Submitted by Pray Funeral Home
(Photos Provided – Left: The evolution of the funeral is on display at the exhibit at the Museum at Courthouse Square. Right:The flag draped casket is in-front of a portable draped backdrop that was used when setting up a visitation or service in the family’s home. The flag is the 45 star flag that was used to drape the casket of Civil War veterans.)
When Ernest and Myron Pray purchased the furniture and undertaking business located at 235 South Cochran from the previous owners, the Fast family in 1923, they didn’t realize that their family business would become a Centenarian firm.
That same year, Myron E. Pray graduated from Worsham Training School of Anatomy and Sanitary Science and Embalming in Chicago, Illinois and received his Funeral Director license and later received his License to Practice Mortuary Science. The business then became known as Pray & Co. Furniture and Undertaking.
The connection between furniture stores and “undertaking,” the precursor to funeral service, began in the early days of our country. Each community had a cabinet maker who also made the caskets for the community. When no one else wanted to “undertake” the job of caring for the deceased, the cabinet maker usually “undertook” the task of caring for the deceased and helping families set up for a gathering or wake at the family home.
As embalming techniques developed during the Civil War and funerals started moving away from the family’s home, most undertakers transitioned to become known as Funeral Directors as their duties grew beyond the simple care of the deceased to include embalming the deceased, arranging funerals at local churches, and preparing the burial sites in local cemeteries.
In 1930 Myron and his wife, Hazel, purchased a residence at 405 W. Seminary Street. This was used as their personal residence and as the funeral home. At that time the firm became known as the Myron E. Pray Funeral Home.
In 1949 Hazel Pray received her Funeral Directors License, being one of the first female licensed Funeral Directors in the State of Michigan. Also, in 1949 the present funeral home was constructed next door at 401 W. Seminary and the name was changed to Pray Funeral Home and the former funeral home was converted back into a residence for Joseph Eugene Pray and his wife Laurel (Starr) Pray. Joseph Eugene was newly licensed as a Funeral Director that year, and Laurel earned her Funeral Directors License in 1951. The furniture store was sold a year later, and the Pray family’s full attention was concentrated on funeral service.
Pray Funeral Home is now operated by the fourth and fifth generation of the Pray family, Joe E. and his son Tyler Pray. Joe E’s wife Lori also takes care of business and accounting operations at the firm and also helps on services occasionally. Ninety-five-year-old Joseph Eugene, or “Joe Sr.” as most people refer to him, is still involved in the day-to-day work at the funeral home. The Pray family is also assisted by a staff of full and part-time individuals in the care of families.
Joe E. Pray commented, “Funeral service has changed considerably over the years. Many families today are looking for a funeral or memorial that includes more celebratory cues taken from the life story of the deceased family member.” He continued, “Services are also being held in many different environments. We have developed an outdoor venue in the gardens behind the funeral home under a large canopy. That changes the entire mood of the family and the guests at a funeral. We see a lot more smiles and hear much more laughter today.” Pray has also conducted services in local theatres and auditoriums including the Charlotte Performing Arts Center, parks, and at family homes and farms.
“We have witnessed the transformation of families as we help them through the worst days of their lives. We gather people around them to support the family in a comfortable environment. We arrange elements of the deceased’s life story into life celebrations. Those two things, among the many others we take care of, help the family realize that their grief is shared by the community and that the deceased will live on in the hearts and minds of others. That helps the family through the pain of loss. We believe that helps them heal from their grief,” said Joe E.
Pray Funeral Home has earned several awards and certifications from the National Funeral Directors Association, the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, and the International Order of the Golden Rule for their creative funeral and memorial services and their service to the families of greater Eaton County.
The Museum at Courthouse Square is hosting an exhibit on the history of Pray Funeral Home and how funerals have evolved over the past century. It is open to the public through the month of May. Pray Funeral Home will be hosting a public reception with refreshments at the Museum at Courthouse Square in conjunction with the exhibit Thursday evening, April 27th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Anyone from the community is welcome to attend.
Pray Funeral Home is also hosting several other Centennial Events in the coming months. A complete list is available on the Events Page on the Pray Funeral Home website.