Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 17, 2018

Raymond sells funeral home he purchased from uncle in 1977

By Vicki Tillis, Ledger lifestyles editor | Sep 15, 2017
Photo by: VICKI TILLIS/Ledger photo After 52 years in the funeral industry, Jack Raymond has sold Raymond Funeral Home and will be retiring to Norwalk.

Fairfield funeral director Jack Raymond retired July 1 and sold the funeral home operated by his family since the 1930s.

Raymond’s father and uncle, Jack L. and Cedric Raymond, purchased the Hoskins Funeral Home building and business in December 1958. Jack L., a licensed embalmer, had been associated with the firm for 23 years and had acted as manager since the death of owner Mark Hoskins in 1954. Cedric had been with the firm for 12 years, joining the staff in 1947 after serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II. The new partnership operated under the name of Raymond Funeral Home.

Raymond said he began working at the funeral home in 1956 when he was in the eighth grade. He recalled his duties including mowing the grass, dusting the furniture, shoveling the walks and “helping on the ambulance a little.”

Raymond Funeral Home operated an ambulance under contract with Jefferson County until 1971, Raymond explained. If there was an accident or if someone needed transported to the hospital, it was the funeral home’s ambulance that responded.

“Behner Funeral Home had an ambulance, too,” Raymond said.

After Raymond graduated from Fairfield High School in 1961, he attended the University of Iowa for one year, followed by 2.5 years at the now defunct Parsons College. He then attended and graduated from the Wisconsin Institute of Mortuary Science in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1965.

He joined the staff at the funeral home shortly after his graduation, and after serving his apprenticeship, he acquired his license in November 1966.

Raymond said joining the family business wasn’t a decision he had to give much consideration.

“I don’t remember giving it too much thought,” he said. “It just fell into place. I always knew I would. My dad said, ‘You’ll do this. You’ll do that.’”

A change of ownership for Raymond Funeral Home came about in mid-February 1977. After 18 years of partnership with his brother Jack L., Cedric Raymond sold his shares in the firm to his nephew, Jack Raymond.

Over the years, the funeral home at 112 W. Burlington Ave. was remodeled and expanded. The original brick house was built in 1856 – a few years after the McElhinny House, Fairfield’s first showcase, was completed. Raymond said the house was built by S.J. Chester, a Union soldier, sheriff, grocer and Leggett Hotel proprietor.

The Chester House had four rooms downstairs and four rooms upstairs. Raymond said an early owner of Chester House was Emma Davis, a Fairfield businesswoman whose interests included a funeral home in the present-day Davis and Palmer Real Estate office on the southeast corner of the Fairfield square. She also ran an oil company and installed a gas pump at the front curb of the house.

Most of the expansion of the funeral home was done before the Raymond brothers bought it, except for the porch, which was enclosed in 1965. Then in 1982, another remodeling project took place to provide additional space and increase visitor comfort. A major part of the project was a new two-story addition along the west side of the building. The building also received a new entrance and all the steps and ramps were enclosed. In 1991, the old exposed brick on the east side of the building had become too soft to hold paint, so it was covered with siding.

But Raymond Funeral Home didn’t just expand physically. Raymond and his father purchased the Burch Funeral Home in Birmingham in January 1985 from Mrs. Burch after the death of her husband and began providing their services in Birmingham.

Raymond pointed out the funeral home in Birmingham was not included in the sale of the Fairfield funeral home to Jeremy and Jamie Cranston of Cranston Family Funeral Home in Eldon and Batavia in July. Currently, he is using the space to store his belongings and collectibles, both from his home and the funeral home, but eventually, he will find homes for all the items and sell the property.

Raymond said he did not have any misgivings about selling his business to the Cranstons.

“It’s time. I’m 74. I’ve been doing this 52 years,” he said.

During those 52 years, Raymond has seen a lot of changes – “too many to count –” take place in the industry, including many state regulations, particularly changes to the way bodies are handled. As the threat of HIV, AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis escalates, precautions must be taken during the embalming process.

“We have to be much more aware of these things, and be careful,” Raymond said. “We used to not take as many precautions as we do now. It’s health- and life-threatening to us and the other people we come in contact with.”

Pre-planning a funeral also is a change that has come about in the last 30 years.

“Pre-planning is something that I think is very important,” said Raymond. “The most important thing to do in advance is to get their personal information in writing. You know more about yourself than anyone else.”

Many times, however, people are reluctant to talk about death. Raymond said the best ways to start a conversation about death and dying is to “just sit down and explain how things really are … If we know what’s real, they can dismiss all the rumors and fantasy.

“And call death what it is,” he continued. “I hate the term ‘passed away’ … sometimes you hear ‘expired.’ I hate the word ‘expired.’ The parking meter expired. The person died.”

Another change is the use of computers and the internet.

“Before computers, we had to type out the obituaries and bring them to The Ledger,” he recalled. “I got a new electronic typewriter with a script font and typed up an obituary with it and Dean Gabbert [The Ledger editor] told me to never use it again because he couldn’t read it!”

He also pointed out how most embalming used to be done in the family’s home, and funerals were often held in homes, also.

“I helped on one of the last funerals held in a house in Fairfield,” he recalled.

Other memories include setting a motorcycle beside a man’s casket during visitation; a first, which surprised many of the family members and friends. And the funeral procession for a young, disabled girl whose casket was carried to the cemetery on a Libertyville fire truck.

“She had always wanted to ride in a fire truck, but couldn’t because of her disability … she finally got her ride,” Raymond recalled.

Even though Raymond was often called upon to provide services for his own friends and family members, he said he coped by staying focused on the job at hand.

“There is a real satisfaction in helping families,” he said, explaining there are many details the funeral director takes care of to lift a burden off the family. “When a family tells you how pleased they are with all you have done for them, it makes you feel good about being the one that helped.”

Raymond said he has enjoyed learning about the history of Jefferson County and Fairfield, and local historian Gene Luedtke wants to visit with him once more before he moves away.

Raymond has sold his farm, and he and his fiancé Judy Pringle are planning to move to Norwalk at the end of September or the first of October.

“My fiancé’s daughter and family are building a home there. She will have three granddaughters up there,” he said.

Raymond, who has been involved in the Fairfield community through his membership in the Kiwanis Club – he’s the last charter member still active with the organization – said he will now be trying to find things to do in Norwalk.


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