The history of a society or professional association is sometimes left, at least officially, unrecorded. Perchance there's also very little or no administrative record-keeping; and personal stories about past members and events are commonly left unwritten. That's what makes this narrative, contributed by DSFDA past-president, Keith Parsell; so valuable. Yet, it gives us only a brief glimpse into our history. With that said, if you've discovered references to the Delaware State Funeral Directors Association in any of your firm's files–or personal scrapbooks or boxes of mementos left in the back of a closet or in the attic–we'd love to have you share them with us. Send an email using the form on our Contact Us page.
The founding date of the association is unclear. The earliest piece of literature that has been found is dated 1920. It is the constitution and by-laws of the 1920 association.
In this booklet you can find a list of over forty members who's grandchildren and great grandchildren are members of the association today.
From Mr. Parsell's own personal archives: a piece of correspondence dated April 6th, 1938 between Mr. Raymond R. Atkins of Lewes–then the president of our association–and a funeral director in Easton, Maryland, Mr. John D. Williams. The letter, written by Atkins, "acknowledges his possible attendance at an upcoming meeting of the Del-Mar-Va Association in Crisfield, Maryland.
"Furthermore," notes Parsell, "he extended a return invitation for Mr. Williams to attend DSFDA’s
Second Annual Dinner Dance to be held at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, DE.
Scraps of our history have been found in ordinary places, such as the letterhead, dated February
7th, 1938, seen here. It documents the names of the officers of the DSFDA: in addition to Mr. Atkins, who served as president, there was "John W. Spicer, Junior, who hailed from Delaware City, as vice-president. William J. Krienen, of New Castle, was secretary; John J. Kelley, from Wilmington was our treasurer; and the trustees were, John M. Yeatman, also of Wilmington, J. Ralph Carey from Georgetown, and Clinton H. Watson, who was from Bridgeville.
Later on in September of the same year, several DSFDA members attended the national convention, held that year in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Arriving by train from Wilmington, Delaware, attendees included Raymond R. Atkins, Mr. and Mrs. William Powders, Mr. and Mrs. John T Carey, Mr. and Mrs. James T Chandler, Mr. and Mrs. William E. Haines, and Mr. William Torbert. As the train stopped at various locations, several additional notable attendees from Pennsylvania joined the group including the Strouds, Worrals, Millers, Hennigers, Dykes, and Flannerys. The keynote speaker at the convention was Mr. Earl Newcomer of Kansas City, Missouri."
Let's put some social context around the lives of these early members of Delaware's funeral directors association. In 1937, FDR was leading the nation in dire times. But there were lighter moments: according to 1937 in the United States; in April of that year, the Looney Tunes animated short Porky's Duck Hunt was released, featuring the debut of Daffy Duck. On a less frivolous note: in May of 1937, there were 7 million unemployed workers in the United States. Of course, the shocking Hindenburg disaster occurred on the six day of that month.
July 2nd brought the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Freed Noonan, as well as the first posting of a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, D.C. (which continues to this day). And what of September, when DSFDA officers and members were traveling to the national convention? During the early days of that 9th month, CBS broadcasted a two-and-a-half hour memorial concert on nationwide radio, in memory of George Gershwin. Radio history was made again that month with the launch of the half-hour radio show, The Shadow, with Orson Welles. Only 78 years have passed since 1937, but those highlights seem to have happened long ago.
Yet, we're connected, by threads unseen, to American funeral directors everywhere, but especially those who served Delaware residents during the pre-war years in America. "A considerable amount of time has passed", Mr. Parsell acknowledges, "however, many of the original Delaware founding members are still represented in DSFDA either through their grandchildren and great grandchildren or through the continuation of their respective businesses by new owners who are current members of Delaware State Funeral Directors Association."
Mr. Parsell closes this brief look at our history with these words: "A most noble profession, funeral
service, has been represented through the years in Delaware by a group of dedicated professionals and will continue today with the many efforts of the current members and their officers."
Join Us in Recording Our History
Alan Bennett, author of the play The History Boys, wrote of the magic of reading; but the same can be said about the search for the thoughts and feelings of the funeral directors who shaped the history of our state's funeral directors association. He said, “The best moments...are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” We invite you to experience that amazing moment of connection by helping us in building our archive of DSFDA historical documents; and enriching the understanding of the development of a professional association which is now considered to be the most active and influential funeral service association in the nation. If you've got insights or historical items to share, please call a DSFDA staff member. We'd love to add to our history, and we can do it better with your assistance.
The Delaware State Funeral Directors Association is a charter member of National Funeral Directors Association