It was still the 19th century when the teen-aged Jimmie Reeder first came to work for Keasler’s Merchandise Store as Reeder finished school in Hughes Springs. There was no funeral home in Hughes Springs at that time, so as deaths occurred, family members called on the local store for caskets and other funeral goods, often using the store wagon as a hearse.
And for over a hundred years, the Reeder-Davis family has been in a Hughes Springs business providing such funeral goods.
Jim Reeder became a partner in Eubanks and Reeder store, after working his way up the ranks at Keasler’s. After Eubanks and Reeder came Reeder-Watson, and Reeder-Watson-Davis, all in the same building. After Reeder’s death in 1967, his son-in-law Charles Davis incorporated the family business and re-named it Reeder-Davis Funeral Home, Inc. , as it remains today, now under the third generation of Reeder family ownership.
While still working at Keasler’s, Jim Reeder bought his parents a house in Hughes Springs at the age of 21, while working at Keasler’s. A few years later, in 1907, he married a young schoolteacher from Daingerfield, Lizzie Everett. The following year, according to research by his grandson and namesake Jim Davis, Reeder bought a partnership to his first business which sold caskets and other funeral goods. Usually donning a derby hat, Jimmie Reeder became well-known in the area for his retail business. He began selling funeral insurance at an early age, and formed his own insurance company 1947, according to Davis’s records.
“Jim Reeder was Sunday School superintendent at First Baptist Church in Hughes Springs for many years,” recounts his granddaughter Betsy Schindler. “Our mother, Leita ,was their third child and both her brothers died young. Milton died of diphtheria at age seven in 1914 and Winford, died at 16 of appendicitis in 1931. My grandfather became convinced these deaths were a message from God that he should surrender to preach in while in prayer with Winford at his son’s deathbed.” At one time “Bro. Jimmie”was said to have pastored seven churches at the same time, preaching at various hours. He served South Union Baptist and Cason Baptist for a couple of decades, until his retirement from preaching, all the while running his retail, funeral and insurance companies.
With all his responsibilities, Jim Reeder was glad when his only living child Leita brought her husband Charles Davis home to live and work with him in the home where the next generation – Jim and Betsy —were raised. Reeder had taken a test to receive his funeral directors license in 1938, and Leita, who had earlier earned college degrees followed suit and received her license during World War II. Charles was drafted, meanwhile, and served in the Army overseas.
Reeder earned his funeral directors license in 1938, and daughter Leita passed the test for her license during World War II.
Jim Reeder loved directing funerals, especially driving his hearse and leading the procession to the cemetery. Some tell that in his later years, he would stop a funeral procession at an overpass if a train happened to be coming by. “He didn’t want to take a chance of the train falling through and hurting people on his funeral,” Schindler smiles.
He also loved riding his horses and shared them with kids around town. Reeder often sponsored unusual local events, a practice the Hughes Springs chamber has brought back in recent years. “My grandfather’s two-story retail business was the building where Dorothy’s Corner is today,” Schindler said. “When he held a ‘Turkey Toss,’ he used a live turkey. The bird would fly and the person who caught it would get to take it home for Thanksgiving dinner.” In recent years the event has involved turkey replicas, cotton-filled, with coupons attached.
“Nor was the turkey toss my granddad’s only odd venture, she continued. “Several times a year, Grandpa would invite the public to an all-day picnic on his farm, located at the Morris County line, 10 miles southwest of town. He would bring out his horses and mules and donkey-cart for free rides. People would swim and fish from his home-made barge on the Fourth of July, Mother’s Day and his birthday…and he made certain there was a June 19th picnic and celebration just for his African American friends. At the last one – around 1960 — more than 1000 people came to his remote farm to spend the day…and his picnics were written up in Dallas Morning News. For each (completely free) picnic, he would put a notice in the local paper emphasizing “All are invited!”
In 1951, Reeder was recognized by the Hughes Springs newspaper The Voice as “Man of the Half-Century.” “As my grandfather got older, he became infamous for his bad driving. Many today still remember making a block to avoid getting near him when he was driving his black Chevrolet.”
“Grandpa’s gifts to Granny included a parrot brought to the United States during Spanish-American war, and a monkey, “ Schindler recalls. “One year, he planted a field of turnip greens. Then he put an ad in the paper inviting the community to come and get what they wanted. He was always giving things away.”
The long-time merchant, funeral director, insurance salesman, preacher, friend-to-all, died on Christmas Eve, 1967 at the age of 88. He died without a whole lot of money because he continually gave away what he had…
Reeder’s son-in-law, Charles Davis, had attended mortuary school in Dallas after returning home from World War II, and he earned his embalmer’s license in December, 1947. Before the War, Davis had earned a diploma from what was then College of Marshall (now ETBU), and he worked several years in a drug store and a Marshall bank. The second generation leader in the Reeder family business built the funeral home facility now in use by Reeder-Davis and increased the business many-fold. “My Dad upgraded the company fleet, and kept a pretty new hearse for the people he served. Davis took great pride in his embalming, and he enjoyed his job as long-time Democratic county chairman, and he raised cows. He served a stint as mayor, dabbled in real estate and loved the local Lion’s Club. Like most funeral directors of his day, he worked long hours between embalming, funeral directing and the insurance company, plus in early days he ran the city’s ambulance service,” Schindler said.
