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Biz helps families in times of grief

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From arranging floral decorations and hiring organists to consoling mourning relatives and beautifying the deceased with makeup, the wakes held at the Bayside funeral home are more about the living."I like helping with the families and comforting the grievers," owner John Golden said. It was why he got into the business in the first place.While a student at York College in Jamaica, Golden took a job working nights at a funeral home in Richmond Hill. What began as a way to support himself while studying economics, turned into a passion that would become his career. After one year at funeral school and another in residency, the licensed funeral director worked for then-owner Martin Gleason for 15 years. Five years ago, Gleason retired and Golden bought the two funeral homes in Flushing and Whitestone. Partnering with his brother, Thomas, a retired NYPD detective, he then acquired and drastically restored the Bayside building at 36-46 Bell Blvd. In its first year, the new and improved third location handled over 70 funerals.Some of their more memorable services have included funerals for a bishop and a past AFL-CIO union president. Another was for one of the several victims shot to death in the 2000 massacre inside a Wendy's in Flushing. Just as memorably tragic was the service for First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan, the highest-ranking fire official to die in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.For them and others, Golden sees it as his duty to provide family and friends the best farewell possible. Given the diversity of Queens and the rest of the city, that send-off could take any form."For Jewish ceremonies we often contact rabbis and provide yarmulke," Golden said. He described Chinese funerals where quarters in envelopes were handed out for good luck and mourners wore black armbands.He may need to find a vocalist to sing or a Scotsman in a kilt to play the bagpipes.Transportation services range from a fleet of limousines and hearses to organizing overseas flights."We ship a few caskets to Italy every year," Golden said. Upon request from the Italian consulate, the Queens funeral home sent the body of an Italian WW II prisoner of war back to his homeland.Much of their success rode on such personal attention that came from running a private family business, Golden said. When large companies were buying out the mom-and-pop stores to form nationwide chains five years ago, Golden said he was relieved that Gleason, the former owner, resisted."He didn't like the national chains," Golden said. "It turned out to be a good thing because a lot who did sell ended up losing their shirt."Reach reporter Zach patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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