Three generations merge to preserve the past while embracing the future.
Don and Margaret Freeman started out as ground-breakers when in 1961 they finished construction on the first funeral home and ambulance service in the area built solely for such a purpose. Until that time, Jefferson City funeral homes were operated out of converted homes and often the family lived upstairs.
Two generations later with an extensive ten-week renovation recently completed, it’s the grandparents’ founding philosophy of family and community first that remains unchanged at Freeman Mortuary. These same principles continue to foster generations of families through some of life’s toughest trials.
“Grandpa had amazing foresight to open the business and build such a modern structure for the time,” says third-generation Ryan Freeman. “This is not an easy profession nor is it for everyone. He truly cared about people in the community, and it is what made his business grow. Meanwhile my dad, Phil, continued building that same trust factor and made considerable upgrades, including adding a roof to the flat-topped structure of the 60s. He also bought and upgraded surrounding properties in order to make for a more appealing entrance and expanded parking.”
For one remodeling project Grandfather Don enlisted the help of newly graduated interior designer, Bob Walz. Then, in 1975 Phil married Amy Walz, Bob’s daughter. The couple’s oldest son, Don, did a quick summer stint in the business before deciding on a career in chemical engineering. Younger son, Ryan, however; came on board in 2006 after graduating from Worsham Mortuary College and prior to that from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2005.
“We told both boys that we didn’t expect them to go into the business because it’s not easy and it’s 24-7,” says Amy, who has been working there as office secretary since 1995. “People die at all hours, and we have to be there to meet with the family. Ryan just always had a heart for this line of work.”
According to Ryan, he considers his profession a type of ministry. “It’s a true calling, and you have to be passionate about what you do.
Our community is so loving and generous. You get to foster amazing relationships with so many people.
To me, it’s a privilege to gain trust and work with people during a time in their lives when they need a lot of support and direction with maneuvering through the grieving process.”
As the youngest generation, Ryan and wife, Ashley, who helps with marketing and graphic design, have been instrumental with a lot of recent changes including the remodel, which took months of planning and decision making. It was a remodel that involved improving space efficiencies by re-configuring walls, gutting the entire upstairs including bathrooms and adding a technology room. Many of the colors, fabrics and other design features were ideas gathered from resorts and hotels where Ryan and Ashley stayed.
The goal was to have a relaxing, homey feeling space that acts as a backdrop where families can make it their own. In the process of adding lighter colors, the former dark paneling was removed and the chapel was opened up to better accommodate larger crowds. When necessary, panels can be used to create intimacy for smaller groups. Antiques, including a 100-year-old secretary collected by first and second generations, remain anchors to the overall design.
“Ryan brings contemporary thoughts and a lot of enthusiasm to the funeral business,” says Phil, who joined his father in 1974. “As the third generation, he brings a fresh set of eyes for where we need to go in the future. Today’s funerals look completely different from those of the 60s, 70s and 80s.”
“I’m very proud of the way Ryan and Ashley worked together and had so much input with our recent remodel. They’ve also brought us into the age of technology, which adds another dimension to services through the use of DVDs consisting of family photos and set to upbeat music,” Phil says. “Although we can and still do provide traditional services, more families want a celebration of life aspect. Along with the DVDs, we’ve added live webcasts, so people who are unable to attend can view in real time.
“More has changed about the funeral business in the last five years than 50 years prior, and it will continue to change even more quickly. Technology advancements and families living further distances apart create a lot of different possibilities and needs. We are blessed to serve the Jefferson City community in this capacity, and we want to continue to always give our best,” says Phil.