Potere-Modetz Funeral Home is One of Rochester’s Oldest Businesses

Although it has been known by several different names throughout its history, the roots of the Potere-Modetz Funeral Home go back 137 years in Rochester. Along with the Rochester Elevator, the funeral home qualifies as one of the town’s oldest businesses.

It all started around 1880, when William Harvey Greene went into the furniture and undertaking business in Rochester. Within three years’ time, he was successful enough to build a brand new store at 311 S. Main (now the location of Haig’s of Rochester). Greene operated a furniture emporium and undertaking parlor at that location until 1886, when he sold his business to a man who would be next in a long chain of subsequent owners. The buyer was a Flushing merchant named Platt M. Woodworth, who collaborated with Shelby Township farmer Hiram L. Lintz in 1893 and changed the firm’s name to Woodworth & Lintz. After Woodworth’s death, Lintz continued the business in partnership with Woodworth’s widow for a short time. In 1899, the two sold out to Thomas C. Severance, who had originally come to Rochester to serve as principal of the public school. Severance operated the furniture and undertaking business at 311 S. Main, but tragically died of typhoid at the age of 40 in 1903. A few months after his death, his widow sold out to Edward R. Metcalf, formerly of Lake Orion. Metcalf had varied business interests; in addition to continuing the furniture store and undertaking rooms at his Main Street location, he also operated a Ford automobile agency there.

Woodworth ad

Woodworth ad

In 1911, Metcalf decided to move to California. He sold his furniture and undertaking business to partners Verner M. Spaulding and John Schramm. Spaulding & Schramm took over at the 311 S. Main location, advertising “music, pianos, undertaking and embalming, and hearse and ambulance services.” When John Schramm retired in 1912, Spaulding continued as the sole proprietor. Around 1922, he went out of the furniture business to concentrate exclusively on the funeral service. He left the Main Street location, presumably operating out of his residence on the northeast corner of Fourth and Walnut (the Penny Black restaurant stands at this location today).

Verner Spaulding decided to retire from business in 1924, and sold his funeral home to a Vassar man named Alanson C. Hobart. (Spaulding later decided to re-enter the funeral service and founded the Spaulding & Son – now Spaulding & Curtin – funeral home in Ferndale.) Meanwhile, in Rochester, Alanson Hobart moved his funeral home across the street in 1929 to the former George Flumerfelt house at 339 Walnut. The business has remained there for the past 88 years.

While the Hobart Funeral Home was doing well in its new location, another man who would play a pivotal role in its history was learning the trade a few blocks away. William R. Potere, son of Avon Township farmer Henry Potere, started working as a young adult at the funeral home of his good friend, Vern Pixley. Potere changed occupations for a few years to run Potere’s Super Service gas station at the corner of North Main and Drace streets, but came back to the funeral service in 1950 at the invitation of Alanson and Winifred Hobart.

“My dad and Ray Winkel bought the funeral home from Alanson Hobart in 1950 because Hobart had been partially paralyzed from a horseback accident,” William R. “Bill” Potere, Jr. told Rochester Media in an e-mail before his recent death. “His wife, Winifred, enlisted my dad to help with the declining business. The Hobarts sold to Winkel-Potere because they realized they could no longer manage the business.”

The funeral home was briefly known as Winkel-Potere, but Raymond Winkel soon sold his interest and the firm continued as the William R. Potere Funeral Home. William R. “Bill” Potere, Jr., later succeeded his father as owner.

Potere-Modetz Funeral Home

Potere-Modetz Funeral Home

Thirty-six years after the Hobarts sold to William R. Potere, the funeral home changed ownership again. In 1986, 30-year-old John Modetz was working as a trade embalmer in Oakland County, providing embalming services at numerous area funeral homes. He was also in the process of negotiating the purchase of a funeral home of his own, but the deal fell through at the last minute. A friend told him that the Potere Funeral Home in Rochester was for sale to the right buyer – one who would have a commitment to the Rochester community and provide the same level of compassionate, quality service that was associated with the Potere name.

Modetz turned out to be that “right buyer.” He and Bill Potere hit it off, and Potere agreed to sell his funeral home to John and Mary Modetz. The couple made their home in Rochester, a decision that John Modetz says they have never regretted. “I found that there wasn’t a better place to raise my family,” he told Rochester Media in a recent interview.

Today, John Modetz is proud to be the custodian of a service-based business that reaches back more than 13 decades in Rochester’s history. He told Rochester Media that he is committed to remaining a family-owned company and giving back to the community whenever possible. He has no plans to retire. “I love my profession, and I regard it as a ministry,” he said. “I love this community, and I’m happy to go to work every day.”

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About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen is the assistant director and local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She is active in the Macomb County and Rochester-Avon historical societies, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

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