Herman Lohmeyer Funeral Home began its life in 1923. The family’s influence on local funerals, however, dates to the 1880s.
When Herman Lohmeyer Funeral Home had its start in 1923, it wasn’t the only mortuary service in Springfield owned by the Lohmeyer family. Another one — Lohmeyer Undertaking Company — existed only blocks away. But they weren’t part of a joint business venture.
“The two businesses weren’t connected at all,” says Paul Wunderlich, current owner and operator of Herman Lohmeyer Funeral Home. He notes that Herman Lohmeyer initially worked for Alma Lohmeyer, manager of the other establishment, and that the two were cousins — but that’s as far as the connection went.
That’s not all, though. Those two businesses represent only a part of the Lohmeyers’ influence on undertaking in Springfield. It’s a presence that dates back to 1882, and traces all the way to Germany.
Beginning the Lohmeyer legacy
When August Lohmeyer came to Springfield in 1879, the funeral business was much different than it is today.
“People took care of the deceased themselves before funeral homes were established,” says Wunderlich, noting that furniture stores were the likely stop for families dealing with a death. “They would mainly go to the furniture store just to get the casket. As time went on, some of the furniture stores started providing more services and built funeral homes.”
That’s just why August Lohmeyer, who was a German immigrant, opened a furniture-and-undertaking business on Commercial Street in 1882.
“Among the specialties is an indestructible casket, of which he is the sole agent,” reported the Springfield Leader in 1888. “When unfortunate enough to be in need of anything in his line, the public will find Mr. Lohmeyer on Commercial Street with a full stock of everything in demand. He is a thorough business man and pleasant to deal with.”
Despite his success, August Lohmeyer actually didn’t come to Springfield to be an undertaker. Instead, it was a job with the Frisco that drew him to town in 1879. But, as history shows, the entrepreneur didn’t shy away from trying unusual ideas.
In addition to his undertaking business, newspaper ads and articles mention him teaching German-language classes. There was the time he opened an embalming school in Springfield, and his ventures into the world of steam-ship fares. According to the Springfield Republican, he had “the agency for six different steam ship lines, for all parts of the world at the same rate as any general steam ship office.” By 1891, he had been elected as the local coroner and later served as president of the State Board of Embalmers. At one point, also he framed photos professionally.
In 1897, he even embalmed a deformed colt. “Mr. Lohmeyer bought it and embalmed it by squirting a fluid of his own invention into its skin,” reported the Leader. “He will place it in his window soon.”
The next generation
But August Lohmeyer’s work in the undertaking world was only the beginning for his family. His son, Will C. Lohmeyer, went into the business as well, and purchased the undertaking establishment of Briggs & Miller on Walnut Street around 1912. “This location has since been the headquarters of the Lohmeyer Undertaking Company, one of the most favorably known establishment of the kind in southwest Missouri,” reported the Republican.
Details on the next few years are a bit hazy. Around 1915, Herman Lohmeyer joined the mortuary’s staff. Somewhere along the line, Will Lohmeyer seems to have completely left the picture and his wife, Alma Lohmeyer, took over the business in his place.
It was something that gave her great distinction during her day and time, especially considering her embalming license.
“She … is one of the few women in the middle west controlling and directing the administration of such as large establishment,” wrote “Missouri, Mother of the West,” in 1930. “Mrs. Lohmeyer is not only a prominent and influential business woman, but is also known for her loyal interest in civic affairs and her support of all political, social and cultural lines of progress.”
By the early 1920s, things had changed so much that the business was referred to as the Alma Lohmeyer Funeral Home.
Just a few years after Alma Lohmeyer took over the funeral home, a new face became associated with its management team. Jewell Windle was raised in Joplin, and earned a reputation as a star athlete at Drury College (now University) before playing baseball professionally for the Oklahoma City Indians, and in Springfield for the Midgets.
If newspaper accounts are any indication, Windle was something of a local celebrity for his athletic abilities. That’s why it was likely a surprise in August 1922, when he purchased his release and became a free agent.
Perhaps it was because he had other plans.
Just a few months later, Windle’s name was prominently displayed on the funeral home’s newspaper ads, right next to Alma Lohmeyer’s. His connection with the family, however, was even closer than just business: At some point, he married Hazel Lohmeyer, the boss’s daughter.
But in 1923, even bigger things were in store for Springfield’s funeral home scene.
