08/29/13 The Johnson-Danielson Funeral Home is recognized as one of Plymouth’s oldest established businesses as it marks 135 years of serving the Marshall County community in 2014. Six families have now been the stewards of this business presently in its third location where construction is underway at the facility that will provide for even greater handicap accessibility and expanded service areas.
· New entryway from parking area.
· Larger foyer and gathering space.
· Interior handicap ramp.
· Two new handicap accessible restrooms.
· Conference room for arrangements.
· A main floor coffee lounge.
During this expected period of six months, the funeral home will remain open and accessible throughout this period by the use of the Michigan street entrance. Additional parking will move to the large lot at the corner of Michigan and Baker streets that is shared with the Brethren Church.
A landmark of service and family traditions began back in 1879 at a location opposite the Plymouth Opera House on West Laporte Street. Founder John Leonard and son Charles R., a Plymouth City Clerk, began a carriage and undertaking establishment to serve the area’s needs. In 1902 the expanding business was moved to the corner of Michigan and LaPorte Streets, now the site of the Rees Cinema Theater. With the advancement of the “horseless” carriage, the firm soon evolved to include furniture with the undertaking business under subsequent owners, George Weissert and Dr. J.W. Eidson.
It was in 1919 while passing through Plymouth by train that Halleck F. Johnson decided to take a walk through the downtown. He found the furniture and undertaking business to be for sale. He immediately returned to his hometown of Gibson City, Illinois, and along with his brother Ralph E. Johnson, a veterinarian, returned to Plymouth. They purchased the business and formed Johnson Brothers Furniture and Undertaking.
The two brothers were quick to provide Plymouth with ambulance service. In 1924 new motorized equipment was introduced and ambulance service continued until January of 1978.
In 1928 the funeral firm moved to its present location at 1100 N. Michigan Street becoming Marshall County’s first “funeral home” known as Johnson and Son. Ralph’s son Francis W. Johnson helped with the family business from the age of 13. Following his military service in WWII, Francis became active in the daily operation and oversaw the first expansion of the facility in 1947; Ralph would die before its completion.
Francis was elected Mayor of Plymouth and would serve from 1948 – 1952. Francis and his wife, Martha, assisted by her brother, Max Tharp, operated the funeral home from 1947 until the Johnsons’ retirement in 1978. Max Tharp continued to assist at the funeral home for nearly 60 years until his death in 2007.
The ownership was then transferred to Richard and Phyllis Davidson, both Fulton County natives and former owners of Ditmire/Davidson Funeral Home in Fulton, Indiana. Under their leadership in the early 1980’s, many physical improvements were made to the facility in order to provide greater comfort and service to more than one family at the same time. They also created a family lounge area for coffee and refreshments. The Davidsons, now retired, continue to reside in Plymouth.
The progression of stewardship again changed in January of 1995 to present owners, Randy and Eleanor Danielson. Danielson, a Plymouth native, became associated with the funeral home as an apprentice in October of 1973 and this year will mark 40 years in funeral service. Danielson stated; “I’m very thankful to Francis Johnson, Max Tharp and Dick Davidson for providing me with a good foundation for strong ideals in funeral service.” Eleanor, a Registered Dietician, also assists in the business office and manages the daily operation of the Remembrance Centre which opened in 2009.
In keeping with a tradition of advancement, the Danielson family mad a decision under the urging of Plymouth Mayor Jack Greenlee to remain at the current location. That became the right decision and they have continued to improve the accommodations of the funeral home facility and parking areas. An entirely new and secure preparation room was completed in 2001 and was featured at the National Funeral Directors Convention and in the publication of the American Funeral Director. “We are continuing with our commitment to remain at this historic location and yet provide for the growing needs of the Plymouth and Marshall County area with the most up to date facility and dedicated staff,” Danielson stated.
Danielson noted that many changes have occurred over the past 40 years.
“When I first began, nearly every funeral took on the same appearance and somber tone. The family provided information for a pretty facts only obituary, we did our part, the florist theirs, the minister his (seldom hers, at that time), the organist hers, (now a CD or MP3 player) the cemetery (or crematory). For the most part I felt the family simply observed what others had planned for them. Today, thankfully the family is foremost in the planning of a tribute that reflects the life of the deceased. We are now able to freely offer suggestions and guidance, write a fitting obituary story, florists can be truly creative, ministers work with families to reflect on one’s life, recorded music selections both religious and contemporary provide a more personal reflection of one’s life.
“All of this combined has become a celebration of a life lived, which may not diminish the amount of one’s grief, but hopefully gone is the memory of tears shed alone in a poorly lit room.”
Danielson concluded by saying; “I am proud to be serving a community that cares enough to come to a visitation or service and support friends and family at a time of loss.”