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
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
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
– 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
June 20, 1902 – Purchased Switz’s undertaking stock and supplies;
Switz gave up undertaking; Bower gave up the furniture
Licensed embalmer, had completed course in Lincoln and received first
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
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
Bower Funeral Home
Name changed after 1931, possibly after A G Bower died in
[didn’t search city directories close
Vance Nielsen came to work for Bower Funeral Home in the
1952 – Nielsen was a funeral director
in the Bower Funeral Home
1955 – Name was changed to
Bower-Nielsen Funeral Home
was in late 60’s, wanting to retire
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
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…
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
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
Was connected with an implement
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
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
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…
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
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
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.
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
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
After honeymoon in California & Mexico, they lived in San
Francisco where groom attended San Francisco University where he studied
At the wedding the bride and her attendant both wore black.