In 1886 a second generation American and father of eight established what we know today as Willwerscheid Funeral Home & Cremation Service. John Adam Willwerscheid, then Commissioner of the Saint Paul Fire Department, at the suggestion of a friend, founded J. A. Willwerscheid Mortuary. The original facilities were located in the back room of Dries Drug Store at Ninth and Saint Peter Streets. John Willwerscheid provided funeral services to families that year.
Funeral Service was quite different one hundred years ago. There were horse drawn carriages and hearses, processions by foot, seventy-two hour vigils, High Mass at the Cathedral, and the use of large wooden boxes for caskets. The average cost of a funeral in the late 1800’s was about $120. John Adam Willwerscheid, a conservative, traditional businessman could see room for improvement in his personal business and the industry as a whole. John played an instrumental part in the modernization of the funeral business. John brought in horseless buggies, motorized hearses, and hired Bernard J. (Ben) Becker, Minnesota’s first licensed embalmer. The high standards set forth by John and Ben have been carried through each succeeding generation.
In 1911 he moved his operation to Saint Peter Street, between 8th and 9th Streets. During the roaring 20’s and prohibition the town of Saint Paul became infamous for its relationship with gangsters and the O’Connor Doctrine or Layover Agreement. John O’Connor was the St. Paul Chief of Police and had an unofficial agreement with gangsters. The gangsters could vacation and visit Saint Paul as long as they checked in with the St. Paul Police and committed no crimes with the exception of prostitution and distribution of liquor. Much of the above mentioned activities took place on Saint Peter Street, the heart of downtown Saint Paul. John A. Willwerscheid did know gangsters such as Dillinger, the Ma Barker gang and Kronis. Later the moral and religious leaders of Saint Paul, such as John Willwerscheid helped clean up Saint Paul.
The present day parking lot on the east side of Assumption Church was home to J. A. Willwerscheid Mortuary from 1921 to 1942. Shortly after John’s son Lawrence entered the business, the name was changed to J. A. Willwerscheid & Son. John’s other sons, John F. and Eugene P. entered the business after graduating from the University of Minnesota Mortuary Science Department in 1923 and 1925 respectively. The second generation of the Willwerscheid family was firmly established in the funeral industry.
Lawrence Willwerscheid died at the age of 32, so it became the responsibility of John and Eugene to bring J. A. Willwerscheid and Son into the future – yet carry on the traditionalism and professionalism set forth by their father. In 1942, Willwerscheid and Son took a bold and unprecedented step; they moved their mortuary out of downtown Saint Paul to its present location at Grand Avenue at Dunlap.
In 1932 twin sons were born to Eugene and Lauretta Willwerscheid. This event not only changed Eugene and Lauretta’s life but also gave promise to a third generation of Willwerscheid funeral directors. After two years in the armed forces and a Mortuary Science Degree from the University of Minnesota, Eugene P. and Robert W. entered the business in 1955 and 1957.
Robert B. Peters, son-in-law of John F. Willwerscheid, joined the firm in 1946. His contribution to J. A. Willwerscheid & Son, the Saint Paul community and the funeral industry, brought about the change in name to Willwerscheid and Peters Mortuary.
Stephen B. and Lawrence A. are fourth generation of Willwerscheids. Stephen, Robert’s son entered the business in 1982 after graduating from the School of Mortuary Science. Lawrence, son of Eugene P., Jr. entered the business after serving in the United States Army and graduating from the School of Mortuary Science in 1984.
In 1993 the company branched out to West Saint Paul, MN. Recognizing that many of the families that have been served moved to the first ring suburbs, the Willwerscheids located the funeral chapel at 235 Wentworth Avenue West. This location offers additional convenience and options to the residents of the southern suburbs of Saint Paul, as well as being the only funeral establishment in Minnesota dedicated to green burial options.
Willwerscheid Funeral Home & Cremation Service is proud to be a part of the Saint Paul community for the past one hundred and thirty years. We thank you for your trust and faith in our commitment toward providing meaningful funeral services and will continue this effort in the future.
We invite you to tour our facilities and welcome any questions you might have.