From left to right, Ora Otis Snyder with shovel, Philip Snyder, Trent Snyder, Dennis Snyder, Dick Snyder and Paul Snyder
The following article, written by Dutch Collins, appeared in the Bellville Star on May 11, 2000:
As the speaker for the Bellville Historical Society meeting on April 15, J. Paul Snyder addressed the gathering. Snyder gave a broad overview of the family business, added some humor along the way and related some of his own experiences as a Bellville funeral director for more than 20 years.
Snyder began the history of the Snyder family dynasty with the marriage of his parents, Ora O. Snyder, Sr. and Marion Idella Lucas in February of 1916. The wedding took place at the farm home of Paul’s grandfather, Thomas Lucas on Bellville-Johnsville Road, the last farm before you reach U.S. Route 42.
Ora and Marion Snyder began their married life on that farm and operated it in partnership with Paul’s grandfather, Tommie Lucas. Marion’s mother, Cora Idella Lucas, died when Marion was only six months old.
Ora Snyder’s parents were Henry Albert and Ella Biddle Snyder, who lived on a farm just outside Johnsville, where Hersh’s Countryside Restaurant now stands. For many years, it was known as Mar Guy’s Restaurant.
Ora was one of four children-he had a brother and two sisters–one of whom was Gladys Snyder Hoeflich Rinehart, wife of Ed Hoeflich and mother of Ruth Ellen, Mary Louise and Lee Edward.
Henry Albert Snyder raised Percheron horses on this farm and in 1916, Johnsville undertaker, Lee Lewis, bought a team of horses from Henry Albert to pull his horse-drawn hearse and other carriages. But when the team of horses proved too frisky, Lewis hired Ora Snyder to drive the team for him.
In those days, when a death occurred, the undertaker would be summoned to the house where he would embalm the body. Later a casket would be taken to the home and the wake or visiting hours would be held in the home and the funeral service would be either at the home or the church. Paul said that on cold winter nights his father would go into the family home to assist Mr. Lewis in preparing the body for burial.
In 1919, Ora Snyder enrolled in the Columbus School of Embalming, where he received his embalmer’s license. By this time, Lee Lewis had sold his Johnsville funeral home to Dale Craven and in 1922, Ora Snyder purchased that funeral business from Mr. Craven and established the first Snyder Funeral Home in a big brick building on Delaware Street in Johnsville.
In those days, the undertaker had a full schedule on the day of the funeral. He would start out the day by preparing the grave and taking a wooden vault to the cemetery. He then would take his chairs and equipment to the family home.. Most funerals then were held in the afternoon and it would be late before Ora returned home with all his equipment.
In 1926 while the Snyder family was still living in Johnsville at the funeral home, Ora Snyder purchased the former Lexington Academy building on Delaware Street in Lexington and converted it into a funeral home.
A cousin of Marion Snyder, Mary Shortess, served as hostess at the new funeral home in Lexington and Paul’s two oldest brothers, Donald and David, moved to Lexington to assist at the funeral home and to drive the ambulance. (Donald later invented the Hi-Lo trailer in 1954 and built a factory in Butler. He died in 1978.)
Lexington businessmen encouraged Ora Snyder to come to Lexington and in 1939 he moved his family from Johnsville to Lexington into a big house a block south of the funeral home. By this time, the Ora Snyder family had grown to 13 children–10 boys and three girls.
“No history of Snyder Funeral Home would be complete,” said Paul “without mentioning Henry L. Hosler–a long time friend and associate of the Snyder family.”Henry was a native of Johnsville and the former postmaster of the Shauck Post Office. He had obtained his embalmer’s license and was at this time assisting in the operation of both the Johnsville and Lexington funeral homes.
In 1941, Ora Snyder purchased the A.A. Shafer funeral home on Main Street in Bellville. Some of the older Snyder children had already graduated from school and several others chose to stay at the Lexington funeral home when Ora and Marion moved their family to Bellville.
Ora O. Snyder, Jr. (Pete) was the first of the Snyder children to complete his studies at Bellville High School, finishing in 1946. Seven other Snyder children followed, including Philip (1946), T. Arthur and H. Arden (1951), J. Paul (1952), Janet (1954), James (1955) and Patricia (1957).