An ad for Alma Lohmeyer’s new funeral home appeared in the Springfield Leader in May 1923. (Courtesy of newspapers.com)
In early 1923, Lohmeyer Undertaking Company was ready for a major move — literally. On Feb. 23, 1923, newspaper articles noted a grand opening for a new location that could host funerals in a home-like atmosphere. According to an ad, the relocation was to fulfill a need that arose because of Springfield’s rapid growth.
“Life in hotels and apartments has entailed a loss of certain facilities and privacy that the home normally affords,” it stated, appealing to the tradition of having services in people’s parlors at home. The ad proclaimed that “the new home of the Lohmeyer Undertaking Company at 534 St. Louis Street, while distinct, is simply a beautiful quiet home, offering privacy comfort and every convenience.”
Alma Lohmeyer’s “new” funeral home is shown on a postcard. (Courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library District)
The funeral home’s grand opening, however, wasn’t the only Lohmeyer news announced that week. On Feb. 25 — just three days prior — the Leader proclaimed that Herman Lohmeyer was set to open his own undertaking establishment.
“The building at 204 East Walnut street has been leased by Herman Lohmeyer & Company and a modern undertaking establishment will be opened there with the next few days,” wrote the newspaper. “The building, which was formerly occupied by the Hawkeye Casket company, will be remodeled and rearranged this week, according to an announcement made last night by Mr. Lohmeyer, who will take immediate procession of the building.”
A 1924 view of Walnut Street shows Herman Lohmeyer’s first location. (Courtesy of The History Museum on the Square)
Just why Herman Lohmeyer decided to go out on his own isn’t completely clear. From what he’s heard over the years, however, Wunderlich thinks he may have an idea.
“I remember somebody telling me, “Oh yeah, Alma was always dangling this carrot in front of him, saying ‘You’ll be able to own this business someday…’” recalls Wunderlich. Finally, instead of waiting, he “decided he wanted his own business, so he opened up Herman Lohmeyer.”
To outside observers, whether there was tension between the businesses is a guess. But an ad in the Leader in April 1923 does leads to curiosity. “Don’t be confused,” it said. “There is only one.”
One “real” Lohmeyer, perhaps?
A full-page ad in the Springfield Leader on Oct. 27, 1925 announced Herman Lohmeyer’s new location. (Courtesy of newspapers.com)
Despite his “late” start, Herman Lohmeyer wasn’t to be outdone by his cousin’s luxurious new location. Two years after it began, his funeral home moved to its present spot; a place that carries more history that most may know. The statuesque home on Walnut Street was formerly owned by F.X. Heer, owner of Heer’s department store in Springfield.
“In 1925, Herman Lohmeyer bought it, and converted it into a funeral home,” says Wunderlich. “We’ve been here ever since then.”
According to the Republican, the “modern” funeral home was “expected to be among most up-to-date in southwest Missouri.” People attended its grand opening over an eight-hour period — an event which dispelled some misconceptions on the stereotypes held about funeral homes.
“The general idea of a professional undertaking establishment has been entirely eliminated by Mr. Lohmeyer in planning the new home,” wrote the newspaper. “To such an extent has he succeeded in this effort that visitors yesterday felt that they were entering a private residence rather than a funeral home.”
The article described all of the rooms of the home, which even contained an apartment for grieving family members “who desire to remain over night in order that they may spend the few remaining hours near the body of their loved one. This feature includes a family bed room and a private bath, which is located on the second floor of the building. The bed room is attractively decorated and provides every possible feature of comfort.”
Despite these efforts, Wunderlich believes that no families ever utilized the apartment for those purposes. Others, however, did live at the funeral home — including Herman Lohmeyer, his wife, children and mother-in-law.
One of those children was Bob Lohmeyer. “I was there until I was married when I was 21 years old,” says Lohmeyer, now 86 years old. “Six children lived there until World War II started, when I had two brothers who went into the service.”
But even after he moved out, he still worked with the business until the mid-1980s. Looking back, he recalls the days when funeral homes did more than offer services for the dead: They also tried to save the living.
“Back then, funeral homes were in the ambulance business,” he recalls. “Those ambulances would be on call day and night. And so there was a lot of competitiveness between the funeral homes.”
A 1948 view of the funeral home — and one of its red, Cadillac ambulances. (Courtesy of Lohmeyer Funeral Home)
The Lohmeyers’ ambulances particularly stood out. “The Herman Lohmeyer RED ambulances are known to everyone in and around Springfield,” wrote an informational book about the funeral home in 1948, which pictured its new Cadillac, “the latest addition to our fleet of ambulances.”
