The phones never stopped ringing. The demands and requests never stopped coming.
It was non-stop, 24/7, for several months.
Of all the businesses in New York that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, few had as hectic a time as Dalton Funeral Homes.
With New Yorkers dying by the thousands every day, the vast need for burial, cremation and any other needs when dealing with the deceased was unlike Dalton had seen in 96 years in the business.
All five of their locations were receiving missives from people hundreds of miles away, with families and hospitals desperate to try to do whatever they could to have some sense of normalcy as they mourned their loved one.
Managing partner Victor LoGuidice and Floral Park location manager James Lewis still wince at the memories of those days, with hundreds of arrangements to make at a time, and no ability to offer in-person services, or the normal process of the end of life.
Two small examples of the insanity of the time: LoGuidice and Lewis recalled asking their usual crematorium and cemetery partners about bringing over a deceased loved one. Normally, the lead time needed was just a few days.
During COVID, LoGuidice said, they were hearing they couldn’t accommodate Dalton for three, four, sometimes five weeks from now.
“It broke our hearts, it really did, because loved ones still wanted their loved ones to be treated with respect,” LoGuidice said. “You had the families being devastated and then not really being allowed to mourn the way they would like, and so they had a lot of guilt.
“But we did everything we possibly could to ease the burden, and make it easier on the families.”
In this case, it meant Dalton often having “drive-by” services in conjunction with Our Lady of Victory parish in Floral Park, as Father Tom Fusco would hold an outdoor service for mourners, while a hearse would drive by.
Whatever the community needs, Dalton has been there, and this month they will be celebrating its 100th year in business, with approximately 40 total employees.
With locations in New Hyde Park, Floral Park, Williston Park, Levittown and Hicksville, Dalton is a Nassau County institution.
Beginning with founder Thomas F. Dalton opening a storefront at 41 Atlantic Ave. in Floral Park in February, 1924, Dalton has grown and thrived as many generations of family members and outside employees have kept the spirit of community, family and helping alive and well.
The final family member involved with the business, Beth Dalton Costello, left Dalton in 2023, but thanks to employees like LoGuidice, Lewis and administrative assistant Kathleen Mendolia, Dalton is still providing service and care.
“You need to have compassion, and be able to keep your composure and be strong for families that come in,” Mendolia said. “You’re the people they’re looking to for guidance in this very difficult time.”
LoGuidice likes to say that working at Dalton Funeral Homes isn’t a job, it’s a calling.
“We’re not salespeople,” he said. “This is not a job for us, it’s a vocation. We’re not in it to make money, we’re doing it to help people.”
That love of what they do has sustained Dalton through changes in the funeral home business, from how families of different generations process grief, to logistical switches that have emerged.
“It used to be that visitation hours would be maybe 11 a.m.-11 p.m., for three straight days,” Lewis recalled. “Now, younger families don’t do that as much, it’s more like 4-7 p.m., or 2-5 p.m. for one day.”
Each Dalton location has adapted to its community, as religion, socioeconomic factors and demographics contribute to giving each funeral home some unique needs.
“We’re here in the village of Floral Park, and we get to know the residents really well,” Lewis said. “We’re close to the fire department and the police department, and right near the train station. So we get to know the families and that helps them feel comfortable with us.”
As it celebrates its centennial, the Dalton employees said they weren’t looking for proclamations and ceremonies; they’re comfortable with the gratitude they often receive. As an example, during a Zoom interview Mendolia held up a bulletin board crammed with thank you notes from customers.
“We had a lady last week who walked in with a dish of homemade brownies, a handwritten card, and a huge hug for us,” LoGuidice said. “That’s what this is about.”