Photography by Derek Bell
With $5,000 in his pocket and zero experience in the funeral business, Paul Henderson took a leap of faith that now spans three generations. In 1961, Paul took his savings and bought into Landers-Frazier Funeral Home in South Lindale, creating Henderson & Frazier Funeral Home and the culture of caring that is carried on by his children and grandchildren to this very day.
By the mid-80s, Paul’s son, Barry, had joined his father, and Henderson & Sons was born. Now, with 54 years of service to Rome and Floyd County under its belt, it seems that a Henderson will always be there for the Enchanted Land’s citizens in their time of need.
When Barry made the decision to join the family business, he jumped in with both feet, dedicating himself to a calling that is now echoed by his two sons, Garrett and Wesley. He was so dedicated, in fact, that he dropped to one knee and proposed to his wife, Nancy, at the funeral home.
“I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Nancy and I knew my life’s work was going to be in the funeral industry,” says Barry, who serves as president and CEO. “That meant we would spend more time at the funeral home than our own home, so I felt it was appropriate and honest for me to ask for her hand in marriage in a place where I would invest so much of my time. Some might call it a creepy proposal, but she said yes anyway.”
After Nancy said, “I do,” the foundation of Henderson & Sons’ future was set. She stayed at home while Barry worked in order to tend to the needs of their children. Both Garrett and Wesley excelled in school academically, athletically and artistically, but only time would tell if the boys would seek a different path than the one their father on earth and their father in heaven had laid before them.
“If there was going to be a son that followed in dad’s footsteps, it was going to be me,” says Garrett. “I’m just like my dad and remember my teachers telling me that when I was in school. They knew I would carry on the family business before I did, but I realized that this was my calling at an early age. And when God speaks to us, it’s our job to listen.”
Eventually, Wesley would also find his way back to Rome and to the familiar confines of Henderson & Sons.
“It all started when Wesley changed his major to psychology,” says Barry. “He wanted to help people and that change in direction made that apparent. What he realized during that process was that the funeral business offered him the opportunity to impact lives every day. That realization was a huge gain for our business, but most importantly our family.”
Once Wesley joined the team, the core four of the Henderson family were now entrenched in the business, with both sons serving as apprentice funeral directors and Nancy filling the role of secretary and treasurer.
While the boys’ titles are the same, their roles are very different. Garrett’s focus is on the “at need” side, where he addresses the immediate needs of the deceased’s family, while Wesley concentrates on after care, helping to facilitate counseling and provide resources that will help the family move forward.
This attention to the specific stages of the grieving process gives clients the attention they deserve throughout the entire experience, which is a point of pride for the entire staff of Henderson & Sons. And with a burial site as scenic as Rome Memorial Park available, Henderson & Sons is truly a full-service experience.
“This business is now three generations strong,” says Barry. “We all grew up here and have been impacted by the people in this community. At some point, they are going to lose a loved one and it is our job to care for them during this devastating time in their lives. We invest ourselves into each and every person that needs our services, and the relationships we gain from these times are bonds that can’t be broken.”
It is during Wesley’s after care program that clients begin to realize and appreciate the bond that has been formed with the Hendersons, and it’s easy to see why based on the amount of time they spend with each family they serve. After care begins with an introduction to the after-care minister and includes visitation and counseling via letter, phone calls and visits; assistance with the filing of insurance claims and VA benefits; and the creation of special remembrances such as memorial DVDs, portraits and much more.
“There is only one sure thing everyone needs after experiencing heartbreak and loss like our families do, and that’s love,” says Wesley. “People ask us all the time how we deal with all of the sadness that comes with death and, to be honest, it all goes back to our faith in the Lord. He has led us to this profession. Keeping families first is what we do here and as long as we focus on taking good care of each and every person that walks through our doors, everything else will fall into place.”
Barry adds, “There are certainly times that we get overcome with grief, too. Sometimes we cry with families; sometimes we make it through the services or consultation and break down once the family has gone. Some things are just devastating and we wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t emotionally invested in people we serve. At the end of the day, however, we believe, as Christians, that we have a better place to go when we leave this earth, and that gives us all the strength we need to be strong for the families we serve.”
Henderson & Sons also offers consultation and assistance to those who wish to plan ahead. A growing number of people are pre-planning their funeral arrangements, making the difficult decisions ahead of time in order to ease the stress on their loved ones at the time of their passing.
“When families are coping with loss, many of them want to know how they can protect their families and make the process easier for everyone involved,” says Wesley. “We accomplish that through pre-planning, and lifting the burden of decision making from your loved ones at such a difficult time is a gift more and more people are wanting to give. Most parents would never let their children order for them at a restaurant, so why would you let them plan something as important as your funeral.”
Barry has seen the value of pre-planning time and time again.
“The mother of a dear friend of mine, who is a professor at Shorter University, pre-planned her funeral about two years before she passed,” he recalls. “She covered every detail and pre-paid as well. I will never forget arriving at the church for his initial viewing of his mother. He walked up to me afterward and said that it was the greatest thing his mother could have ever done for him. He was allowed to focus on the celebration of her life and say his final goodbyes without the pressure of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s required by those who aren’t gifted with pre-planning.”
While the benefits of pre-planning a funeral seem obvious once presented, it still isn’t the norm. But the attention to detail and full-service offerings at Henderson & Sons create an environment where making the many decisions that come with a funeral service easier to handle.
They offer traditional and non-traditional services at their North or South Chapels in Rome and can easily accommodate off-site requests. With the only crematorium in Floyd County under their operation, clients can rest easy knowing that those who prefer to be cremated will be exclusively cared for by the staff at Henderson & Sons.
“We have embraced cremation,” says Wesley. “Statistics show that half of America will choose cremation by 2017. We watched as funeral homes in the area sent loved ones as far as Chatsworth and Atlanta to receive those services. The need was there and we wanted to address that, so in 2013 we began operating our crematorium in our North Chapel. We offer a great line of products for the remains, like jewelry, artwork and urns, just to name a few.
“We are here to adhere to the wishes of the families we serve and we find a way to work with any budget to achieve a memorial they can be proud of,” he continues. “The funeral business is not a job; it’s a lifestyle. We are on call 24/7. Weekends, holidays and in the middle of the night, we are always here to serve, and that is something you have to embrace to be successful in this industry.”
With four licensed funeral directors/embalmers and four licensed apprentices, the staff of Henderson & Sons is well equipped to handle any situation.
“We have an outstanding team here,” says Barry. “From our custodians to our directors, we couldn’t ask to work with better people. Our 99 percent satisfaction rate is a direct result of their hard work and dedication.”
So more than 50 years later, Paul Henderson can be proud that his $5,000 investment in 1961 has lived on in his memory thanks to a foundation that was built even stronger by his son and grandsons.
“We have watched corporate entities buy out family-owned funeral homes time after time and had offers given to us many times over the years,” says Barry. “At the end of the day, we are following God’s calling and until he redirects our path, this is what we are going to do.” VVV