Every time Ron Bealer begins engraving a memorial monument, he knows his work will stand the test of time. “Granite wears out at fifteen one-thousandths of an inch every thousand years,” he pointed out. “It’s a permanent process. These memorials are there to speak to future generations.”
Bealer is the general manager of Glacier Monuments, a business he and his mother, Carole, operate on Second Avenue West in downtown Kalispell.
As the only certified memorialist in Montana and one of only 115 certified memorialists in the world, Bealer is well versed in every dimension of the memorial monument business.
Engraving names, dates and artwork into granite may seem like a simple process on the surface, but there are multiple steps to the process. For a large, four-foot monument with artwork, it takes a minimum of three months to complete and anywhere from 200 to 300 hours.
The granite arrives in polished slabs in a number of colors and types. Glacier Monuments’ domestic granite comes from places such as upstate New York, Northern Minnesota and South Dakota. Granite also is imported from other countries, including South Africa, India and Sweden. “Black granite is the most expensive,” Bealer said. “It comes from China. It etches the best and gives the most contrast.” Memorial-grade granite is of higher quality than granite used for countertops, he added.
Glacier Monuments makes memorials showing only the name and dates for those who prefer a simple tribute, but the company’s expertise is its unique ability to incorporate custom artwork into the designs.
Specialized artwork has been a hallmark of the business since Bealer’s parents purchased Choteau Monuments in 1980. His father, Orville, was a skilled sign maker who adapted his design skills to making personalized grave markers.
Orville’s original artwork is still used on Glacier Monuments’ memorials, including three-dimensional sculpting in floral designs.Bealer studied his father’s floral designs on monuments at the Cut Bank cemetery and taught himself the technique of hand carving the 3-D designs with a fine-tipped sandblaster.
Orville’s silhouette of the Rocky Mountains is used in monuments that simulate jagged mountain peaks on top of a headstone. Glacier Monuments is now developing an urn with the mountaintop design as an option for customers.
When Orville died in 1995, Carole took over the monument business, and Ron soon joined her as general manager. He purchased the business in 2006, and Carole continues to help with sales and other day-to-day operations. “We work as a team,” she said.
Once a family or individual has chosen a design, Glacier Monuments prints out full-sized copies of various sizes so clients can determine how it will look. “We try to help them with visualization,” Bealer said. “When we drive to the cemetery for the first time we put all three sizes up. Then we drive up and see them from a distance. Your eye will tell you which one is best-suited to the location.”
With computer programs such as PhotoShop, the sky’s the limit for design work. Bealer said a monument created for a couple who were both park rangers blended two mountain ranges and added a moose and a bear to the design. Glacier Monuments employs a staff of five, including a full-time engraver and Carole as sales manager. The designer, bookkeeper and data entry technician are part-time positions.
Beyond the design process, there’s an emotional aspect of creating a monument for a loved one. Bealer said he developed empathy and compassion for grieving families when his parents began taking him to funerals at an early age.
His Christian faith also enables him to help people. “My convictions and my faith have helped me,” he said. When clients come it, “it runs the gamut from grief to anger. I’m familiar with the grieving process and can help people with grieving … the reason we do what we do is to help them (their clients) remember and tell their story for future generations. “The memorials we create are for the living,” he said. “What we do is about compassion.”