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History of Monument Builders of North America




Memorial at Riverside cemeteryIncorporated in 1906, Monument Builders of North America (MBNA) is on the verge of its centennial celebration. The roots of MBNA go back to August 1905 at an informal meeting of 50 monument retailers who "realized their need for counsel and advice each could give to the other and the superiority of the united activity of a group over the divided and conflicting efforts of scattered individuals."  Those were the words of Hans H. Frederickson, MBNA's 39th president, written on the occasion of the association's 50th anniversary in 1956.

Today, MBNA continues to move forward with its mission "to define and promote Memorialization in a viable, innovative and diversified way for the membership, and to enhance awareness of Memorialization by the general public and Remembrance industry."

A century of service

MBNA was formally incorporated in 1906 under Illinois law as the National Retail Monument Dealers Association (NRMDA). The bylaws were written and adopted at a Chicago convention in August 1906. Until 1921, the association operated with no paid staff. Principal activities were directed toward improving relations with producers and wholesale monument firms and attempts to curtail "carpetbagger" salesmen, who did not maintain permanent places of business. Members formulated a code of ethics and sponsored surveys and studies designed to educate members in design and sales practices.

In 1922, NRMDA changed its name, becoming known as the Memorial Craftsmen of America (MCA). It remained so until 1940. The slogan "Mark Every Grave" was adopted. Members were asked to replace the word "tombstone" with the phrase "memorial art" in advertising and promotion. An official monthly bulletin, Memorial Crafts News, was introduced in 1920 and continued publication until 1933. It contained no advertising and was designed to provide members with timely information on the industry, upcoming events and state organization meetings. The bulletin later gave way to Monument Builder News, introduced in 1944. Subsequently, the title was shorted to MBNews, as it now is known.

Management leadership through the century

When MCA established a staff (1920), Ted Cassidy was selected to serve as national organizer and executive director. In 1928, he was succeeded by Lester E. Harris who served approximately eight years. Chauncey Austin assumed the position in the mid-1930s. He encountered a shrinking membership and limited budget. Further, many activities were curtailed during World War II.

In 1938, Alex Parke began his 14-year tenure as executive secretary. Parke introduced a publicity plan, "Program of Progress." The national advertising program was to have been implemented with 2,000 retailers pledging to equally match dollars pledged by manufacturers. Unfortunately, the plan never realized its full potential. However, it did demonstrate a willingness among retailers to support a national advertising campaign.

Parke also oversaw the association name change in 1940 to Monument Builders of America (MBA). That name held until 1963 with the merger of MBA and the Canadian Granite and Marble Dealers Association.

Archie Green, a monument retailer from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was named executive vice president in 1952. During his 10-year tenure, a popular series of "Sales Bulletins," written by Green, was introduced. Also, a schedule of educational sessions, apart from the annual convention, was implemented. These were called sales clinics and sales institutes. The association's first group health plan for members and their families was proposed in 1957.

The 1950s, and Green, also found greater industry unification in formation of a joint industry organization through creation of the American Monument Association (AMA) and the Monument Builders of America Committee. At the 1953 MBA convention, the Monument Institute of America (MIA) was born.

MIA collectively represented manufacturers/wholesalers and retailers. The board had five members from each of the two industry segments. Financial support of MIA came from both groups. Associate membership was established for independent designers, wholesalers and suppliers of equipment, goods and services. MIA's mission: education within the industry and marketing on national and local bases. State groups also helped fund the programs. MIA further sought to promote memorialization through granite and marble monuments, to assure the security of the traditional cemetery as a place for upright monuments and to impress upon the public that it is both sacred and an American tradition to perpetuate the memory of the deceased with appropriate monuments. MIA's advertising and merchandising program also helped foster the pre-need purchase of monuments and cemetery plots. In 1956, the MIA was deactivated; many of the promotional programs being taken over by the AMA.

As Green's tenure came to a close in the 1960s, MBA turned its attention to the deterioration of community mausoleums, a result of inferior construction. MBA subscribed to the "Joint Declaration of Principles and Objectives" with the AMA and American Cemetery Association (ACA), now the International Cemetery and Funeral Association (ICFA). The joint measure created standard specifications for memorial work placed in cemeteries. The intent was to elevate the quality of memorialization, promote the individual monument retailer, protect and preserve the "cemetery beautiful" and respect the interests and sensitivities of the public.

Once again, the AMA and MBA joined forces to launch another joint venture. In 1960, the two organizations launched the Cemetery Assistance Program (CAP) to aid monument retailers in contacts with cemeteries and to aid cemeteries in the development of new monument sections. CAP also offered help to cemeteries in pre-need sales, advertising and business management. The program was directed by Donald Swaim from MBA offices until he resigned in 1971. It was continued until 1988 as a service of MBNA for its members. A similar program, offered by the Barre Granite Association (BGA) and Elberton Granite Association (EGA), led to discontinuance of the CAP.

