Almanac

News - March 24, 2010

John O'Connor returns to Menlo Park

by Jane Knoerle

John O'Conner says he's been recycled. After taking a "mental health decade" spending "3,000 nights in a thousand different cities" aboard his sailboat, the longtime funeral director is returning to Menlo Park to reopen his old business.

John O'Connor's Menlo Park Funeral Services opens in April at 1182 Chestnut St. in Menlo Park.

The recent news that Spangler Mortuary was closing in Menlo Park, leaving the city without a local funeral home, prompted him to return, he says. Mr. O'Connor has always kept in touch with Menlo Park, where he was in business for 20 years, first on Live Oak Avenue (the late Spangler site), then as John J. O'Connor's Colonial Mortuary at 657 Oak Grove Ave.

"All these years I have still been scattering ashes for friends," he says.

The new location is an office only. There is no chapel or embalming facility.

Menlo Park residents usually have their funeral services at a local church, such as Menlo Park Presbyterian or the Church of the Nativity, says Mr. O'Connor. Non-denominational services will be held at the Masonic Lodge on Roble Avenue or at Crippen & Flynn Mortuary in Redwood City.

Embalming services will be done at Cusimano's Mortuary in Mountain View. The trend today is away from embalming, with 60 percent of Californians choosing cremation, says Mr. O'Connor, a licensed embalmer.

He notes the "green" movement has even reached the funeral business, with the option of having a body refrigerated, instead of embalmed.

Mr. O'Connor grew up in the funeral business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His grandfather founded the O'Connor Funeral Home there, and it's still in business after 100 years. After serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. O'Connor came to California in 1968.

While in business in Menlo Park, Mr. O'Connor was an active member of the community, belonging to the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, and the old Town Club. During those years, he says, he raised a half million dollars for worthy causes by offering "A Day on the Bay" excursions at charity auctions. He estimates 5,000 visitors sailed over to Angel Island with him on the 50-foot vessel "Windsong."

Although he might be sailing from New York to Lisbon, or visiting the Greek Islands, Mr. O'Connor has always kept in touch with Menlo Park. About 20 of his local friends have sailed with him to exotic locales. He has returned home every Christmas to be with his two children, Robyn and Sean O'Connor, who live in the Bay Area.

He also has three granddaughters. "For years they called me Papa Santa because I had a beard and came at Christmas," he says with a laugh.

He puts down the idea that sailing the seas was living dangerously. "It wasn't like climbing Mt. Everest," he says. "It's more like going to Safeway."

Mr. O'Connor was living on the sailboat "Sonrisa" in Sausalito before deciding to go back in business. He's now making do with a motor home and will probably move "Sonrisa" to Pete's Harbor in Redwood City.

"Everything I own moves," says the 68-year-old, who also flies airplanes and rides a motorcycle.

The telephone number for Menlo Park Funeral Services is 380-0747; the e-mail address is MenloParkFunerals@hotmail.com.

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