Passalacqua Funeral Chapel has been a part of Benicia for so long that some don’t realize that until 1943, it was the partnership of Chisholm and Passalacqua, said John (Sherm) Passalacqua, its current president and director.
John’s great-grandfather, Nicola Passalacqua, came to the Bay Area from Italy, bypassing the usual entry via Ellis Island. He bought a ranch that covered the present site of the Benicia High School campus, and sold produce. Other family members eventually settled in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and San Jose.
Nicola’s son, Frank, was the first of the Passalacquas to enter the funeral business. He became the mortuary’s owner in 1943, and ran it until retiring in 1962. Frank’s son and John’s father, Donald, took over the business and expanded it in 1973, when he bought Twin Chapels Mortuary, which has been operating in Vallejo since the 1950s. He remained in charge of Passalacqua Funeral Chapel until 1992. John joined the firm on Jan. 3, 1977, becoming its president and director after his father.
He wasn’t pressured, but he listened to his father’s suggestion to attend San Francisco College of Mortuary Science and get his required documents. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said. Another Benician, Greg Silva, has been with the Vallejo mortuary 30 years.
Working in his hometown has affected how John approaches his business. “I think you’ve got to give them caring, compassionate service, with great attention to detail at a fair price—and great customer service.”
John understands customer’s needs. He’s performed mortuary services for people he knows, including childhood friends and family members. He was 23 when his paternal grandmother died. His father asked him to take care of her.
Through his tears, he prepared his grandmother’s appearance. After the funeral, his maternal grandmother asked, “When I go, will you fix me up, too?” She died unexpectedly three days later. Once more, John was in charge. “In the space of nine days, I lost two grandmothers,” John said. “I couldn’t imagine it, but I just did it. That’s how you grow up. But I couldn’t imagine not taking care of it, as hard as it might be. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I love being here for the people of our town, and the people of our town appreciate we’re here—and here for a long time.”
Many know John by his childhood nicknames, taken from his perceived resemblance to Sherman from the time-traveling cartoon show, “Peabody and Sherman.” A mortuary with its own crematory, Passalacqua Funeral Chapel provides services locally others might expect only from corporate-owned funeral homes, whether everything is done here in town or arrangements are needed for funerals or burial elsewhere.
Passalacqua Funeral Chapel has kept up with the times, from referring clients to bereavement counseling experts to providing “green” options. The chapel also has video capabilities so a life can be summarized and celebrated wordlessly. “I think it’s important to celebrate a person’s life and legacy,” John said. “It turns a negative experience into a positive experience,” he said.
Despite modernization, his job has remained the same, meeting with families, often just hours after they have suffered a loss. “They come in, tell me what they want and don’t want, and we put a plan into motion. They don’t have to worry about a thing.”
Passalacqua Funeral Chapel
901 West Second St., Benicia
Twin Chapels Mortuary
1100 Tennessee St., Vallejo