By Shawnna Robinson
Jon Cozean’s recollection of the history of the funeral business included stories from all parts of American history.
Cozean with Cozean Funeral Home was the featured speaker during the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “Business & Community” luncheon on Aug. 18 at the Centene Center in Farmington.
He told how the funeral business has not changed since his family’s business began 150 years ago.
“One thing has not changed … and that is service to the people,” he said. “In the funeral profession we are all about people.”
He talked of stories that stay with the family – recounting one told to him by his grandfather during the Great Depression.
A farmer, distraught over the prospect of losing his farm, murdered his family and then killed himself, leaving a note in the mailbox saying “have the sheriff come to the house immediately.”
“That shows how hard the Depression was on people,” he said.
He said a friend once asked how Cozean could be in a business “with so much sadness.”
“Well, we do see a lot of mourning, but we also see a lot of satisfaction and joy,” he said. “Many times family members who have not seen each other for years will turn up at a funeral service and they get together and have so much remembrance.”
He also spoke of how the funeral service is able to present a family’s loved one as they remember.
“You see, restoration is one of the services that funeral homes can give,” he said.
During the introduction, chamber board member Alison Sheets introduced Cozean as “funeral director who digs history” – a nod to his work as the president of the St. Francois County Historical Society.
He began by telling the history of his family’s business, which was started by Thomas Lang in 1866. Lang, Cozean said, was “an industrialist” who owned the first factory in town – Lang Wagon Works.
In addition, Lang was a part-time embalmer – known at that time as a “surgeon.”
“He must have been good at it,” Cozean said. “…because, in 1864, he was given permission at the region’s Union Army headquarters in Farmington to travel to Pilot Knob to assist with those killed in the battel at Fort Davidson.
“Lang’s embalming business prospered along with the wagon factory and in 1889 he opened the area’s first full-service funeral home because…Lang thought Farmington was large enough to have this type of business.”
Lang, Cozean believes, was the only embalmer in the area from the 1860s until the 1890s when then-Flat River businessman Henry Rinke (Cozean’s great-grandfather) began offering embalming services as a “sideline to his cabinet and tin shop business” – a common practice of the day, Cozean said, for businesses to have a embalming service on the side.
Cozean’s family got into the business after Rolla Cozean met Elba Rinke – the oldest daughter of Henry – at the First Baptist Church of Flat River in 1909. The two would marry a year later and – at Henry’s suggestion – Rolla would attend embalming school.
Lang Undertaking Company would go up for sale around the time Rolla graduated from school.
“Rinke and Rolla purchased that business in 1917,” he said. “Rolla and Elba would operate the funeral home until 1943 when they sold it to their oldest son – my father – Hugo.”
Rinke’s other two daughters would also marry gentlemen who would go into the funeral business – one was Cobby Coldwell and Alvin Hood.
Cozean also plays a role in history as a member of the first kindergarten class in the Farmington School District in 1943.
He would later go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Master’s degree in Governmental Studies from George Washington University and a Doctorate in International Studies from American University.
After working in the Washington, D.C. area for a number of years, Cozean returned to Farmington in 1983 after the sudden death of his father, Hugo.
He closed by thanking the chamber and the community “for giving our family the opportunity to live and work in such a wonderful city and surrounding area.”
“I am sure that Thomas Lang couldn’t ever have imagined that his business would be going on for 150 years,” he said. “So, Mr. Lang, wherever you are…may you rest in peace.”