But at $10 of for an emergency call, operating such a service wasn’t of financial benefit for the businesses. “Funeral homes didn’t make money on the ambulances, you know that,” says Bob Lohmeyer. “It was just advertising (for) all of them.”
Time passes on
Herman Lohmeyer’s “rolling stock” circa 1940s. (Courtesy of Lohmeyer Funeral Home)
Both Lohmeyer establishments operated just a stone’s throw away from each other (if Windle was pitching) for nearly 60 years. However, during the 1980s, changes in ownership came for both businesses.
In 1981, Alma Lohmeyer’s establishment — by then, known as Jewell E. Windle Funeral Service — was sold to Bill Cantrell. After that, Abundant Life Ministries acquired the property.
By 1985, it made its final sale: The building passed to Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) for $400,000. The building was torn down, and the space became a parking lot for students residing at Kentwood Dormitory (formerly the Kentwood Arms Hotel).
Herman Lohmeyer’s establishment also saw change in 1985. That’s when Bob Lohmeyer left the business, although he’s quick to point out that he’s still connected. “I still have stock,” he says. “19 shares of stock in Herman Lohmeyer Funeral Home.”
Wunderlich has seen many of those changes firsthand. He began as an employee at Herman Lohmeyer in 1979, and became a part owner ten years later. Today, he and his wife own controlling interest in the funeral home.
Changes in the business
That vantage point has given him a unique perspective on how the funeral business has changed. He says one of the biggest differences is time, which seems to go faster these days.
“Used to be, when there was a death, families pretty much stopped what they were doing and they came home,” he says. “Almost every family that I wait on now, the children are all in different states, sometimes in different countries. Hardly anybody is all in the same town like they used to be.”
That — combined with the busyness of today’s lives — has altered other aspects, too. Instead of making time for funerals, it’s more common to schedule them days (even weeks) in advance to accommodate school and work activities.
Two and three-nights-long visitations also used to be common, he says, but now it’s unusual to hold it on a different day than the funeral. “But it seems like, almost like everything else in our lives, it’s like we do things more expedient now,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but that is the change.”
Some things, however, have stayed the same. Even in the depths of downtown Springfield’s decline, and as other local funeral homes packed up and moved elsewhere, Wunderlich chose to stay in the same location. It’s something that, looking back, he says he’s glad of. “It’s been good for us,” he notes.
Perhaps the location is a comforting constant for the funeral home’s families, who tend to keep coming generation after generation.
“I think most funeral homes will have a lot of families that they’ve always served,” he says. “So if you do a good job, there’s not a reason for them to not come back to your funeral home the next time.”
Want to learn more about downtown Springfield’s longtime businesses?
A timeline of downtown Springfield’s history — told through its longest-running businesses still in operation — will be presented at the Library Center on Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Click here for more information.
“A deformed colt,” The Leader-Democrat, Oct. 9, 1897
“Aug. Lohmeyer,” Springfield Leader, Sept. 8, 1888
“August Lohmeyer succumbs on his eighty-third birthday,” Springfield Leader, March 2, 1928
“Embalming school,” Springfield Republican, Feb. 10, 1910
“Funeral home to be erected here by Lohmeyer firm,” Springfield Leader, Sept. 23, 1922
“Funeral parlor to be improved,” Springfield Leader, March 31, 1929
“German school,” Springfield Democrat, Dec. 11, 1891
“Herman Lohmeyer to open an undertaking establishment,” Springfield Leader, Feb. 25, 1923
“Jewell Windle makes good in Oklahoma,” Springfield Republican, March 31, 1922
“Local officials buy Jewell Windle from Oklahoma City Club,” Springfield Republican, May 23, 1922
“Lohmeyer company holding formal opening of new home,” Springfield Leader, Feb. 28, 1923
“Lohmeyer Funeral Home,” Springfield-Greene County Library District Historic Postcards
“Missouri, Mother of the West,” Charles Phillips, 1930
“Modern funeral home is opened by Herman Lohmeyer,” Springfield Republican, Oct. 29, 1925
“New owners acquire control of funeral home,” Don Mahnken, Springfield News-Leader, Sept. 18, 1989
“Old mortuary to be SMS car lot,” Springfield Leader & Press, Aug. 17, 1985
“To the public,” Springfield Republican, March 8, 1889
“Wil C. Lohmeyer, Springfield Republican, July 4, 1909
“Wil C. Lohmeyer,” Springfield Republican, May 31, 1912