MBA, as noted, became the Monument Builders of North America in 1963 in a merger with the Canadian Granite and Marble Dealers Association. Three years latter, MBNA, under the direction of Archie Green, established the Monument Industry Education Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 corporation. Membership in the foundation was open to everyone in the monument industry who donated funds to the foundation. Until 1990, all educational seminars (except those at the national convention) were offered under the auspices of the Foundation.

Archie Green retired as MBNA's executive vice president in 1967 and was replaced by John Dianis, who brought 20 years of trade association experience to MBNA. During his 25-year tenure, Dianis helped the association embark on further development of membership and member services. A comprehensive insurance program that included expanded health coverage was offered. Management and sales training films and self-help manuals became available to members for loan at no-cost. The Membership Roster - a listing of member firms - was introduced in 1969. That same year - Monument Builder News - was transformed from a pocket-size edition to a full-size magazine. With that, the distinguished MBNA logo was introduced.

Conventions (again, in 1969) were expanded from three to four days. In 1974, MBNA assumed the administration of the quadrennial year exhibits staged by manufacturers and wholesalers. To supplement the every, four-year shows, table-top exhibits were introduced to the annual convention giving other suppliers an opportunity to display new products and services. In the 1990s, the quadrennial year, full-display became a biennial event. Table-top displays continued in the off year.

Moving back to the 1970s, MBNA and AMA initiated a series of meetings to discuss forming a joint, industry-wide association. Talks failed in 1974, and MBNA bylaws were revised to open membership to non-retail firms. By creating two new divisions, one for monument manufacturers and wholesalers and the other for bronze manufactures and other suppliers, MBNA began a further focus on the industry as a whole. Retailers maintained their position as the core of the association. Affiliated memberships were offered to state, provincial and regional associations. The Board of Trustees was expanded to include representatives of the new divisions and affiliated associations.

As the 1970s extended to the middle of the decade, the U.S. Bicentennial sparked great interest in the commemoration of local and national historic events. MBNA members were in the forefront of designing and building monuments to recognize such events. Eileen Mueller, associate editor of MBNews, wrote Two Hundred Years of Memorialization which was distributed to members. The book chronicled the changes in America social expectations, religious and cultural values, and art and architecture mirrored in monuments produced by members.

Furthering the excitement of the bicentennial, a year later, the MYTTE program - standing for Monuments Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow and Evermore - was established to promote the concept of memorialization through upright monuments. Although primary funding came from the two divisions and state, provincial and regional associations, the MYTTE committee reported to MBNA. The MYTTE program was responsible for placing countless articles in North American publications, "Personal Moments" (a booklet used by member retailers), the Educator's Kit and a series of sales and marketing manuals. By 1993, the MYTTE program was disbanded. However, all parties concurred that, when financially feasible, a North American public relations and advertising program should be initiated.

In 1982 MBNA took a major step forward in building relationships among international monument builders. The International Monument Federation (IMF) was established with MBNA and representatives from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Federation, which began biennial meetings in 1984 moving from country to country, was to serve as a forum for the exchange of information including practices and issues in different regions. The organization continued until 1996 when MBNA withdrew because of limited benefits derived by members.

Recognition of the professionalism among memorialists continued to be paramount for MBNA. In 1984, the same year as the first IMF meeting, MBNA introduced the Certified Memorialist (CM) program. The first class was certified in 1985. CM raised the bar through a program requiring experience, extensive study and a challenging examination. It became the first professional standard in memorialization. Recertification is required every three years through continued activity and attendance at educational programs.

1990s introduce new challenges

In the late 1980s and 1990s, MBNA, as noted, continued to be active in legislative and regulatory issues. The association - in 1988 - embarked on the development of a long range plan to see it through much of the decade. The plan was adopted in 1989. During the years, 1988 - 1990, MBNA's membership peaked at 1,246. The 1988 convention and full-industry show in Nashville drew record attendance.

In 1993, the leadership of the association changed again; John Dianis retired after 25 years at the helm. He was replaced by Edward Simmons who introduced revisions to the long-range plan and operating documents for all committees. The Mausoleum Study Report, an exhaustive research project examining challenges and solutions in the erection and maintenance of private family mausoleums, was published in 1994.

In February 1996 - following the 1995 departure of Ed Simmons, Greg Patzer became executive vice president. During his tenure, MBNA introduced a series of marketing brochures for members, a multi-language print ad series and an Internet site that included a membership directory. The Design Notebook, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, was re-introduced with color photos. MBNA also produced a series of five shop technique videos.

The Consumer Advocacy program, conceived at the January 1997 convention in Indianapolis as an effort to assist members and consumers, was introduced. This was another step in MBNA's continuing efforts to serve members regarding regulatory and legislative issues as well as to assist the consumer in the proper memorialization of loved ones.

Entering the 21st century with new directions

The tragedy of September 11, 2001, did not go unnoticed by MBNA. Beginning as a remembrance program shortly after the deaths of thousands, MBNA presented (in February 2003) memorial plaques to each precinct of the New York City Police Department that lost personnel on September 11.

