This year, the Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home is celebrating a milestone – its 70th anniversary. Owners Mark and Diane DeBord are also celebrating the fact that their oldest son, Jeremy, has decided to join the family business.
If you think 70 years is a remarkable run, consider the fact that the building that houses the funeral home is 145 years old. Built in 1865 by Rueben Baer, the publisher of Baer’s Almanac, the house is regarded as Lancaster’s finest example of Italianate architecture. In 1917, the home was sold to J. Fred Fisher, who opened a business there – J. Fred Fisher & Sons Funeral Home. The company’s first client was an inmate who met his demise by hanging at Lancaster County Prison.
One of Fisher’s employees was C. Abram Snyder. It was always assumed that one of Fisher’s sons would take over the business, but when that didn’t transpire, Abe Snyder made a bid to buy it. The transaction was finalized in 1940 and Snyder and his wife, Ruth, moved their family into the second-floor apartment. The business thrived and to accommodate its growth, Abe Snyder purchased the neighboring property at 135 East Orange Street. In addition to overseeing his business, Abe Snyder also became politically active – he served as a county commissioner for 12 years – and was a philanthropist, as he and his wife supported the efforts of the Boys Club to open a camp by donating a farm in Martic Township to the organization, known as Camp Snyder
In the ‘50s, more changes took place. In 1954, the operating room that had been set up in the carriage house at the rear of the property was moved to the main building. A year later, the house was renovated, a selection room was added and the operating room was improved upon once more. In 1956, Abe Snyder’s son, Kearney, who had attended the Eckels Embalming School in Philadelphia, and his brother-in-law, Donald Iredale, bought the business and renamed it the Snyder/Iredale Funeral Home. The partnership continued until 1968, when Kearney Snyder bought out Iredale and renamed the business Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home.
Who knew that when Diane Snyder was crowned the homecoming queen at McCaskey High School in the early ‘70s, she would become a licensed funeral director? Or, that the football/basketball player – Mark DeBord – whom she wished could have been her escort for the occasion would follow the same career path? At the time, neither entertained such ideas. After graduation, the high-school sweethearts traveled their separate ways. Diane enrolled at Drexel University, where she majored in food nutrition. “I wanted to work in a test kitchen,” she recalls. A year later, Mark was close-by – at West Chester University – where he was a recreation major. Still, the two missed seeing each other on a daily basis and so, Diane transferred to West Chester.
As Mark came to be viewed as part of the family, he began helping out with the family business. It was Kearney who suggested that he consider becoming a funeral director. With an eye to the future – more women were seeking professional careers – he encouraged Diane to follow Mark’s lead and attend mortuary school, as well. “The more we thought about, the more it made sense,” she says. “We both enjoy working with people, so we agreed, but we paid our own way,” Diane recalls.
Mark explains that the exclusion of women from the industry was related to brute strength – women lacked the ability to move bodies. “So often, a funeral director had to move a body by himself,” he explains.. “Most women just didn’t have the strength to do it.” Modern-day equipment and helping hands make the job much easier.
Even in the early stages of the women’s movement, Diane found herself in the minority at school. “There were 135 people in my class and of them only two were women,” she says. “Now, I understand classes are split 50/50.”
“Women bring a new dimension to the business,” Mark notes. “A lot of times, widows appreciate being able to discuss things with a woman.” With both of them holding credentials, the DeBords, who were married in 1976, at that time were believed to be the only licensed husband/wife team of funeral directors in Lancaster County.
Husband and wife teams, however, are not a new phenomenon. Historically, according to Mark, funeral homes “were mom-and-pop operations” that saw the wives of funeral directors play critical roles in their businesses, as they took care of office work, answered telephone calls and greeted the guests of their clients when they arrived for viewings and funeral services. “My mother was my father’s secretary,” Diane reports. “She’d take the summers off and I’d fill in for her.”
The DeBords bought the business from Diane’s father in 1988 (the transfer of real estate relating to the business took place in 1995). The second-floor residence became home to the family that included the DeBords’ three sons: Jeremy, Randy and Luke. The roof of the portico was transformed into their play area.
When the boys were primed to enter high school, the family moved to Hempfield, where Jeremy became a 1st team all-district basketball star. With Luke’s graduation, Mark and Diane didn’t relish the role of empty-nest suburbanites and decided to move back to the funeral home. “We have always loved living downtown,” Diane says.
They also liked the fact that the move would better enable them to spend more time with Diane’s parents, who live just next door in the stone house that is as unique architecturally as the funeral home. The business had also grown, due to the inclusion of an on-premises crematory that was added in 1992. “Opening that was a challenge,” Mark says. “We went before zoning in 1990, but board members didn’t understand the concept. We dropped it and spent the next two years educating them on the matter.” Thirty-five percent of Snyder’s funerals involve cremation. “That’s the state average,” Mark notes. “The average is higher in the Western states and in Europe.”
The business grew once again in 2006, when Mark and Diane DeBord acquired the Richard A. Sheetz Funeral Home in Rohrerstown. “Dick Sheetz came to us,” Mark explains. The overture “came out of nowhere and took us by surprise,” Mark relates. As is the case with many of the smaller enterprises, Richard A Sheetz’s was anticipating retirement and his children were involved in other careers. “At first, we thought, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ but the more we considered it, we saw it as a good move,” Mark recounts. “The business was well respected – it’s so well established that we have no plans to change the name – and it has served a growing area. It has proven to be a good addition to the business.”
