From Southern Calls, Volume 22 | December 2018
1950 – A fascinating educational innovation in the 1950s was National Selected Morticians (NSM) creation of model casket displays. More than forty miniature caskets were hand-crafted from wood, finished to resemble actual merchandise and used to simulate various display set-ups. Each miniature measured about six inches in length. Photo courtesy Selected Independent Funeral Homes
SELECTED INDEPENDENT FUNERAL HOMES CELEBRATES 100TH ANNIVERSARY
From an ad published in the Feb. 4, 1923, edition of The Nebraska State Journal, placed by Castle, Roper & Matthews and titled, “DEDICATED TO DUTY”:
“Six years ago (Oct. 12, 1916) nine morticians – men who had placed their calling on a true professional basis – gathered in Columbus, Ohio, at the Deshler Hotel, to discuss ways and means to elevate the standards of the work to which they had dedicated themselves. The committee included Beryl Boyer of Toledo, Ohio; Harry Cumerford of Peoria, Illinois; W.A. Rushton of Plainfield, Indiana; H.S. Eckels of Philadelphia; Ramsay Burton of Erie, Pennsylvania; W.D. Farley of Battle Creek, Michigan; George Brewer of Dallas; H.L. McCray of Worcester, Massachusetts; Glenn Myers of Columbus, Ohio; and Frank Flanner of Indianapolis.
Out of that conference developed an organization to accomplish what these men recognized as a worthy ideal – making their calling an honored one; the eradication of abuses; the development of a higher ability and responsibility on the part of its members; the effecting of the highest moral and ethical standards; and the rendering of a better service to humanity – a service actuated by professional instincts and not commercial motives.
Today (Feb. 4, 1923) there are nearly 200 members of the National Selected Morticians. Membership is by invitation only, and an invitation is only extended after a thorough investigation of ability, reputation and business methods has established fitness for the responsibilities that membership imposes.
Only an association of this character could hope to ever accomplish the ideals and purposes sought. Membership is limited to one (mortician) in a community. Always his standing, experience, ability and business conduct are such as to have secured attention and recognition from an association devoted to the upbuilding of those virtues.
“As a member of the National Selected Morticians, he has dedicated himself to the duty of rendering the highest type of ethical, dignified and professional service.”
The organizational meeting designated “to launch the finest organization of funeral service professionals in the world,” convened in Toledo, Ohio, on Sept. 16, 1917. Beryl Boyer and Harry Cumerford were joined by George Olinger of Denver; Paul Buchanan of Indianapolis; E.E. Fisher of Columbus, Ohio; F.L. Foust and C.C. Pray of Bryan, Ohio; John Renshler of Findlay, Ohio; L.M. Weiner of Rochester, New York; and Frank Fairchild of Brooklyn, New York, gathered in Toledo. The men gathered for the organizational meeting of the new association approved the name, “National Selected Morticians.”
As the official history states, “National Selected Morticians took an early leadership position in embalming research, developed groundbreaking educational programs and represented the interests of independent funeral directors in federal regulatory hearings.”
Later, The Pittsburgh Daily Post published the following report on the meeting of NSM in 1921:
“Harry G. Samson, president of the National Selected Morticians, has returned from the annual convention of the order in Des Moines. He declared it to be the largest and most successful in the history of the organization. President Samson, in his address, outlined the aims of the organization. The National Selected Morticians bears resemblance to the Rotary organization – with this difference – only one member in a given locality is privileged to join. The membership is limited to 200 in a field of approximately 30,000 practitioners in the United States.”
As with all organizations, NSM has evolved – almost from the beginning. The location of its headquarters, for example, moved from Toledo to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and then, for the convenience of an officer, to Marshalltown, Iowa, within only a few years.
The annual gathering of NSM members was changed from “convention” to “meeting” to emphasize the work being done in the group, and the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago was chosen as the annual location of the NSM meeting from 1924 to the late 1960s. In 2000, members voted to change the organization’s name from National Selected Morticians to Selected Independent Funeral Homes, with the goal of better differentiating its members.
But the most evolutionary step in Selected’s 100-year tradition took place during a board meeting in March 2018. It was a day Kim Farris Luke will never forget.
“When I came on the board, there were two other females – a total of three on a board of six,” she recalled. “My father, who was president of NSM from 1999 to 2000, had encouraged me to become more involved in the association because he had enjoyed his tenure so much and had learned so much from being on the board.”
Anyone who knows Kim Farris Luke knows education and lifetime learning are among her personal top priorities. But the presidency? That hadn’t been on her radar.
“Frankly, when the board voted me president, I was surprised and humbled because of all the quality people around me. However, I am also honored to take the helm of this outstanding, 500-member organization, with membership embracing the entire United States, New Zealand, Norway, Canada and Australia.”
In Abingdon, when news of Kim’s selection as the first female to preside over Selected Independent Funeral Homes, her parents’ reaction was beyond imagining.
“When I called home to tell my folks, they were, of course, very excited, and I heard my dad’s voice break with emotion.
“But his level of emotion that Saturday afternoon is nothing compared to mine as the date of our meeting in Park City, Utah, draws closer,” Kim confided. “I am a bit anxious about getting emotional.
“But the beauty is that everyone in that room, every member, understands the rich history we have, that same rich pride of legacy that comes with passing down a family business.”
And what does the first female president bring to the historic association’s table?
“We average 300 calls annually and we’re always profitable, but we cannot compare with larger firms, averaging 900 to 1,200 calls,” she said. “A majority of our members serve between 250 and 300 families a year, but we all face the same challenges: shrinking revenues, hiring challenges, consumer attitudes and families expecting the highest quality for affordable prices.
“What I hope to bring is a voice of reassurance and hope,” she continued. “In our county alone this year, the death rate is down about 14 percent. That translates to about 60 calls, which of course we have no control over. So we find ways to operate smarter, and Selected provides the resources for us to know how: business management education and marketing vendors who share resources with us. Our members can look to our association for a multitude of tools; in the past, it was mostly owners who took advantage of our resources. We want to be sure people know those resources are available to every employee of every member.”
“I want to tell every member what this organization has meant to me,” Kim added. “I’ve walked where they’re walking. Some members are struggling to keep their heads up and meeting challenges at every corner. My Selected connections have been invaluable for weathering challenging times, and I hope to encourage our members to draw on the resources available through our association.”
Kim is president of Farris Funeral Service and Farris Cremation and Funeral Center and helps in a consulting role for Forest Hills Memorial Park and Faithful Pets Cremation and Funeral Care. She has almost completed her credentials as a hospital chaplain through Emmanuel Seminary.
“I’ve learned so much about families and grief, and I hope to use my platform to teach the public why ceremony is important and why grief acknowledged is grief healed. That’s our purpose as individuals and as a profession,” she added. “That’s the reason we’re there for every family we serve.”
Check back every Friday for another nugget of funereal miscellany!