could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

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Undertakers and Mortuaries in Kearney

An introduction to the Undertakers and Mortuaries in Kearney

An undertaker came to Kearney within 3 years of its founding (1874) and started one strand of companies which still exists today.

A businessman came to Kearney ten years later (1884), held several different jobs until he decided in 1908 to become an undertaker and started a second strand of companies which still exists today.

Only one other company existed for more than a short time.

Strand I –
Switz, Frederick J. – First undertaker in Kearney

Born in Switzerland in 1842
    Came to US in 1856 at age 14
        Settled in Cleveland, Ohio; learned chair making
In Union army during Civil War
    Returned to chair factory for 3 years, worked up to foreman
        1869 went to Auburn, Alabama, started a furniture factory, operated 5 years, closed it
Feb 1874 came to Kearny

    Purchased a small furniture store, then bought out another and consolidated the two.

        Added carpets – first NE furniture dealer to do so
    Operated his furniture and carpet business for 39 years
    Built store building on northeast corner of 23rd & Central before August 1889
            Baumgartners – Bissell Decorating - Yandas

Switz was in undertaking business from the time he returned from war and started work in chair factory
        Only undertaker in Kearney from his arrival in 1874 until 1899 when A. G. Bower came to Kearney
        Mitchell-Ketchum hanging was in 1878.

             Alice Howell in Buffalo Tales wrote: [The were] “brought back to Kearney where they were exposed to the view of the general public in the undertaking rooms of F. J. Switz.”

June 1902 – sold undertaking stock & supplies to A. G. Bower & concentrated on furniture & carpets only
    1913 sold furniture & carpet holdings; confined business to paint, glass, & wallpaper
        Died in 1917 at age 75

Who was this A. G. Bower who took over the undertaking business?

Bower, Almon G.
Born in Indiana in 1851 [9 yeas after Switz]
        Father a farmer, also a cabinet maker who made coffins and household furniture
    Bower taught school 2 terms

        went to Montana at age 19 for 2 years working in a mill

            returned to Indiana to farm

1885 came to Ulysses, Nebraska (near Seward) in undertaking business & furniture store

1898 came to Kearney – Purchased Costello’s furniture store and building at 2003 Cent.
    Repaired building and set up furniture and undertaking business.

June 20, 1902 – Purchased Switz’s undertaking stock and supplies;
    Switz gave up undertaking; Bower gave up the furniture business

Licensed embalmer, had completed course in Lincoln and received first diploma
Died in 1945 at age 94; not sure when he retired

A. G. Bower & Son

Son, Vern, joined him in the business
    Youngest licensed embalmer in the state when he was graduated from an Embalming School in Philadelphia in 1906
    Company name changed to A. G. Bower & Son

Bower locations:
    Started at 2003-2005 Central Ave
    Ca 1920’s - Moved to 112 W 22nd to a large house
        (on the corner of 22nd and 2nd Ave. (Deterding’s location))

Bower Funeral Home
Name changed after 1931, possibly after A G Bower died in 1945
        [didn’t search city directories close enough]
    Vance Nielsen came to work for Bower Funeral Home in the 1940s
        1952 – Nielsen was a funeral director in the Bower Funeral Home

Bower- Nielsen
1955 – Name was changed to Bower-Nielsen Funeral Home
            Vern Bower was in late 60’s, wanting to retire

Nielson Mortuary
By 1960 – Vance Nielsen had bought out Bower and built a new place of business next to the house at 2115 2nd Ave.
        House was moved south of the old Kenwood School
    Interstate constructed in 1960’s making 2nd Ave a main entrance into Kearney
        Dirt, residential street was paved and onstreet parking eliminated.
        Moved the house on the south side of the mortuary and a parking lot put in.
    Also took over the mortuary in Elm Creek

    By 1980 Nielsen was ready to retire 

    Miller Godberson had combined his mortuary business in Gibbon with Nielsen

    Vance Nielsen retired

Godberson Mortuaries Inc. and Central Nebraska Cremation Service,
1990 – the name of the business

Godberson - Straatman
1993 – Miller died, business ownership shifted again
    1994 – Gary Straatman joined the company
    Then the name changed again when Steve O’Brien joined Gary

    Apfel joined and it became…

O’Brien-Straatmann- Apfel
When Apfel retired, his son in Grand Island took the Wood River and east area and the Apfel name was removed.

New partner, Redinger, joined about 4 years ago (2008)
Steve retired a couple of years ago but is still a partner

Strand II
E. A. Miller
Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1860
        Learned the carpenter's trade

Spring 1884 came to Kearney and worked as a carpenter
    Over the next 7 years he was an assessor in Kearney & on City Council
        Was connected with an implement business
        Went into the grain and feed business for 8 years

1902 -1906 – deputy county clerk for 4 years
1906 – 1908 – Ran for county clerk & won for 2 terms
        Through all this time active in Kearney social life belonging to numerous organization
            Especially Odd Fellows

1908 – While still county clerk he opened an undertaking establishment
    Conducted it for about a year until his term ended
        No surprise - advertisement - E. A. Miller, Funeral Director, I. O. O. F. Building

1909 – installed a factory at his undertaking business to manufacture cement vaults.
May, 1910 – diploma from a Cincinnati college of embalming

March 5, 1920 – Miller died suddenly after a 2 week illness; He was 61

April 1, 1920 – E. A. Miller Undertaking estate sold to Ira Anderson and G. W. Arthurs.
    Anderson came from Omaha and had 15 years in undertaking business, a licensed embalmer.
    Arthurs was a businessman known in Kearney.

1921 – Arthurs sold his interest and business became…

Anderson Mortuary
1924 – Moved to current location on corner of 25th & A in the former Nye house

    1928 – Robert L Johnson joined Anderson
    Mortuary was remodeled
    1940 – Major renovation

    1946 – Ira Anderson died; Johnson became sole owner but name remained

    1951 – Jack Horner became associated with the mortuary
    1968 – Horner became co-owner with Johnson; business renamed

Ron Lieske joined the firm
1971 – Name changed to…

1979 – Jack Horner II joined and name changed to ….

1995 – Mark McBride joined
2006 – Spencer Kuhl joined
2009 – Name changed to include all four

Horner-Lieske-McBride & Kuhl

Thoughts –
We may see a lot of violence and gory scenes on television and in movies today.
        But that is no different than reading the graphic descriptions of injuries suffered in train and car accidents a hundred years ago.

        Unauthorized passengers on trains who fell or jumped to their deaths - head & limbs severed.
        A man cranked his Reno which was in gear and it crushed him against a tree.


Oddities –

A York, NE truck driver called a mortuary ambulance to come to his home.
    He then committed suicide using his pistol and was found by the ambulance drive.
        His wife had died three years previously and he had three children 16 & under.
[This may have been his way of being sure the kids would not find him.]

A man drove his car into the driveway of a mortuary before committing suicide by shooting himself in June 1933.

Dec. 28, 1935 – Kearney girl, graduate of Kearney High and Kearney State Teaches College
    Married Minden man, graduate of Minden High School, attended KSTC in pre-med for 2 years and then 2 ˝ years employed by Ira C. Funeral Home.

    After honeymoon in California & Mexico, they lived in San Francisco where groom attended San Francisco University where he studied mortuary surgery.

At the wedding the bride and her attendant both wore black.


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Revised: 02/06/2018