The acquisition was carried out in a very friendly manner. Despite the sale, Mrs. Sheetz continued to live in the residence and even helped with funerals by greeting guests of clients. However, late last year, she moved to a nearby retirement community to make way for a new tenant – Jeremy DeBord and his wife, Candace, who welcomed their first child to the family in late April.
After graduating from Hempfield, Jeremy enrolled at Millersville University, where he earned a degree in business administration and met Candace, who had grown up in the Midwest but moved to Lancaster when her father became the pastor of a local church.
He then earned his master’s degree from the University of Phoenix and accepted a job with Ingersoll Rand, which was acquired by Volvo Construction Equipment. Three promotions – the last being regional manager for the Southeast region of the United States – in three years took the newly married couple from Harrisburg to Shippensburg to Asheville, North Carolina and, finally, to Tampa, Florida. “We were moving too much,” Jeremy remarks. On top of the moves, he didn’t get to see enough of his wife because his territory required him to constantly travel. “I was living in hotels,” he says.
Jeremy’s fast climb up the corporate ladder served as proof that he could succeed in business. “My goal was to prove myself to myself,” he explains. With that accomplished, he and Candace wanted to find a remedy for their homesickness. He talked to his parents about the possibility of joining the family business. They were thrilled at the prospect that a fourth generation would be joining the business and carrying on the family name. “My dad was very excited to hear the news,” Diane reports.
While he was living in Tampa, Jeremy enrolled in a Colorado-based mortuary school. “I could do part of my courses online,” he explains. “Plus, flying from Florida to Colorado was convenient.” (To become a licensed funeral director, a candidate must complete a two (2) years of college, a year of mortuary school, a one-year internship and then pass the state and national boards.) Jeremy graduated from mortuary school in May and will take his boards in August. He will then begin his internship at Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home in an effort to “apply what I’ve learned.” Not only will he have to impress his parents, but the six licensed funeral directors who are on staff, as well (each has an average of 30 years of experience in the industry). “We consider our personnel to be our strongest asset,” Mark says. “Randy L. Stoltzfus and Michael J. Proch, two of the funeral home’s talented licensed directors, will play a particularly integral role in teaching Jeremy what he needs to know using their many years of experience.”
In the meantime, Jeremy has been assisting his parents and the staff as best he can. “I enjoy working with people and I’m finding it rewarding to work with people who turn to us [for funeral planning],” he says.
Mark and Diane especially appreciate Jeremy’s grasp of modern technology. Both laugh as they recall “the old days.” Diane says she can remember taking her turn of waiting by the telephone, should her father be needed. “The phone had to be covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she recalls. Mark points out that high-tech began to make its impact through pagers. “I can remember being at one of my son’s soccer practice or a game and have my pager go off,” he reminisces. “I’d have to get in the car and find a pay phone somewhere. Thank goodness for cell phones!”
They also are excited by the “fresh ideas” Jeremy has in regard to marketing and advertising, and are learning about the younger generation’s preference to conduct research via the Internet, specifically through company websites and sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Newspapers have also gone high-tech and publish obituaries online and furnish online guestbooks. Still, Jeremy says that old-fashioned methods such as word-of-mouth and family traditions produce the best results. But, with so many newcomers calling Lancaster home, it’s essential to reach out via technology.
Staying abreast of industry innovations is also important and many funeral directors accomplish that by attending industry-sponsored conventions through which the latest products are displayed. “There are so many things out there!” Mark reports of products that are being made to personalize a funeral and memorialize the person who has passed. One such product that is on display in the Selection Room at Kearney A Snyder Funeral Home is a red-and-white urn that is made specifically for the die-hard (no pun intended) Phillies fan. The bereaved can now remember a loved one through keepsake jewelry – Thumbies – that are made using the fingerprint of the deceased.
Community involvement is also important to the DeBords. “We feel we need to give back in both time and resources,” Diane says. In that effort, Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home has served as a major sponsor of Spring Fling, a fundraiser for Hospice of Lancaster County, which is held at Gibraltar each year. Diane has also served on the board of The Samaritan Center and enjoys volunteering by singing at Willow Valley as well as a number of other retirement communities. Mark is currently on the board of the Boys and Girls Club, former trustee of Lancaster Country Day School and a former board member of the Rotary Club of Lancaster. He is also a member of the Funeral Directors Association on the local, state and national levels. Jeremy, meanwhile, has also become a member of the Rotary Club of Lancaster, and he and Candace are involved in church activities.
For more information about the Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home, visit www.kasnyderfuneralhome.com
Only in Lancaster …Uncanny Coincidences
As boys, Mark DeBord and Chip Snyder attended Camp Snyder, the land for which was donated to the Boys and Girls Club by Diane DeBord’s grandparents, C. Abram and Ruth Snyder.
Jeremy DeBord and Chad Snyder were both born in 1981 (Jeremy in September and Chad in August).
Jeremy and Chad attended nursery school together at First Presbyterian Church. Both recall playing at each other’s homes.
Mark and Diane DeBord assumed ownership of the Kearney A. Snyder Funeral Home in 1988, the same year Chip Snyder became the owner of the Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home
Jeremy DeBord and his wife Candace welcomed their first child Ethan Ryan DeBord (possibly the 5th generation) on April 28, 2010. The date just so happened to be Chip and Doreen Snyder’s 31st wedding anniversary.