When Greg Patzer ended his tenure in 2002, the Executive Committee spent the better part of a year to determine the best management approach for the association. At the 2003 Board of Trustees meeting in Nashville, the board elected to turn day-to-day operations and professional guidance over to a management firm. The Executive Committee selected SmithBucklin Corporation. In August, the new management took over and the association placed Ernie Stewart at the helm. In the first year, MBNA expanded its member benefits to include credit card processing services, discounts on shipping, office products and printing needs. The steps were taken to increase value for members and to help them in streamlining business operations.

A strategic planning meeting was held in March 2004 to address the changing environments in the industry and associations. The planning committee, which included leaders from every area of the memorialization industry, and the executive committee identified three key initiatives: membership, education and the consumer. Branding of MBNA would be a key as would be the branding of memorialization and the independent monument builder. Creation of a university was established as a major goal of the 36-month strategy.

The chronological look at the association shows direction. The three key areas of focus by the association: education, providing the members the essential industry, design and business information; legislative/regulatory affairs; and branding of memorialization and the members. These areas of interest were further confirmed in a 2005 survey and needs analysis of the retail members.

Education: A focal point

MBNA made its first foray into education in 1927 with the establishment of the Memorial Extension Commission. Business Training Corporation, a management consulting firm, was contracted with to survey the industry and develop education courses for monument builders. The first course was introduced in 1928.

Twelve volumes, or courses were developed for retailers: six in sales training and six in retail operations, cost accounting and estimating, organizing for profit and building business relations. Unfortunately, the commission fell victim to the Great Depression. None of the educational offerings were preserved. Efforts continued with programs highlighted in this chronology:

  • Monument Institute of America
  • Monument Industry Educational Foundation
  • Intense seminars at the annual convention
  • MBNews, an information resource published monthly
  • Certified Memorialist (CM) program
MBNA's commitment to elevating professional standards is demonstrated in its 2004 strategic initiative of establishing an MBNA University, or learning center. The goal is to bring this institute to fruition by December, 2006.

Legislative and Regulatory Issues

Complementing the educational efforts among consumers, legislators and regulatory agencies is MBNA's involvement in the legislative and regulatory arena. Nearly from its beginning, MBNA has led in the monitoring and action regarding legislative, regulatory and consumer issues. MBNA's actions, many already chronicled, have included:

  • Championing the rights of veterans - In 1940, 1947 and 1950, MBNA fought for legislation to allow veterans a cash allowance in lieu of markers for graves. The legislation finally passed in 1978, only to be lost in the budget-cutting bill of 1990.
  • Joint Declaration of Principles and Objectives - Collaborating with the AMA and ACA (ICFA, today) in the 1960s, MBNA established standards for memorial work placed in cemeteries. The purpose: elevate the quality of memorialization and preserve the beauty of cemeteries. This is just one example of MBNA's proactive stances to benefit the consumer.
  • Litigating the rights of monument retailers - MBNA actively supported litigation in several parts of the country in the 1970s and 1980s to defend the rights of monument retailers to set monuments in cemeteries. In the landmark, Mack Moore case in the 9th Circuit Court, the appellate court ruled that a cemetery's exclusive installation rules constitute an illegal tie-in that violated federal antitrust laws. Similarly, the Rosborough case of the 8th Circuit Court resulted in a ruling that a cemetery's exclusive installation rules violate federal antitrust laws. The rulings expanded on the requirements that anyone performing foundation and installation work would be subject to no more than reasonable cemetery rules, regulations and specifications. They afford the basis for enforcement of state and federal commerce-related laws and regulations as they apply to the memorialization industry.
  • Recommended Installation Guidelines - From the court rulings, MBNA joined with the ACA (now ICFA) to establish guidelines for installation and to require each association to receive and mediate complaints among members of both organizations.
  • Funeral Rule - Finding that many legislators and regulators did not understand the differences between the funeral service and the memorialization of life through a monument, MBNA actively participated in a number of hearings before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) between 1989 and 1990.
  • Consumer Advocacy - MBNA's continuing efforts to safeguard the consumer led to establishment of the Consumer Advocacy program as described earlier. The action reflects MBNA's underlying philosophy that consumers have the freedom of choice in memorialization. In 1997, MBNA contracted with Carolyn Jacobi to serve as an advocate for members in their efforts to serve the consumer.
Proactive involvement in legislation and regulation stands as a mission of MBNA. The association has pledged to promote legislation at the federal, state, provincial and local levels to protect consumer rights in memorialization.

Branding Memorialization

A third major effort over the years has been the branding of memorialization and the independent monument retailer. Among MBNA's strategic initiatives to be carried out by 2006 is furthering the consumer recognition of the importance of memorialization and the monument retailer's artistry and commitment to the process.

As the years progress, MBNA will remain at the forefront of the industry, continuing to serve members for the betterment of their customers.
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