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Warren-McElwain Mortuary sold to new owner; Eudora ranked in family-friendly survey; properties to be added to local historic register

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The certainty of death and taxes never changes, but the owners of funeral homes do, even for those that have more than a 100-year history in the community.

Longtime funeral director Larry McElwain confirmed to me that he's finalized a deal to sell Warren-McElwain Mortuary to a veteran funeral home operator who is moving from California to Kansas.

Jim Larkin of Caring Funeral Service completed a deal last week to purchase Warren-McElwain. But both Larkin and McElwain stressed that little will change with the business, which operates funeral homes in both Lawrence and Eudora. The Warren-McElwain name will remain, and the company will continue operating at its current locations. Even McElwain will remain on the staff as a funeral director.

"I will continue to be there full-time," McElwain, 65, said. "I still love what I do. I'm not tired or burnt out. I just think it is a great opportunity for me. It will be nice to have a little more time to see my wife and kids and family."

Larkin, 63, said he plans to operate Warren-McElwain as an independent, locally owned funeral home. Larkin has owned up to 16 different funeral homes in California, but he is in the process of selling all of those establishments. His family largely is from the St. Joseph, Mo., area, and he said he was ready to move back to the Midwest to be closer to them. Larkin said he is in the process of moving to Lawrence.

"As soon as I learned the firm could be for sale, I began to act," Larkin said. "I knew it had an excellent reputation, and Lawrence is an excellent community. That combination doesn't happen too often."

McElwain has been considering a sale for many months. He said finding a buyer that was not one of the large chain operators of funeral homes was important to him.

"Selling to a corporate buyer would have changed everything," McElwain said. "People would have been reporting to somebody in Houston or New Orleans or wherever."

Larkin said all of Warren-McElwain's employees have been retained as part of the deal. That includes Phil Padden, who had been a partner in the business with McElwain until 2011. McElwain solely owned the firm at the time of the sale last week.

The roots of Warren-McElwain date back to 1904 with the founding of the Schubert Funeral Home in Eudora. In 1909, Funk Mortuary was founded in Lawrence. By the 1950s, the two businesses were merged together by Fred Cooper and William Warren. McElwain began working in the business in 1968 as a college student. He and his father, Keith, then purchased the business in 1974 following the death of Warren.

Larkin purchased his first funeral home in 1972 in Iowa. He began operating funeral homes in California in 1999.

"Warren-McElwain was so well run that Larry really had a lot of choices of whom he could sell his funeral home to," Larkin said. "I feel honored that he selected me."

In other news and notes from around town:

• So, there is a reason why my Eudora home often looks like a scene from "The Lord of the Flies" — dozens of kids who aren't mine ruling the backyard and raiding the snack cabinets: Eudora is one of the top places in Kansas for young families, according to a new survey.

The financial website NerdWallet ranked the top 10 Kansas cities for young families, and Eudora finished No. 7 on the list. It was the only Douglas County community to make the list.

The eastern Douglas County community of about 6,000 fared well in terms of its school rankings, home affordability and its community growth. The editors of the website also highlighted short commute times for Eudora residents and an abundance of parks and recreation opportunities for a community its size.

The study looked at academic performance ratings for schools, median housing values, monthly homeowner costs and the community's growth rate. Lawrence did not make the top 10, but there must be something along the K-10 corridor that makes it attractive to families. De Soto, just east of Eudora, was ranked No. 6; Overland Park was No. 8.

Andover, a suburb of Wichita, was ranked No. 1. Click here to see the entire top 10.

• Three Lawrence properties may soon get listed on the city's Register of Historic Places. City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider the following properties:

— The Turnhalle Building at 900 Rhode Island St., which is an 1868 building that housed the once popular German social club Lawrence Turnverein.

— The Kibbee House at 1500 Haskell Ave., which is a large 1909 farmhouse near the corner of 15th and Haskell in East Lawrence.

— The Joseph Savage house at 1734 Kent Terrace, which likely is one of the older homes in Douglas County. It was built as a rural farmstead in 1855.

Placing homes on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places has taken on new importance in recent months. Previously if properties were listed on the state or national registers of historic places, the area — or environs — around the properties had to undergo a special review before new development could take place.

But the Kansas Legislature during the last session passed a law that eliminates those environs reviews for state and nationally listed properties. But properties listed on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places do still trigger a review of any development that happens within 250 feet of the listed property.

The local environs review is generally considered less stringent than the previous environs review process associated with the state and national registers. For example, the state and national environs review was triggered whenever development occurred within 500 feet of a listed property.

As we reported in June, some historic preservationists said the law change will make it more important to get properties listed on the local register. There are many properties on the state and national registers that have not taken the time to get listed on the local register, mainly because there are no tax credits or other financial incentives that come with the local listing.

Before the state changed the environs review law, there were about 3,200 properties that would have required a historic environs review before development could have occurred. In other words, there were 3,200 properties within 500 feet of a listed property. After the law change, city officials estimated that number fell to about 1,500 properties.

But if the Lawrence register is expanded, that number will steadily increase. Expect it to grow tonight. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.

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