Last week I shared with you what was Out My Back Door at home. This week, I’m writing about what what’s out the back door at the STAR. The most visible thing out the STAR’s back door is Tetrick Funeral Home, which has been there since 1950. Prior to then the funeral home was located on N. Main Street. Don Tetrick and his father, G.W. Tetrick, bought the North Funeral Home in 1943 from H.S. North. They changed the name to Tetrick Funeral Home and in 1950, they moved the business to a two-story house on Riverside Drive, which is behind the STAR. Joe Taylor, manager of Tetrick, said G.W. “Pappy” Tetrick and his wife lived in the upstairs part of the house and the business was located downstairs. “I remember when Pappy Tetrick had a garden out behind the house, where a parking lot is now located.”
Taylor said his first job at Tetrick’s was as a “night boy.”
“That was in 1965 and I would work from 5 p.m. to 8 o’clock the next morning. I would empty the trash, help with visitation and answer the night calls. I slept upstairs in the old house. If there was a death at night, and a family or the hospital called, I went and picked up the body. Not everyone at that time had a telephone, so it was not unusual for someone to knock on the door during the night and tell you they had a death,” Taylor said.
The local funeral home is one of the most venerable businesses. A factory or department store may close down, but the funeral home goes on and on, more often than not with a family name attached as such is the case with Tetrick.
The funeral business has changed enormously. Taylor said when he first went to work at Tetrick, bodies were prepared and taken home, where visitation was held. “It was a 2 p.m. funeral usually at a community church. However, we are now seeing more and more cremations and memorial services. Some families are opting only for a graveside service. We have gone from two or three cremations a year to three or four a month,” Taylor shared.
After a stint in the U.S. Army, Taylor returned to work in the funeral industry. “I was mowing one day, and Mr. Tetrick (Don) asked me if I planned to continue working with them. When I indicated that I did, he said ‘you need to go to school.’” Joe and his wife closed up their house, packed their suitcases and moved to Dallas, Texas, where he attended and graduated from the Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science. His wife worked at Baylor University Hospital.
In addition to his time at Tetrick, Taylor worked a brief time for a funeral home in Mountain City and for a couple of years in Etowah, Tenn., managing a funeral home.
“Funerals are about honoring a person and who they were. Life is a story, and it needs to be told, and funerals and memorial services help do that,” Taylor said, noting that different things are being done to memorialize the one who has died. “We use pictures, video, and family momentos to tell the story of the person who has died. For one lady, we did a display of her canned food. For another, we displayed an old sewing machine and her quilts. For one man, who enjoyed horses, we displayed his saddle and boots,” Taylor said.
“It’s also about serving the person’s family. You have only one time to do it, and it’s important you get it right. Ninety percent of what we do is with the living and taking care of them through the most difficult times of their lives. They’ve lost somebody very close, near and dear to them, and you carry them through that next step,” Taylor explained.
“Always, you treat everybody with respect, remembering that someone loved that person, and more than anything that God created them all. You prepare that body for burial and place it in the ground very tenderly,” he exclaimed.
For all the changes in the funeral industry, one thing that is never going to change is that death is a major event in a family. “There’s a lot of emotion involved, many needs to be taken care of. Those are always going to be there. You understand that when you get into this profession, you must be there for the family. It doesn’t matter how many families you are serving at the time, you treat them as if they are the only one,” Taylor shared, noting that this past Wednesday he served three families in one day — including two burials. “I came in early that morning, and it was about 8:30 that night when I got home,” he said.
He credits the staff at Tetrick for making things work. “We meet at 8 o’clock every morning and make sure everyone knows what they are doing that day.”
For Taylor and his staff, it means working on holidays and in all kinds of weather. “Just this week, we had a death in Roan Mountain. The next day it snowed, and a family member called and said, ‘our road is bad, there’s no way you can get up here today.’ So we had to wait for the road to clear before we could go to the cemetery,” he said on Friday when we visited the funeral home.
Last Wednesday, when we looked out the back door at the STAR, the staff was preparing to go to a graveside service. The rain was coming down, however, an attendant with an umbrella was out in the parking lot, lining up cars for the funeral procession to a community cemetery on Stoney Creek.
On any given day, people are coming and going at Tetrick Funeral Home. Some are there to make funeral arrangements, some come to pay their respects to a friend who has died and to offer condolences to the family, and for many, it’s to say a final goodbye before the casket is closed and the ride is taken to the cemetery.
Tetrick Funeral Home — it’s a building, but its business is all about “caring.”
With the renovations of last year, Tetrick Funeral Home is one of the most modern in the southeastern part of the United States. Four funerals can now be conducted in the building at one time.
Taylor said that in 1984, the funeral home was extensively remodeled and expanded with the removal of the original structure that had housed the operation for many years. The building was again remodeled in 2001.
The business is still owned by the Tetrick Family — Don, his son, Richard, and Richard’s son, Tyler.