Article Category: Passions | Pillars | SC31

Author-Undertaker | Todd Harra

Posted Monday, May 24
Written By Thomas J. Giles
Southern Calls, Vol. 31, March 2021

“It’s such an honor to be able to walk with people during their time of need,” said Todd Harra, vice president of McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes and Crematory in Wilmington, Delaware. “But I never pictured myself doing this.”

Harra has deep roots in the profession, but not in the traditional way of many multi-generational funeral directors. His great-great-great grandfather, James White, was a cabinet maker in the sleepy little town of Milford, Delaware, during the mid-19th century. White was the town’s tradesman undertaker, making custom coffins for the townsfolk when they died. His sons, Harrison and Isaac, followed him into the business. Isaac, a carpenter by trade, continued the family undertaking business until he died of Bright’s disease in 1914.

Harra said, “His obituary reads, ‘He lived and died without a known enemy.’”

Isaac’s wife, Rachel, who owned a milliner’s shop in town, sewed the coffin interiors. They had one daughter, who Isaac wouldn’t let into the business because it was no place for a woman, and so there was a lapse of several generations until his great-grandson, Richard “Rick” Harra, entered funeral service in 1978, starting at McCrery Funeral Home at the age of 19.

Left:  Isaac White circa 1860 Right:  Ad from 1910 Milford, Delaware city directory

“After high school, I went to Elon University and got a science degree. Like many young people, I didn’t even realize funeral service was a career path,” which Harra attributes to the American attitude toward death. “I started working for my Uncle Rick part time after I graduated in 2004 because it seemed interesting, and, frankly, I needed a job.”

“I don’t think I chose this profession; I think it chose me.”

Rick bought the business from the McCrery family in 2008 and changed the name to McCrery & Harra in 2011 to celebrate the centennial of the funeral home.

“On Nov. 7, 2011, exactly 100 years since Albert J. McCrery conducted his first funeral, we had served 39,880 families,” Harra said. “That number has got to top 45,000 at this point. That’s something I’m extremely proud of, and I know my uncle is, too, having that many members of the community entrust us with their loved ones.”

Rachel and Isaac White on the front porch of their funeral home early 1900s

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