Wilbert Burial Vault Works has rich Escanaba history

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Foreman/Manager for Wilbert Burial Vault Works in Escanaba Tom Bowden textures the cover of a burial vault. Bowden has worked at Wilbert Burial Vault Works for over 40 years.

Editor’s note: The Daily Press features a profile of an area business each week. This week’s featured business is Wilbert Burial Vault Works of Escanaba.

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ESCANABA — Wilbert Funeral Services, which has a history dating back to 1880, sells burial vaults across the nation. The company’s Escanaba franchise, known as Wilbert Burial Vault Works, has been active in the area for decades.

“This building was built in 1968,” Foreman/Manager for Wilbert Burial Vault Works in Escanaba Tom Bowden said.

The building, located near Bay College, has always been used for the manufacture of Wilbert products.

Wilbert Burial Vault Works was established in Escanaba by Al Ness, Bowden said. Eventually, Ness’ son-in-law Clarence Grabowski bought him out. Grabowski’s sons went on to buy him out, and later, current owner Kevin Romitti took over the business.

Bowden has been with Wilbert Burial Vault Works for much of its history in the area. He has been working there for over 40 years.

“I started when I was 16, and it was just steady work, so I stayed with it,” he said.

Today, Wilbert Burial Vault Works continues to make the vaults its parent company is known for.

“We manufacture burial vaults, and some of our vaults are lined with a plastic liner and some have … a stainless steel or copper liner that’s over the plastic liner,” Bowden said.

Wilbert Burial Vault Works does not sell its vaults directly to the public.

“We deal only with funeral homes,” Bowden said.

The business maintains a sideline, as well.

“We also build septic tanks,” Bowden said.

While the tanks are sold directly to consumers, Bowden said most of the tanks his business manufactures are sold through contractors.

Wilbert stands behind its products, Bowden said.

“They have a 50-year warranty,” he said of the company’s plastic-lined vaults.

Wilbert vaults lined with stainless steel or copper have a 75-year warranty.

On average, Wilbert’s Escanaba franchise sells about 500 vaults per year. It delivers its products across the central Upper Peninsula.

Over the years, business has largely been steady for Wilbert Burial Vault Works — a fact Bowden said is due to the industry it focuses on.

“It’s not a business that you can go out and create,” he said.

Though the growing popularity of cremation has had an impact on business, Bowden noted there will always be a need for the products made by Wilbert Burial Vault Works.

The technology used to install burial vaults has advanced since 1968. However, Bowden said he does not expect the process of manufacturing these vaults to change drastically any time soon.

“It hasn’t changed a whole lot in 40-some years,” he said.

He thanked the other people working at Wilbert Burial Vault Works for their role in what he described as a “team effort.”

“This wouldn’t run as smoothly without the guys I have,” Bowden said.

For more information about Wilbert Burial Vault Works in Escanaba, call 906-786-0261.

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