By Kevin R. Jenkins

A family-owned funeral home that has served the Arcadia Valley for more than 30 years has garnered some nationwide attention in recent weeks after being featured on the front page of a well-respected publication for the industry.

Bryson Funeral Home of Pilot Knob appeared in the April issue of Funeral Home & Cemetery News (FH&CN) with a circulation of more than 20,000 readers.

“They contacted us around six months after I had sent in some information on something else they were doing,” said Tim Harbison, who started with Bryson as a part-timer in 2011 and began working full time in 2015. “I received an email from them saying they wanted to feature our funeral home on the cover of their monthly magazine and asked us to send more information about us. They put together a really nice article.”

Perhaps it was Bryson Funeral Home’s unique history that drew the attention of FH&CN. At least that’s what Allison Bryson thinks. She’s a daughter of the funeral home’s founder — the late Dr. William F. Bryson — and now oversees its operation.

“After graduating from Ironton High School in 1946, Daddy entered the University of Missouri-Columbia where he received a degree in veterinary medicine,” she said. “After serving in the United States Army Veterinary Corps, he started a veterinary practice in Fredericktown.”

Dr. Bryson married Jean Sapp in 1953, and the couple went on to raise three children — Allison, Tracy and Mark.

Despite Dr. Bryson’s reputation as an excellent veterinarian — or maybe even because of it — Bryson said her father received an unusual request from several Arcadia Valley residents one day.

“I was always told that Daddy was approached by people in the community to build a funeral home and he did — and he loved it,” she said. “So, after 30 years of working as both a large and small animal veterinarian, my dad received his funeral directors license.”

After breaking ground in June 1982, the Bryson Funeral Home began operations In February 1983. According to his daughter, Dr. Bryson used as many local contractors and suppliers as possible.

“My dad was a person who cared a lot about the community in which he served,” Bryson said. “When the funeral home first opened, he said, ‘We will do everything we can to be top-notched with pricing that is competitive, but not outrageous.’ That’s the kind of man he was.”

And while it might seem strange to some that a veterinarian would become a funeral director, Bryson said it makes perfect sense to her.

“My dad wanted to serve people,” she said. “As a veterinarian he had taken care of everybody’s animals and he was still a practicing veterinarian when the funeral home opened. For seven years he had the veterinary business and the funeral home. So we had not one, but two businesses of which you were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. He wound up selling the veterinary business and keeping the funeral home.”

Over the course of the next 18 years, Dr. Bryson and Jean — along with the funeral home staff — served hundreds of families in Iron County and the surrounding area.

“Mother definitely knew everything that was going on,” Bryson said. “She did all the books and made sure everything was the way it was supposed to be. She was more behind-the-scenes.”

Doing her part for the family business, Allison Bryson received her Missouri funeral directors license in 1989.

“My daddy was a good businessman and he wanted someone in the family licensed as a funeral director so if something happened to him he’d have someone who could take his place,” she said. “I was a mental health counselor for 20 years. I think the Lord knew what he was doing because it’s a wonderful background for what I’m doing now.”

In 2001 Dr. Bryson’s illness had progressed to the point where he could no longer run the business, so his daughter began working full time at the funeral home.

“If anyone had told me that when I graduated from high school that I would be running a funeral home, I would have found that pretty amusing,” she said, laughing. “I had no idea what it was going to entail.”

Today the firm is owned by the Bryson children with Allison Bryson overseeing the operation along with full-time staffers Shawn Caldwell, a third generation funeral professional who has been with the funeral home since 2010, and Harbison who is currently running for Iron County coroner. The part-time staff is made up of retired funeral director Norman Myracle and Megan Harbison.

Although more than 30 years have passed since Bryson Funeral Home opened its doors, its approach to business has never changed. It’s all about helping people in their time of need.

“You’re guiding people during one of the most difficult times of their lives,” Harbison said. “We help them out with the details and in knowing what to expect and what all needs to be done. Whenever they’re dealing with a loss things have to happen, so you’re there to make sure they do happen.”

Allison agreed, saying, “You make sure you follow up with them about the things they have to do because people aren’t always thinking very clearly after they’ve suffered the loss of a loved one. We want to be part of the family, as well as a part of the community.”

And when you’ve been a part of the community as long as the Bryson family has, it is much more than a job — it’s a ministry.

“These are people we know — people we go to church with, shop at the grocery store with,” Harbison said. “These are people who are part of our everyday lives and so it’s very personal whenever you can help somebody during a difficult time who you have known for your entire life. We are dedicated to the families and to the community. We believe that if you take care of people, God will take care of the rest.”

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