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At Black Rock funeral home, mourners find comfort in living things

Not every funeral home has an in-ground pool in the backyard, but the Kolano Funeral Home in Black Rock is unusual on many levels. An outdoor tranquility garden, a proprietor who lives on-site and a pet dog on call for comfort duty distinguishes this independent funeral business.

David Zabinski grew up in the business. The son of Roman and Mary (Pacer) Zabinski, he and his four sisters moved from Williamsville to Black Rock in 1977, when his parents purchased the business from Chester and Stella Kolano. At age 53, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else to make his living.

People Talk: I have never seen a funeral home like this.

David Zabinski: Having something to comfort grieving people –whether it’s a loving dog or beautiful garden – can make a difference. Gardening is my hobby. It’s kind of like the calm before the storm because I do it first thing in the morning.

PT: How does your dog, Cody, fit in?

DZ: I remember one little girl who had been very close to her grandmother. She was inconsolable and could not stop crying. Cody was here in the office under my desk, where he usually is, and one of the relatives asked if the girl could play with him. When they brought her in, she instantly stopped crying and played with him until they left. He loves the attention.

PT: And the pool?

DZ: I’m always on call with the business, and when my kids were young, I didn’t want my children not to have fun summers because of my work. So why not put a pool in? This way when I’m not doing funerals, I can still be here and on call, and my kids can enjoy the pool – as can I.

PT: What was it like raising two children above a funeral home?

DZ: I was a single parent at the age of 30 with two children ages 5 and 7. It was nice to live and work here, walk my kids to school and pick them up. Even during calling hours, I could check on their homework, things like that. They knew nothing else. My children were born here.

PT: Were you destined to take the business over?

DZ: It seemed like a natural fit, but I wasn’t closing my mind to other possibilities. I didn’t go right to mortuary school out of high school like a lot of my colleagues did. I went to Buff State and took business classes. For a time I had thought of becoming a chiropractor or dentist. None of my sisters were interested in it. My son helps me with the website.

PT: What did mourners do before the Internet?

DZ: Visit the grave. The website is another way of visiting with that person, think of them and share thoughts about them. I started the website in 2011. Everything – all the Books of Memories – since then are on the website.

PT: What keeps you in business?

DZ: Families who used to live in the neighborhood come back for their funerals here. The fabric of the neighborhood has changed, even though Amherst Street is doing very well.

PT: Do you take vacations?

DZ: That’s the hard part. It was easier when my dad was still around. He was my mentor and my best friend. I learned so much from him. My mother is a licensed funeral director also. She would do the ladies’ hair and makeup. She did the bookkeeping, answered phones and wrote checks. Years ago, I was able to have a full-time funeral director, but because of the changing economics of the industry, it’s me and some part-time help. You never hear of a funeral home closing for vacation. It can be stressful. I had season tickets for the Bills for 20 years but it got to where I was missing so many games that I decided I would just buy individual games.

PT: How has the industry changed?

DZ: Everything in life seems faster, quicker, cheaper, easier, and it seems the funeral industry has followed suit – reluctantly. When I started out almost all my wakes were two days of visitation and the funeral on the third day. Now it’s one day of visitation. With cremation, visitation and the service can be on the same day.

PT: What do you so for fun?

DZ: I’m a sports fanatic. The last book I read was Bill Polian’s book “Game Plan” by Vic Carucci. With music I’m an ’80s guy – Supertramp, Van Halen. I’ve had boats for half my life.