Generations of Brosi stone cutters are represented in area cemeteries
Bruce and Jeanne Brosi own and operate Hannibal Monument Co. Bruce is a fifth-generation stone mason. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Heinrich Gustav Brosi worked was a master soapmaker by trade in Warmensteinach, Bavaria, Germany, where he and his wife, Maria, were raising eight children. Later in life, he changed careers, assuming the position of stone mason geselle (journeyman).
In about 1853, the oldest of Heinrich and Maria Brosi’s sons, Johann Gottlieb Brosi, came to America, subsequently settling in Quincy, Ill. He utilized the skills he learned in his homeland to start a stone mason contracting firm in his new German-influenced town.
Heinrich Brosi died in 1860, and in about 1867, his widow and their remaining children moved to the United States, also settling in Quincy, Ill.
It was in Quincy just following the Civil War that son George Heinrich Brosi (born in 1840) went to work as a stone mason with his brother’s firm – following in line in the family business.
Arthur Brosi was the next in generation to take up this craft, and subsequently passed the legacy onto his two sons – Lester and Roy.
Today, when Bruce Brosi of Hannibal uses his time-honored masonry skills – learned of his father, Roy - to create lasting monuments under the auspicious of Hannibal Monument Co., he is in full recognition of the notion that he is the fifth generation of Brosi stonemasons, and the fourth generation to ply his trade in America.
The old-fashioned way
With that legacy, it is little wonder that Bruce Brosi holds tight to the traditions of the past, while conducting a monument business during a computer-gilded era.
“We use old draftsman techniques” when engraving stones,” Bruce Brosi said, “like my dad taught me.” In partnership with his wife, Jeanne, they own and operate Hannibal Monument Co., located on U.S. 61, just south of the intersection with Route MM.
“It’s nice to know how to do things the old-fashioned way,” Jeanne said.
Move to Hannibal
Bruce’s grandfather, Arthur Brosi, (1883-1969) was operating a monument company in Quincy, Ill., when both of his sons – Roy and Lester – were fighting in World War II. Lester fought the Japanese in the South Pacific, and Roy was shot down over Germany, and subsequently held as a POW.
In 1942, while his sons were away, 59-year-old Arthur came to Hannibal to talk to Jim Kelly, who owned Hannibal Monument Company. Arthur subsequently purchased half of the business. When his sons returned home, they purchased the other half.
Arthur, Roy and Lester worked together for a while, and then Roy and Lester took over the business. When Lester retired, Roy asked his son, Bruce, to help out. Bruce, born in 1958, had worked for Klene Printing for a year or two, and had completed school to become auto mechanic. Bruce went to work with his father in 1983.
“The first day I started (at Hannibal Monument), Dad was working on Uncle Gene’s stone,” Bruce said. Gene Yarbrough – Roy Brosi’s brother-in-law, had pre-purchased a stone, and had his brother-in-law engrave a panther on one side, representing his outfit in Vietnam, and a Super Saber jet like the ones he worked on during his career with the Air Force, on the other side. Gene Yarbrough was caretaker at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal for several years.
Jim Kelly first operated Hannibal Monument at Fourth and Center, 116 N. Fourth. He next moved the business to 1405 Harrison Hill. That’s where it was located when the Brosi family assumed ownership.
When the state put in the new highway (36) and widened Mark Twain Avenue in 1955-56, the business was forced to move. The Brosi family moved the shop to the current location on U.S. 61 South.
Proudly displayed in the monument company’s present salesroom are yard sticks denoting each past location.
“In the old days, all the stones on display were pre-carved,” Bruce said, “and we just added the lettering. You can’t hardly do that now. Now they want to personalize” the stone to reflect the interests and personalities of the deceased.
“You name it, I’ve probably carved it,” Bruce said.
“I’ve done lots of Cardinals or Mizzou Tigers,” he explained, “baseball, football, all kinds of sports.”
“We talk about their loved ones,” Jeanne said. “I’m interested to hear people talk about their lives. We listen and help design what they want.”
Hannibal Monument provided the granite marker on Lovers Leap in honor of the three boys who were lost during the construction of Route 79 south of Hannibal; the monument to Injun Joe in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Coach Don Faurot’s stone at Mount Olivet Cemetery; the stone at the Wedge in honor of Hannibal’s black business district which was once located there; and all of the stonework at the Ilasco Monument.
The family has preserved the records of each stone engraved since 1947. Index cards contain not only information about the deceased and where the burial took place, but also include hand-sketches of the monuments. “We hand sketch a drawing of each stone to show people what it will look like,” Jeanne said.
And that comes in handy. For example, when Harold E. Fink died in 1987, they matched the carving and font on his stone to that of his parents, who had died years earlier. (Harold Fink was recently featured in this column)
Bruce and Jeanne Brosi service a wide area of Northeast Missouri and West Central Illinois. Recent calls have been made to Hydesburg, Barkley, St. Paul, Big Creek, Bethlehem Cemetery, near Routes J and W, Mt. Olivet, Greenwood in Palmyra, Riverview, Louisiana, in Pike County, and Woodland Cemetery in Quincy, Ill., where Maria Brosi (great-great-great grandmother of Bruce Brosi) is buried.
“There used to be three monument companies in Hannibal” Jeanne said, and now their shop is the last of the “mom and pop shops” left in town.
Frank J. and Clara Castle operated a monument company on the northeast corner of U.S. 61 and James Road, by the creek, where Cassano’s is now located. Frank Castle died in 1949, and Clara died in 1978. They are both buried at Holy Family Cemetery.
And McMein Monument Co., operated by W.W. and R.S. McMein, was located at 3900 McMaster’s Ave.
While the Brosi business is still going strong, Jeanne Brosi reflected, “I think the ‘mom and pop’ monument business will go out eventually.”
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
This is a hand sketch of the monument for Harold E. Fink, located in Greenwood Cemetery at Palmyra. When Mr. Fink died in 1987, Bruce and Jeanne Brosi designed and carved a monument to match that of his parents, who died a number of years prior.
Roy Brosi and his brother-in-law, Gene Yarbrough, early 1950s. BROSI FAMILY PHOTO
This photo represents Hannibal Monument when it was located on Mark Twain Avenue, Hannibal, Mo. The business moved from this site in 1955-56, when Highway 36 was constructed from the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge west. BROSI FAMILY PHOTO
This shows the process of placing an MU logo onto a tombstone. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY