Cresson man develops unique app: Eternal Remembrance connects family, honors loved ones forever
[Original article appeared in the Altoona Mirror on May 25th, written by Walt Frank]
CRESSON — As Americans prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, a Cresson man has developed a new way to remember loved ones who have passed away.
“We developed Eternal Remembrance so that every family can easily connect with others who remember their loved one, celebrate their favorite memories and honor a special life forever,” said Thomas McConnell, who recently got his business up and running.
“It was a goal to make sure we were up and running by Memorial Day,” McConnell said.
Eternal Remembrance combines mementos with a mobile app to create a permanent online memorial to a loved one through shared stories, photos, videos and GPS-marked locations.
Those who purchase a memorial kit get an emblem and a matching coin and the family gets a 12-digit code to create their loved one’s profile on the app, McConnell said.
Each emblem is crafted in the United States and bears a symbol chosen by the giver, such as a flag, bird, heart or religious icon. The emblem is mounted on the loved one’s memorial marker, and the family keeps a matching coin and velvet storage bag as a memento.
Entering the emblem’s GPS location into the Eternal Remembrance app makes it easy for loved ones around the world to find the memorial for generations to come, McConnell said.
Each emblem comes with a 3M product so the memento can be mounted permanently on a headstone or other memorial.
Families can use the Eternal Remembrance app with or without accompanying emblems. Even if an emblem is not attached to a memorial, the GPS location of the headstone can be added to the app. Users who do not have an emblem can purchase a serial number to create a profile page, McConnell said.
The Eternal Remembrance app allows loved ones to upload written messages, photos and videos, creating a permanent online record of memories that otherwise might be lost. Users can even connect memories with GPS locations so others can find the street where someone lived, the school they attended or even a favorite fishing hole, McConnell said.
“There are privacy controls; the family can decide who can see it,” McConnell said.
Eternal Remembrance is partnering with the U.S. Honor Network, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their families, communities and country.
Eternal Remembrance also provides grieving military and first-responder families with a complimentary memorial package.
“They get the kit and send it to the family and get free access to create a memorial page for their loved one. We donate the memorial kit, which includes the emblem, coin and 12-digit code,” McConnell said.
Honor Network founder Christopher Heisler speaks highly of McConnell’s product.
“His program is a fantastic opportunity for folks to enjoy memories of their loved ones interactively. To be able to use that kind of technology is phenomenal. This new concept is a great opportunity to memorialize a loved one in a way that has never been done before,” Heisler said.
McConnell also hopes to sell his memorial kits — which retail for $249 with a box or $219 without a box — at funeral homes, floral shops and at other locations.
Alto-Reste Park Cemetery and The Good Funeral Home, Altoona, have become McConnell’s first retail partner.
“It is a really amazing idea. He came to realize there was a need in the death-care industry to give people a better way to memorialize people for a longer period of time. It is really important to help families heal from their losses. This gives them something that will stand the test of time, a more complete way to memorialize their loved one,” general manager Geoff Behrens said.
McConnell, a 1990 graduate of Bishop Carroll High School, said he got the idea for his product after a local trucking company executive was killed in a traffic accident several years ago on Route 422.
“During his funeral, 60 big trucks came out to the cemetery blowing their horns. Trucking companies rallied around his death. I watched this on the news and on Facebook. It was so moving and touching. But he was just another headstone, which doesn’t say anything about him. How could I tell his story and other people’s stories?” McConnell said.
McConnell talked to officials at the Saint Francis University Small Business Development Center and in April 2018 attended an event sponsored by Startup Alleghenies where he met Jose Otero, an entrepreneur coach.
“He helped me make connections and steered me on the path to develop my business,” McConnell said.
In June 2018 he was accepted into a program held by Ben Franklin Technology Partners called Tech Celerator.
“It was an eight-week business development class. They took my idea to a business plan with customer discovery and they helped invest in us as well. They got us a $75,000 grant to help with technology. It was a huge help to help pay for the app,” McConnell said. “If not for Jose and Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Startup Alleghenies we would not be where we are in a year’s time.”
“Many entrepreneurs are surprised to learn that Startup Alleghenies is a free program that connects existing and potential entrepreneurs with experienced coaches to help them navigate a vast network of partners at economic development groups, private organizations, colleges and universities.”
“Our coaches are really at the heart of our movement. From the very beginning, Jose Otero, Tom’s coach, saw the amazing potential of Eternal Remembrance, and worked closely with him and our Startup Alleghenies partner, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, to lay the groundwork for a successful launch,” said Debbi Prosser, director business-development, Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.
McConnell said the coins are made at Worldwide Custom Creations in Lock Haven; the box is from WDI Custom Woodwork in Forest Lake, Minn., and the app is built by Lancaster-based TECH02.
“I tried to keep it as local as I could. It is a good thing to have it all USA made. That was important to me to try and keep it local,” McConnell said.
McConnell said he had 1,000 pre-orders before he officially was up and running. He said he attended the convention of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association in April in Charlotte, N.C.
“It has been crazy; people were crawling all over us,” McConnell said.
He said he will eventually have more than 40 different coins and emblems and hopes to sell 10,000 kits a year.
“There are 2.5 million people that die every year in the United States. There is a big market out there. The market is astronomical. It can also be sent out for people who have already died,” McConnell said.
McConnell, founder and CEO, operates the business with assistance from his wife, Mary Jo. They soon plan to open a gift shop, which she will operate at their 712 Second St. location.