimes went hand in hand back then.”

Ernst went to undertaker school, earned his license and eventually purchased the business, which was located just past the corner of what is now Highway 60 and 12th Avenue. He renamed it Mueller Funeral home in 1927 and it was the only funeral home in Grafton.

As time went on, the business grew and Ernst brought in his sons, Harold “Teno” and Warren. But the transition into a second generation wasn’t exactly a sure thing.

“To be honest, I think Dad wanted to be a basketball coach – he went to Valparasio before he came back and started working with our grandpa,” said Scott.

The business grew and Mueller Funeral Home opened a new second location in Cedarburg in 1955.

“This is actually where we grew up,” Mike Mueller said of the Hanover street location. “I actually used to ride my bike in the funeral home during the winter. It was just the family business to us and we lived right here.”

 The Grafton Mueller Funeral Home was the second location for the family-owned business.
Photo by Mark Justesen

As the two brothers finished high school, neither had an interest in joining the family business, at least not initially. Mike Mueller tried a year of college; his brother pursued other things.

“One night, I stopped over and my dad was having a cocktail,” he said. “He asked me if I’d ever given it any thought, you know, to joining the business?”

It was a good question.

“Ultimately, I think it was God’s calling,” admitted Scott Mueller, who joined his dad and uncle in the business shortly thereafter.

Mike Mueller followed his older brother a few years later.

“At that point, my dad was still involved in the business, but it really was more like he was around and as we became more comfortable with it, the two of us would occasionally ask each other, ‘Should we call Dad?’” And then eventually, Dad said to us, ‘Just don’t call me anymore,’” added Scott. “And he basically retired at that point.”

During their time in the business, the brothers have experienced quite an evolution.

“For many years, people thought Dad was in charge of the Cedarburg business and Warren was in charge of Grafton, as if they were almost separate businesses,” said Scott Mueller. “But it really was one business, and that’s the way it is now: you see us at both places.”

Shortly after taking over, Scott Mueller, with the help of his wife, Mary, added an additional service for the families they serve: grief programming.

“After everything is said and done – the family is gone, the bills are paid – I thought it was important for us to stay in touch with the people we served,” he said. “That’s such a tough time for people after losing a loved one.”

Scott had been sending out a series of books that addressed grief, and then Mary started handdelivering them and calling on the customers. Over time, it evolved into a holiday remembrance service and then a support group, which continues to be active and has resulted in a few new relationships.

The other big change they’ve noted is cremation, and Mueller Funeral Home actually added its own crematory to Grafton in 2010 instead of relying on other mortuary providers for this service.

“People are comforted by the fact that their loved one never leaves our care,” Mike Mueller said.

“When I started in 1985, we probably had one cremation a year,” said Scott Mueller. “And it was very different – people who did cremation didn’t want anything else, no service or memorial. It’s really come full circle.”

Now they estimate that about 55 percent of their calls request cremation, for a variety of reasons: it’s more religiously acceptable, people believe it is less expensive and it can be part of a traditional service.

“Not all people need or want everything, but a funeral is really for the living,” Mike Mueller said. “I think we do a really good job in serving our customers, from the very first phone call to meeting the individual family needs through the process.”

Business has doubled since the third generation took over and both Scott and Mike believe their grandfather would be quite happy to see his business thriving into its ninth decade.

“It’s nice that our dad and uncle are able to see the business grow and continued, and I know Grandpa would be extremely pleased,” said Scott. “We are so thankful that we can continue to serve the many families in Ozaukee and Washington County.”