SAN BENITO — For 80 years, Jim Pitts’ family has helped Rio Grande Valley residents, caring for them during their darkest moments while honoring their loved ones at the end of their lives.

Through more than 40 years, Pitts has nurtured his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s promise of care, working with uncle Buck Ashcraft to help build Buck Ashcraft Funeral Home into a trusted family tradition in the Harlingen area.

After months of planning, Pitts has merged the funeral home with the San Benito Funeral Home to better serve the area as Buck Ashcraft San Benito Funeral Home at 1400 Business 77.

“We want to bring more to the families we’re serving,” he said. “It’s two communities coming together.”

In January 2020, Pitts began planning the merger.

“We outgrew where we were,” he said of the Buck Ashcraft Funeral Home. “Still, we provide great quality care.”

Built in 1977, the old 8,500-square-foot funeral home’s chapel seated 120, its lounge was limited to 10 while its staff worked out of an office to meet with families.

“There were times we ran out of space,” Pitts said.

Now, the new 15,000-square-foot funeral home offers area families more.

“We have a larger, newer, more attractive facility,” Pitts said. “It’s a better location. It’s centrally located. This is the main artery in the community.”

Expanded service area

After helping to develop the family business into one of Harlingen’s most trusted funeral homes, Pitts plans to build on its reputation in the area.

“We want to continue to serve the people of Harlingen,” he said. “We’re giving the people in Harlingen more choices. Buck Ashcraft didn’t go away. We’re down the road.”

Built in 1998, the new 15,000-square-foot funeral home features two chapels, each seating 250, a lounge making room for 100 and three offices.

“We have multiple offices to meet with families,” Pitts said. “The foyer is four or five times bigger.”

Funeral webcasts

As part of the merger, the new funeral home offers technology allowing its 10-member staff to live-stream services.

“Using best in class recording equipment, Buck Ashcraft San Benito Funeral Home will be able to provide high-quality funeral webcasts for friends and family who are unable to attend services in person,” the funeral home stated in a press release.

As a result of federal and state orders limiting occupancy to 50 percent to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, demand for the service has increased, Pitts said.

“A lot of people are taking advantage of that during this time,” he said.

Pandemic changes services

In many ways, the pandemic is changing funeral services, Pitts said.

“Our business doubled because of the COVID,” he said.

As COVID-19 cases soared last summer, the funeral home was presiding over as many as 90 services a month, up from 15 to 20 before the coronavirus’ outbreak last March, Pitts said.

Meanwhile, he said, the demand for cremations has increased.

Now, the new funeral home offers more than twice the service area to better help families, he said.

“We can social distance more for the safety of our personnel and the families we’re honored to work with,” Pitts said. “It makes the families feel more comfortable.”

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