ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Chris Meierhoff is the sixth-and newest-owner of Marion Marble & Granite Works, a business that has occupied the same building at 159 W. Main in Marion since 1877.
In many ways, he works in a living history of the community, visible not only in the rough sloping floors and artifacts of the business, but also in how it works.
Meierhoff said Marble Works doesn’t just make monuments for families, it offers them heartfelt service at a time when they really need it.
He said usually the death of a loved one has brought the family to him. He tries to offer them respect and time for sympathetic interaction as well quality workmanship that often is tied to their specific memories. It isn’t unusual for Meierhoff to create for the family a farm scene or other art work from a deceased person’s life.
Meierhoff returns to traditions he experienced when he began working at Marion Marble in 1988.
“It’s an honor for me to create something according to the needs of a family,” Meierhoff said. “We aren’t in the business of making something because somebody died. We’re in the business because somebody lived.
“When I go to the cemetery to look around, I take pride that I made a marker there for a family, and in the work of people who came before me.”
Meierhoff bought the monument business from Alvin Winter Jan. 1. Winter still returns to work with him part-time. Jarvis Whiteman also works for him.
Meierhoff is a 1985 graduate of Marion High School. He went to Kansas State University for a year, “but I decided the college scene wasn’t for me.”
He and wife Kathy grew up in Marion.
Again, true to tradition, all of the work that can be done in the shop is done there. Monuments come in pre-cut to size, but the finishing work, art and lettering are done at Marion Marble & Granite Works.
On this day, Meierhoff was using a stencil-like process with a specialized rubber mat to create lettering and art on one monument. Meanwhile, Whiteman was sandblasting the rubber away to leave only stone in a specialized ventilated room where the worker wears eye protection.
An exhaust ventilation chimney in the room where Whiteman worked, mixed with perhaps a little steam, gives the familiar “smoke” appearance coming from the building for travelers passing by on Main Street.
For artwork, Meierhoff doesn’t feel comfortable to do the drawing himself. If it isn’t available in pre-done form, he usually calls an artist in Michigan.
Other techniques were used to create monuments in the past.
Meierhoff showed a large, worn wooden mallet that artisans of the 1800s used to hand-carve stone. He also has many papers, such as railroad receipts, that go back to the days when the business began.
He also has reminders of the decades in between-from electric motors of the first half of the 1900s until now.
Rows of monuments stand in front of the building and in the front room as the “showroom” of Marion Marble. In back of the building are additional rows of monuments in process or awaiting their turn for work.
Among the pieces are stone works intended for other than the cemetery.
Meierhoff can also carve stones with the name of a favorite college, or a family name as a greeting stone to place along a driveway.
The monuments don’t just stay in Marion County, either. “We are covering the map of Kansas,” Meierhoff said. “We’ll go anywhere.”
Recent shipments have gone to Osage City, Alta Vista, Wichita, Newton, Westmoreland, McPherson and Dodge City.
Distance isn’t a factor in determining customers. “We are ready to help them,” Meierhoff said about his diverse clientele.