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This new funeral home owner plans unique approach to memorials
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John Wayne Abernathy, new owner of Ward's Funeral Home in Gainesville, has a portrait of his late father Wayne to hang inside the longtime funeral home. The late Abernathy was a businessman as well as a longtime a member of the Board of Public Safety with the State of Georgia. - photo by Scott Rogers

John Abernathy of Lula does more listening than talking when he meets with families whose loved ones have died.

“You hear what their likes were, you hear what their dislikes were,” John Abernathy said. “I’ll put what I hear into action and that’s very key.”

He plans to bring his 27-year background as a certified funeral director and embalmer to Ward’s Funeral Home in Gainesville, as its new owner.

John Abernathy purchased the business on May 17 from Jimmy Brewer, who owned the funeral home for the past 18 years. Since then, John Abernathy has worked alongside his wife, Wendi, and daughter, Lauren.

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Gainesville's oldest privately owned funeral home has new ownership. Ward's Funeral Home was established in 1934 and is now owned by John Wayne Abernathy and wife Wendi. The Abernathys are making it a total family affair when daughter Lauren joins the business upon graduating from college next year. - photo by Scott Rogers

“We’ve been married for 25 years and it has been his dream since the beginning,” Wendi Abernathy said. “I’m excited to see his dream fulfilled and I’m very, very proud.”

John Abernathy said he reconnected with Brewer, and the prospect of selling Ward’s Funeral Home came up. Although Brewer handed off the reins to John Abernathy as owner, he will stay on as the funeral director.

Wendi Abernathy said her husband has always displayed out-of-the-ordinary kindness for people, including showing sympathy toward a cafeteria worker in the second grade.

“The lunch lady called his mom and said, ‘I have never met a child with so much compassion,’” Wendi Abernathy recounted. “She had lost her sister.”

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Ward's Funeral Home in Gainesville has new ownership. John Wayne Abernathy and wife Wendi recently purchased the longtime Gainesville funeral home from former owner Jimmy Brewer. The Abernathys are making it a family affair when daughter Lauren joins the business upon graduating from college next year. - photo by Scott Rogers

John Abernathy, who served for 12 years as the deputy coroner for Hall County, said helping others was ingrained in him by his father, Wayne Abernathy.

His dad was a businessman and spent 37 years as a member of the Georgia Board of Public Safety until his death on Nov. 24, 2018.

John Abernathy said the only missing piece of fulfilling his dream, is having his father there to share his joy.

“Losing a parent truly has made me look at things differently,” he said.

Having the ability to empathize with those he works with, John Abernathy said he is more prepared “to serve people in the most difficult time of their lives.”

While working as a manager at a funeral home in Commerce, John Abernathy said he would take note of elements that would bring people joy, instead of adding to the somber atmosphere.

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Ward's Funeral Home features a large chapel at the Main Street funeral home in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

He worked with one family to set up a scene that would capture the heart of their loved one.

“We had someone who really loved horseback riding,” he said. “I put their saddle on some hay with some other memorabilia. (The family) came in and saw what I had done. They said, ‘We can’t cry, this is so awesome.’”

John Abernathy also remembers orchestrating a funeral procession in which he had a fire truck from the deceased person’s former job drive in front of their hearse.

“Satisfaction to me is when a family tells you everything went perfectly with the way you cared for their loved one,” he said. “That’s like handing me a check for $1 million.”

John Abernathy said he intends to bring new aspects to Ward’s Funeral Home, including the selling of monuments, providing a grief group and eventually installing a crematory.

“I can’t tell you how honored I am to know that I am now the owner of this business and ready to carry on the tradition that the Wards have always carried on,” he said. “Here, we’re bringing family back into it. It’ll be our family serving others.”

For more information about Ward’s Funeral Home, visit 758 Main St. SW in Gainesville or call 770-534-5351.

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Ward's Funeral Home new owner John Wayne Abernathy has more than 20 years experience working in funeral homes as well as serving as Hall County deputy coroner. - photo by Scott Rogers