Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The name spelled out in blue block letters on the end cap of a busy Northwest Side neighborhood shopping center gives little indication that what’s offered inside is about life and death.
Situated among a chiropractor’s office, a shaved ice franchise, and a crab restaurant is the storefront office for Neptune Society, one of the largest providers of affordable cremation services in the nation.
The brand, named for the mythological god of the sea, is owned by Service Corporation International of Houston which also operates Dignity Funeral Homes and Funeraria Del Angel locally, and other funeral-related services.
The 10-year-old store at the corner of Bandera Road and Bresnahan Street is one of 46 locations in the United States, and five in Texas, mostly located in shopping centers.
An alternative to burial after death, cremation is the process of using high heat and flame to reduce the human body to bone fragments, known as ashes or cremains. The ashes can be stored, buried, or scattered depending upon the deceased or loved ones’ preference. It is a generally affordable option for the disposition of remains and a growing trend in the United States.
The low cost is the reason Donna Clark-Hagy, a San Antonio dentist and single mom, purchased a cremation plan through Neptune Society for herself, then later for her parents when they became ill and passed away in 2017 and 2019.
“It costs so much to bury someone … with a cemetery plot and a casket, and that’s lot of money to put someone in the ground,” said Clark-Hagy, who plans to have her ashes scattered in the ocean. “Also, I’m good about going to the cemetery to visit my relatives, but I don’t want my son to feel like has to go see me at the cemetery.”
She’s also pragmatic about the idea of cremation. “Once you take your last breath, you’re just a shell,” she said. “That person is already in a greater place, so it’s just a matter of being respectful and doing what you can to honor that person.”
Neptune Society got its start in Florida in 1979 specializing in cremation and sea-scattering of ashes. Today, it offers both of those services, as well as an array of urns and boxes, scatter tubes, memorial keepsakes and art glass containing ashes, jewelry bearing the deceased’s fingerprints or containing ashes, even a mantel clock designed to hold a loved one’s ashes.
Private or communal sea scattering services are offered by Neptune Society in nine locations from coast to coast and include the Rocky Mountain National Forest in Colorado as well as the Neptune Society’s Memorial Reef.
The reef is a 16-acre artistic representation of the Lost City three miles from Miami and 40 feet under the sea where you can have cremated remains combined with cement and dropped into the ocean so it becomes part of a manmade coral reef.
With offices based in strip malls like the one near the French Creek Village neighborhood, Neptune Society bills itself as a nontraditional funeral home. There, sales agents meet with individuals pre-planning their funeral arrangements and funeral directors help families who have experienced a loss with “at-need” services.
But its two funeral directors provide all the typical services, said Service Manager Tiffany Cura, from transporting and storage of the body and arranging family viewing to working with a family and a venue to make memorial service arrangements.
Neptune Society also makes available a 24-hour “compassion hotline” to aid clients through the grieving process. Last year, the San Antonio site of Neptune Society assisted 480 families, Cura said. About 40 percent of clients choose the company’s “Timeless Touch” glass art option for storing and displaying ashes.
Licensed by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, Neptune Society adheres to strict identity guidelines, so clients are sure to receive the right set of ashes, Cura said, and provides a 24/7 on-call service for those planning cremation and funeral arrangements.
Given its location in a shopping center, the actual cremation service offered by Neptune Society is done at an off-site crematorium. Its space in the Bresnahan Shopping Center is meant to help people feel less intimidated by the funeral planning process, “so they are not overwhelmed by formality,” said Cura.
The storefront features a full display of the varying types of aluminum, wooden, and biodegradable urns, decorative scatter tubes, and keepsake items.
“We give every option every time,” Cura said of all the ways a loved one can be memorialized through the cremation process. “It’s not about selling. We don’t want someone saying why wasn’t I given ‘this’ opportunity.”
Cremation rates in the U.S. have been rising steadily. According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), which has monitored annual cremation rates for decades, in 2018, the U.S. cremation rate was 53 percent. By 2023, it is projected to reach 59 percent.
The state of Nevada has the highest percentage of cremations at 80 percent in 2018, and Tennessee is at the bottom with 35 percent. Texas falls somewhere in the middle with between 41 and 50 percent.
CANA credits the relatively low cost of cremation for the trend. The total cost of a burial is about six to eight times that of a Neptune Society cremation plan, according to information provided by Cura, who said the most expensive option offered by the company is $3,000.
Cremation is also growing in popularity, states CANA’s website, due to the flexible options for the disposition of remains and growing religious acceptance.
Cura, who holds a mortuary science degree, has been working at the Neptune Society storefront for two years. She has pre-planned arrangements for her own passing, and in that, the location was also key in shaping her choice not to be cremated.
“I chose a traditional burial so I can be placed near my father and brother who recently passed away.”