Al Shafer had established his funeral business in Bellville in 1907. The large brick home across from the Bellville Historical Museum was built in 1910. Mr. Shafer had served the Bellville community for 34 years.
In early America, it was the custom for the undertaker to also operate a furniture store along with the undertaking business. When he wasn’t busy making caskets, Mr. Shafer would build furniture and his store was located where the business “Somewhere In Time” is located and operated by Ron and Jeanie Roberts. Al Shafer sold his furniture store to Mike and Rosemary Myers in 1944.
Along with the purchase of the A.A. Shafer funeral business, Ora Snyder acquired Al’s horse drawn hearse. The hearse was built in 1885 by the Hess and Eisenhardt Company in Lima, a company that is still in business today building funeral hearses and limousines.
The Snyder funeral home on Main Street in Bellville was quite a building in its day, according to Paul. “Many of you,” Paul told his Historical Society audience, “will recall the large open oak stairway that led to the second floor. The first floor was used for the funeral home and the family lived on the second and third floors. I remember as kids in the summer time, when there was no funeral taking place, we would sit on the front porch in wicker rockers and count the cars going by.”
He also remembers when his father came upstairs to remind his youngsters to be quiet during a funeral service.
When World War II broke out in 1941, three of Paul’s older brothers—David, Richard and Robert–as well as Henry Hosler, were drafted into the service. Paul’s mother, Marion began the necessary training to receive her Funeral Director’s license so she could assist in the operation of the funeral homes in Johnsville, Lexington and Bellville.
Paul said that back in those days his father also operated an ambulance in each of the communities where there was a Snyder funeral home. It was necessary to keep someone at the funeral home on 24 hour call to respond to a call for an ambulance.
Paul remembers the air raid drills during World War II when all of the lights were blacked out and anyone not complying was subject to a heavy fine. Someone was always posted as a lookout at the cemetery in the old chapel and when the “all clear call” came into the funeral home, one of the air raid wardens was sent to the cemetery to advise the lookout that all was clear. Paul said that it was quite a concern back then that Bellville could be bombed by the Germans or Japanese.
In 1946, all of Paul’s brothers came home safely from the war and Richard and Robert joined their parents in the family business and the elder Snyder purchased the Ira George funeral business in Butler. Mr. George had operated his funeral business as part of his furniture store. Ora Snyder then purchased the home of Dr. Rommel on Cleveland Street in Butler and located the funeral home there. Paul noted that D. D. Rommell was born in that house on Cleveland Street.
In 1953, the Howard Meredith funeral business and furniture store was purchased in Fredericktown. The Kelly Walter home on College Street in Fredericktown was bought to house the funeral home. Paul’s brother, Richard, took over the funeral home in Fredericktown and Paul ran the furniture store. In 1962, the funeral business was incorporated and became known as Snyder Funeral Homes, Inc.
The Snyder family opened a funeral home in Mt. Gilead in 1963 in the former Tucker laboratory building. Dr. Tucker was famous for having perfected a cure for asthma and people came from all over the state for the asthma “medicine.”
Three years later in February 1966, Ora and Marion Snyder celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. It would be the last time the entire family was together as Marion died unexpectedly in her sleep in August of that year.
In 1969, the family firm decided to cease the ambulance service in all of the communities where the Snyders were operating funeral homes. Paul said this decision was made for several reasons. One being that a new federal regulation stated that all ambulances had to have 54 inches of headroom. The combination funeral car and ambulances the Snyders were using did not meet this requirement. “Also, ” Paul said, “ambulance operators now had to be trained and certified in life saving procedures which we were not.”
He also recalled several humorous incidents about the ambulances, which drew some hearty laughs. My mother called me out of school one day to run an ambulance trip and I grabbed Tom Ridenour to help me. We had to go up to the second floor of this house in Bellville and carry this rather large lady down the stairs to place her on our cot. All she had on was a silk nightie and every step down the stairs, she slipped a little out of our hands,” he chuckled. Another funny incident occurred when Dr. Betty Reed called from Butler for an ambulance and when Paul’s brother, Arthur, got there and saw all of the blood, he passed out and had to be revived by Dr. Reed.