Schindler’s other parent Leita was active in the family retail store, and insurance company, and became well-known for her participation in the founding of Wildflower Trails. While her husband was serving in Europe and Africa during World War II,she was helping run her father’s store and editing the local paper “New Era.” She taught school a few years, was active all her life in her Methodist church, was a member of various local clubs, and she served on the State Democratic Executive Committee. Dedicated to wildflower-related causes, she conducted statewide conferences on wildflowers in conjunction with Lady Bird Johnson and others. In the four years she studied at Southern Methodist University, she had earned three degrees, in English, journalism and speech and drama.
Charles Davis died after a short illness in 1993, having help tend to Leita for many years after she had been stricken with Parkinson’s disease. She died three months after her husband’s death.
Their daughter, Betsy, earned a degree in journalism at The University of Texas and then worked in Austin . Until one October day at a convention in Chicago , she had no intention of joining the family funeral business.
“While I was always proud of my parents and grandfather, the business had never appealed to me in my youth. But when I met Lyle, and other amazing funeral directors from all over the country through National Selected Morticians (NSM),now, Selected Independent Funeral Homes, I began to realize just how special the funeral service industry is.
“People often ask how I met Lyle,” says Betsy. “In 1976, when my father was selected for membership in NSM, Dad was told he was required to go to conventions. But, since my parents were the only licensees in our business, both couldn’t leave for an entire week. Dad asked me to go with him and I said “no!” But then guilt set in and I agreed to use a week of vacation-time from my Austin job to meet him in Chicago .
“In Chicago , my airport shuttle couldn’t get me to the hotel because of a Columbus Day Parade, so it dropped me off three blocks away with my three heavy bags in tow. Lyle, whose wife had recently filed for divorce, was managing a mortuary in California at the time. He happened to be in Chicago to meet his boss at the same convention. Lyle saw my plight and gallantly offered to help carry my luggage. We were both embarrassed about meeting on a city street corner and did not exchange names. Later that day, though, we were formally introduced at the NSM meeting. And one year later we were married,” Schindler said.
“Lyle continued his job managing Coleman Mortuary in La Habra, California for a year, until we came back to Hughes Springs in 1978, ” she continued. Lyle, who had completed California School of Mortuary Science 10 years prior, earned a reciprocal license in Texas and began helping my Dad in the family funeral business,” she said.
Betsy has since become licensed, after completing her studies on-line at Amarillo College .
“Of our meeting in Chicago , Lyle teases that I was Carl Sandburg’s ‘painted woman standing under the streetlight, luring the farm boy.’ That was 30 years ago.”
During most of that 30 years, Lyle has been at the helm of Reeder-Davis Funeral Home, himself building a perpetual care cemetery adjacent to the facility, and later buying out Hanner-Caver Funeral Service, and then Haaland Funeral Home, both in Linden, “where the Caver family are still around to help us do things right in Linden,” Betsy emphasizes.
Under Lyle’s leadership, embalming in our business has been raised to a higher level. Lyle does his best to make “the open casket” an option no matter extent of the accident or disease. Both embalmers have reconstructed entire faces to lessen the pain for family members in dealing with such tragedies.
A native of rural Wisconsin , Lyle easily became a hunter of Texas deer and turkeys. Also while in Texas, he has become involved in the East Texas community, serving 18 years on the local school board, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, a term as East Texas Funeral Directors Association president, and member of Texas Funeral Directors Association state board.
“Under Lyle’s leadership, our funerals have involved 18-wheelers and fire trucks, motorcycles, trains and helicopters. There have been saddles and chaps, lakeside cremation memorials, airplane fly-overs and, thanks to the wonderful Arden Hanes honor guard, many 21-gun salutes. We’ve buried a blues singer who was a Grammy-winner and we’ve had Grammy winners perform at funerals. We’ve buried people with their pet’s cremated remains and others with family heirlooms.” One of the tenderest funeral moments that Schindler remembers was when one little boy tearfully placed his newly-earned “all-star shirt,” in the casket with his granddad.
Betsy emphasizes that her dad and grandfather and husband have all run the family business differently, but they were all dedicated to serving the needs of grieving families, without discrimination for race or any other reason. In Reeder’s day especially, racial discrimination was rampant at most other white-owned funeral homes.
And all three generations of the family have been blessed with wonderful staffs. Along with Owner, Kristopher Brock, currently on staff, full-time, are: Amy Batts, Virginia Harris, Wayne Hall, and Mary Hawkins. Part-time and occasional staff include: Wanda Heard, Diane Montgomery, Rodney Love, Marsha Copeland, Fleta Smith, Joy Compton, Hazel Alexander, Jean Mason, Glinda Mims, Tommie Harper, Roger Banks, Eugene Neese, Linda Price-Duffey.
“Funeral service in northeast Texas has been a wonderful calling for three generations of our family,” Schindler emphasized. “Sometimes, the long hours are difficult but people are so appreciative… The sad situations we witness can be heart-wrenching. We encounter so many people who are suffering excruciating emotional pain.”
The Reeder-Davis family of staff all agree that the people we serve in northeast Texas are the very best people in the world.