Funeral home hosts open house
By John Martin
A ribbon cutting by the Harrah Chamber of Commerce and a large crowd of Choctaw and Harrah residents enjoyed Tuesday’s Open House at the newly-renovated Asa Smith Funeral Service in Harrah.
When Jim Parks passed away in 2015, his family decided to sell the Parks Brothers funeral homes and Dirk O’Hara and Chad Vice became partners with Cass Smith at the Harrah location.
They immediately changed the name back to Asa Smith Funeral Service and launched a complete renovation of both the exterior and interior of the facility.
“The current renovations only enforce our abilities to create the celebration of separation for the families we care for,” Smith added.
“Funeral services and people’s wishes and expectations of what a Celebration of Life looks like have changed,”
Smith said. “The renovation, furnishings and audio/video technologies we are providing allows families more options,” he added.
And while the extensive landscaping of the exterior has drawn lots of attention to persons passing by the busy intersection where Church Street turns into NE 23, the interior was carefully being transformed into a tastefully decorated event center, reception area, arrangement room, slumber rooms and the former garage/kitchen area is a fully functioning community room that is already being used by different groups in the school and community.
“It’s absolutely lovely,” said Ruthanne Wilson, wife of John Wilson and daughter in law of Howard, the founders of the original funeral home in 1955.
RELUCTANT MOVE. “When John told me we were moving (from Oklahoma City) out in the country in 1955, I didn’t want to go. Now Harrah is home to me, my kids and our whole family. And this place is a wonderful tribute to our family and a source of pride and joy for the whole community,” she told Dirk O’Hara, one of the new partners in the funeral home with Cass Smith, son of Asa Smith who bought the funeral home from the Wilson family in 1973.
Kate Mackey Lay, whose father Castle was Asa’s first boss as a high school student in Holdenville, was awed with the renovations. “What an awesome, versatile venue and asset to the Harrah community,” she said. “The interior is lovely and comforting and the landscaping outside is just breath taking.”
Chad Vice, Cass Smith’s other partner in the new-look funeral home, supervised the total restoration of the interior.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere in which families would feel comfortable in allowing us to take care of their loved ones. A person from our family will be with their loved ones every step of the journey, from time we take them into our care through the completion of the service,” he said.
“That same feeling of peace and contentment and a caring professional helping them through this difficult time is enhanced by a soothing environment,” Vice added.
Harrah City Manager Earl Burson was amazed at the transformation. “The colors, the furniture, the music and most of all the comforting presence of the staff provide an atmosphere of peace and contentment,” he said.
“Plus,” Burson added, “the building is user friendly. The community will want to use these facilities for their personal use.”
A LOOK BACK: The current funeral home is located at the same corner where Ruthann and John Wilson and John’s parents Howard and Mary Wilson converted the Wilson home into the first funeral home in Eastern Oklahoma County in 1955.
In 1969, Asa Smith was still a student in the mortuary science program at then Central State University in Edmond when John Wilson had to be placed on kidney dialysis. Smith obtained partial ownership while Wilson was ill and the funeral home became known as Wilson-Smith Funeral Home.
Asa and Betty Smith purchased the funeral home when Wilson died in 1973 and the business became Asa Smith Funeral Service.
Asa’s brother Winfred and wife Sammye and their delightful daughter Starla Dawn joined in the family operation of the funeral home soon thereafter.
In 1991 the complete renovation and remodel of the funeral home was completed with the construction of a 200-seat chapel with separate family room, pall bearers lounge and enlarged reception area.
The offices, display room, reception areas and the slumber rooms were all repositioned and finished with antique furniture and decorations.
Further renovations included making the entire area handicap accessible and included a portico for inclement weather and an expanded parking area.
Upon Asa’s death in 2000, Jim Parks, owner of Parks Brothers Funeral homes in Prague, Chandler and Stroud, became partners with Asa’s son Cass and the funeral home was renamed Smith-Parks Funeral Service.
Almost immediately, the three-car garage facing Walker Street became a family room with complete kitchen facilities and the vehicles were moved to a portico adjacent to the chapel.
Cass Smith spearheaded the inclusion of an innovative web site that featured the opportunity of grief resources, tributes and condolences and an on-line guest book, an opportunity to purchase flowers and provide an obituary archive for family and friends.
While some in the industry were apprehensive in 2004 about adding the web site, Smith saw it as a natural fit. “The on-line guest book allows family and friends, who may not be able to physically attend a service to post sentiments, providing a great source of comfort for families,” he said.
Fast forward to 2017: “In addition to the changes and the physical improvements, the capacities of the web site and the increased use of the internet have have been greatly enhanced with cutting-edge technology, improving the communication capabilities of our staff and our relationship to our clients,” Smith said.