By MIKE WILLIAMS
A mainstay of the Pulaski business community since 1890 – Stevens Funeral Home – has been sold.
Effective July 1, Norris Funeral Services, Inc. – owned by David and Michelle Norris – purchased the funeral home from the Stevens family.
Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
Although the ownership has changed, S.W. “Skip” Stevens will continue on as funeral director / manager, and Margaret Hicks will remain in the business office. Intern Tyler Byrd, who joined Stevens in May, will remain as well.
With the purchase of Stevens Funeral Home, Norris Funeral Services has now grown to seven funeral homes. The rest are in Southern and Central Virginia, and include Martinsville Chapel in Martinsville, Mount Hermon Chapel in Danville, West End Chapel in Danville, Stuart Chapel in Stuart, Driskill Funeral Chapel in Amherst, and Scott Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Chatham.
The Norrises have two sons, Christian and Harrison, and two daughters-in-law, Kristen and Jenna. All four work in the family business.
Skip and brothers Matt and John have operated Stevens Funeral Home since the death in 1981 of their father, R.W. “Bob” Stevens.
The business was started by their great-grandfather, M.W. Stevens in 1890 and was called Stevens Funeral Home and Ambulance Service.
Their grandfather, B. Stanley Stevens later took over management of the funeral home followed by “Bob” Stevens.
Skip, Matt and John represent the fourth generation of the family to own and operate the business.
A fifth generation, represented by Chris Stevens – Matt’s son – ended in 2017 when Chris passed away at the age of 40.
With the untimely death of Chris, and because of health concerns for Matt and John, the decision was made to put the funeral home on the market.
“We decided several years ago after Chris’ death to sell but didn’t get serious until John developed a heart problem last August. It was on the market, but it wasn’t on the market,” Skip added.
“We wanted for the folks in this area not to transfer their items to someone else, and it was a good opportunity for David’s family and our family,” Skip said of the decision to sell to the Norrises.
“One day we were sitting here with our representative from Homesteader (a provider of insurance benefits to cover final expenses),” Skip recalled. “He services David and us. I had told him the background of the town, how it had been a railroad, textile and furniture town.”
Skip explained that people would come into the funeral home and want to make pre-arrangements for funerals, and they would be referred to Homesteader.
“I told him that I hadn’t sent any business to him for some time but assured him that situation would turn around. Then I told him, ‘By the way the business is for sale,’” Skip said.
“That was 11:30 on a Thursday morning and by 3 p.m. David called and said, ‘we need to get together.’”
David Norris said he and Skip weren’t totally strangers.
“Back in the early 90’s, Michelle and I worked for a company – a pre-arrangement company like Homesteader and it was called Horizon Trust. We traveled all over Virginia. We were funeral directors and Stevens Funeral Home here was in my territory. We knew Skip but had a little gap from the 90’s up to present day and didn’t have a lot of contact. We knew who Skip was and where the funeral home was, but we lost contact for many years,” David said.
“When we heard that it was coming up for sale we knew of the tradition – of the history of Stevens Funeral Home – and Michelle and I gravitated to it. That’s what we look for in a funeral home – that rich tradition of family and it just worked out.”
While the ownership of the funeral home is different, don’t expect a rush of change in the operation.
“There won’t be a lot of changes,” David said. “We embrace things how they are, but we do like bringing technology into a funeral home to make what Skip, Margaret, John and Matt have already built over the generations. We’re just trying to make things a little bit better. A little more tech-friendly.”
“Technology has been a real friend to us. We do a lot of streaming, a lot of Facebook. Even though the pandemic has taken us out of the funeral home a little bit, with graveside services and the like, with streaming we’re still able to share those services with the public. It’s real popular and we do a lot of it,” David said.
“Web sites have changed everything,” Skip noted.
Some may have noticed recently that, since the sale, Stevens now has its first website: www.stevensfuneralhomepulaski.com
“That’s what we are excited about,” Hicks interjected. “The implementation of modern-day technology. But we’re also really excited that the Norrises have been so attune to the history of the family, the building and the location. So, it’s been a wonderful relationship. I think the community is just going to really see a lot of positiveness and they should feel very, very comfortable.”
“We’ve got a lot of young people on our staff,” David said. “Michelle and I have two boys and two daughters-in-law, and they all work with us. At our other branches we also have young managers, too, so the young generation really brings a different element to the future, and it’s all family.”
“They’re all so close, they communicate constantly. Texting, phone calls, whatever. They support each other. They bounce new ideas off each other on ways to tackle situations or how we can better serve. We lean on them,” Michelle added.
“Talking about technology, we were the first funeral home in Virginia to bring forward – with Homesteader’s help – pre-arrangements online. It just happened in the last couple years. To where someone doesn’t have to come into the funeral home to do a pre-arrangement. They can do everything online. They can provide the information on pre-arrangements, they can pre-pay, one payment or multiple payments, but it’s all done outside the funeral home. You couldn’t do that before,” David said.
“Now we’ve got the technology, some laws have been amended to allow it and so we’re bringing that technology not only to our funeral home, but to Virginia. It’s been very popular, and we’ve seen a lot of people – especially if a daughter or son lives away – they can do all the documents online. Cremation or funeral service, they can do everything over the internet and that’s been very popular.”
“It’s what the next generation is looking for. What they’re used to,” added Michelle.
“We’re excited. We’re looking forward to it,” David said about acquiring Stevens Funeral Home.
“What we bring to Pulaski is a lot of value,” David said. “We like to think of ourselves as being very professional, yet very affordable. We have our own monument company and our own vault company. We pretty much have everything except a florist. So, we control the quality. Even though we won’t make many changes here at this present time, we bring a lot of value to a community. That seems to resonate with most people in a community when we come in. We’ll invest a lot of money and time here and I think the community will see the value they’ll get. They’ll get more professionalism, get more quality for a lower cost. I think that’s what’s made us successful.”
“We want to continue the traditions that the Stevens family have provided to the community,” Michelle added.
Stevens Funeral Home is located at 815 Randolph Avenue in Pulaski.