When Richard Neuses sits down to speak with a customer, he is acutely aware that they are likely going through a painful transition in their lives.
Neuses has owned Lenz Monument Co. for more than 11 years and has worked at the company for nearly four decades. Over the years, he has guided many clients through the process of memorializing loved ones recently lost.
“They are dealing in grief and they are often coming in here with a lot of sadness,” Neuses said. “Everyone handles death differently. You try to read the person and see what is going on with them.”
Located at 1672 Central Ave. in Dubuque, Lenz Monument is a multifaceted business that creates everything from benches to commercial signage.
On an emotional level, perhaps no product connects with customers more than the memorial headstones created there.
Neuses takes clients step-by-step through the entire process, helping them pick out the materials and design what will appear on the headstone.
He prides himself on helping families in their hour of need — and knows the product he creates will be around for the long haul.
“We are looking for something that is going to last a really long time,” he said. “Eternity is a long time.”
To this day, Lenz Monument Co. continues to bear the name of the family that started the business and ushered it through its first 130-plus years of existence.
The business was founded by Frank Lenz in 1876 and members of the family continued to own and operate the enterprise for more than a century.
Edward Lenz — who represented the fourth generation of the family to run the business — died in late 2007 and Neuses and his wife, Kathy, bought the business five months later.
The company has earned the trust of customers and fellow businesses alike.
Kevin Conlon, co-owner of Behr Funeral Home, said he always is comfortable sending clients to work with the staff at Lenz Monument.
“They have been doing what they do for a long, long time,” said Conlon. “It’s a real asset to be able to send people down there and know that they will take the time and get it right.”
Conlon said he is lucky to work with two longtime monument-makers. Brannon Monument has operated in Dubuque for more than 90 years.
Experience matters in an industry where one often is dealing with customers navigating a difficult time. Neuses and his staff — Lenz Monument employs five people — put their knowledge to good use.
“I think they are really good at asking the right questions,” Conlon said. “They take the words (of the customer) and they turn them into art. They can really make that headstone reflect the person they are trying to memorialize.”
START TO FINISH
The creation of a memorial generally begins with a conversation.
In some cases, a client will help design his or her headstone. In other instances, one is tasked with creating a headstone for a loved one after he or she already has passed.
Neuses helps customers determine what kind of stone and color they would like to use and collaborates with them to design the memorial.
The stone is blank when it arrives at Lenz Monument Co.
Staff members work with computer programs to create the letters and fonts for the headstone. The information is then fed to a “plotter” that cuts the letters into a piece of rubber, which then is pasted across the headstone.
Neuses then uses a high-pressure sandblaster to cut into the stone itself. The depth of the cut varies based on the specific headstone, with some indentations going one-sixteenth of an inch deep and others going as much three-eighths of an inch.
“Every stone has a different hardness and thickness,” Neuses said.
Staff members at Lenz Monument Co. also use lasers to decorate memorials with intricate art.
The high-powered lasers can etch everything from facial features to images of farm equipment onto the stone.
Headstones are far from the only thing created at Lenz Monument Co. Neuses takes pride in the various product lines.
“It is quite a diverse company,” he said. “We have different branches that go in different directions.”
The company creates benches, decorative landscape stones and a wide range of signage. Products created at Lenz Monument Co. decorate Bellevue (Iowa) State Bank, the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville, Iowa, and multiple buildings on the University of Dubuque campus.
The business has even become a favorite among car enthusiasts, many of whom bring old parts to Neuses, who can sandblast the rust off and restore the pieces to their old form.
Regardless of the product, the staff members have an eye toward quality.
After so much time in the industry, Neuses can recognize the slightest imperfections with a design or product.
From signs to headstones, he wants his work to be perfect the first time it is seen.
“That first impression is a lasting impression,” he said. “It will tell the customer ‘yes, they love it’ or ‘no, they don’t.”