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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

Local mortuary marks 40 years of service
Stanfield began serving county residents in 1973
Click to Enlarge
Stanfield Mortuary Service is celebrating 40 years of service to Franklin County and surrounding areas. Staff members are, above from left, Michael Stanfield Sr. (vice president), Mark Stanfield (embalmer and funeral director), Wayne DeShazo, Rebecca Jamison, Danny Anderson, Anson Stanfield, Eloise Stanfield (co-owner and business manager), John Stanfield (owner), Michael Stanfield Jr., Arthur Tolliver, Audrey Tolliver, Leon Preston, Audrey Patterson and Floyd Witcher.

Friday, July 18, 2014

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

Stanfield Mortuary Service has come a long way over 40 years, and owners John and Eloise Stanfield say they did all the climbing themselves.

"We started with nothing," said Eloise. "We had nothing to offer but ourselves. But the community had faith in us and now we are celebrating 40 years in business."

The business started as a dream for the couple. Eloise's grandfather was a mortician and John decided he wanted to go into that business as well.

John enrolled in Kentucky School of Mortuary Science, while Eloise worked at the health department in South Boston.

"I was the first black person to work there," said Eloise. "We had two children at the time, and John was in school. I always tell him that part of his degree is mine."

In July 1973, Stanfield Mortuary Service started out in what is now an apartment building on Warren Street in Rocky Mount.

"We rented it from First Baptist Church and Bethel AME Church for $50 a month," said Eloise.

The couple was in their 30s at the time and must have looked young to be running a business because "one of our first families asked to speak to John's father," said Eloise. "They didn't think we were the ones in charge."

There was not much space in the building on Warren Street, and the couple was short on the supplies needed to serve families the way they wanted.

"We didn't have much," said Eloise, "no parents to help us and not much money. The local people have been good to us over the years. They've been very supportive even when they knew we had nothing."

The couple used to borrow folding chairs from Eloise's church in South Boston.

"We'd use the chairs for our chapel and showroom," she said. "When we were done using them, we'd have to drive 80 miles to South Boston and return them. Finally, after borrowing the chairs several times, they said we could just keep them."

The building on Warren Street had double doors, but one of the doors wouldn't open, Eloise said.

"We had to take the working door down every time we had to get a casket in or out," she said. "We kept the hinges oiled so the bolts would slide out easier."

The couple had to store caskets in a closet in the building. When families came to choose a casket, the couple would have to pull them all out of the closet so they could be seen.

"A lot of times we didn't have any caskets, so we would make an appointment with the casket company in Roanoke and take the family to pick out a casket there," said John.

The building had a window with a ledge on the inside that would be used for the display of bodies to be viewed.

"Most of the funerals were held at the churches of the families," said John.

After about four years, the Stanfields were offered the option of buying the building.

"We bought it and stayed another nine years or so," said Eloise.

John also took a job working as a dispatcher for the Franklin County Sheriff's Office. He worked there for almost 24 years before retiring in 2001.

"It helped put the kids through college," said Eloise.

Once the Stanfields were able, they bought a building on South Main Street from the Powell family. The building was used as a fruit stand and grocery.

They also set out to buy their first hearse.

"It was a 1968 Cadillac and I paid $800 for it," said John. "I put down $100 and told them I'd be back the next month to pay it off. I wasn't sure how we would come up with the other $700, but it all worked out."

Over the years, the Stanfields have performed thousands of funerals and services for families in Franklin County and the surrounding area, they said.

"Most of our families say they are very pleased we were able to move (to a new facility) and have something nicer to offer," said Eloise.

The Stanfields credit their staff with much of their success over the years.

"Most of them have been with us at least 20 years or more," said John.

"We're like a family here," Eloise added.

The Stanfields have two sons and five grandchildren.

Their youngest son, Michael, is vice president of Stanfield Mortuary Service.

Their oldest son, Mark, owns Stanfield-Miller Funeral Home in Martinsville and plans to take over the Rocky Mount business when his parents retire.

"I don't think John will ever really retire," said Eloise with a smile. "I always say we might just have to bury him somewhere on the (funeral home) property since this is where he wants to be."

 
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