“As most of you know, ” Paul told his audience, “the ambulance service was taken over by the Jefferson Township Fire Department and this community can consider itself very fortunate to have this free Rescue Squad service manned by a dedicated, competent and trained group of men and women who volunteer their time and service to provide us with a first class rescue squad as well as fire department.”
At that point in his talk, he spotted Bernie Hollar in the audience, a member of the Bellville Rescue Squad. “The next time you see a member of the Rescue Squad” Pauil remarked, “stop them, shake their hand and tell them what a good job they are doing.”
In the early 1970’s, several other second and third generation family members entered the family funeral business. Three of Paul’s nephews and he himself became funeral directors. Those nephews were Dennis and Dan Snyder, sons of Richard Snyder, andClarence and Bessie Banks, Trent Snyder, son of Philip Snyder. The 1970’s would also see Bob Snyder and Phil Snyder leave the family business to pursue other interests.
In 1971, the Snyder family constructed two identical funeral home buildings in Bellville and Lexington. The Bellville site on Mill Road, on land purchased from Clarence and Bessie Banks, was built to serve both the Bellville and Butler communities. The Lexington home was built on Lexington Avenue between Lexington and Mansfield to service those two communities. The Butler funeral home was closed in 1972.
Ora O. Snyder, Sr. died in September of 1973 and both he and Marion are buried in Bellville Cemetery.
In 1984, J. Paul and Shontell Snyder’s son, J. Todd Snyder, and Phil Snyder’s son, C. Clay Snyder, both completed their training at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and entered the family business as third generation funeral directors.
Up through the middle of the 1980’s, the Snyders were keeping each funeral home equipped with a hearse, family sedan and flower car. Paul said the cost kept escalating each year, so the decision was made to sell the hearses and sedans and rent hearses from a livery service as they were needed. This proved not to be as reliable as anticipated and over a period of time the decision was reversed.
In the early 1990’s, the DeVore Funeral Homes in Marengo, Sunbury and Delaware were purchased, making a total of ten Snyder Funeral Homes. These include Bellville-Butler, Lexington Avenue, two in Mt. Gilead, Fredericktown, two in Mt. Vernon and Marengo, Sunbury and Delaware.
J. Todd Snyder, now directs the Richland County Division. Trent A. Snyder directs the Morrow County Division, C. Clay Snyder directs the Delaware County Division and Dennis L. Snyder, R. Dan Snyder and Weston Snyder collectively direct and operate the Knox County Division.
IN 1996, Ohio Funeral Support Services, Inc. was started. This corporation erected a building in Mt. Vernon to house a crematory and livery service. This crematory handles all of the cremations for Snyder Funeral Homes as well as a dozen other funeral homes in the area.
Three hearses and limousines are kept in Mt. Vernon and dispatched daily to where they are needed. Paul made mention that Everett McClarren drives for the Bellville funeral home.
The most recent fourth generation entry into the family business is Ora’s great-grandson, Weston T. Snyder, son of Dennis Snyder. Weston graduated from the Cincinnati Mortuary College and now works with his father and uncle in the operation of the Knox County Division.
Paul recalled there have been several humorous things that have happened that he enjoys relating to people. “One time, I was leading this 40 car funeral procession to a cemetery in another town and I drove right by the cemetery. Naturally, everybody kept following me. I found a nice big barnyard to turn around in and went back to the cemetery. Upon arriving at the cemetery, the widow came rushing up to me. (I was bracing myself for a good chewing out) but she said—-Oh, thank you! You turned around on the old farm we used to live on and he would have loved it.”
In February of 1997, J. Paul Snyder retired from full-time service but still helps out when needed. But he said, “Shontell and I enjoy our retirement and we love traveling, camping and loafing.”
In conclusion, Paul said, “Although I am now retired, I am proud of having been a part of guiding a business that my parents started in 1922 to the place where it is today.”
Since the above article was published, Snyder Funeral Homes has continued to grow and flourish, acquiring additional funeral homes in Marion, Delaware and Galion and fourth-generation funeral directors, Chad Snyder, Sean Snyder, Hannah Snyder and Gideon Snyder, have joined the family business.