Losing a loved one is not easy and from a young age Greg Henderson saw his father show other families compassion and respect as they grieved. He learned by example and remained in the funeral home business. Now he, along with his wife, Marla, own Henderson Funeral Home and Crematory.
His father, Merl Henderson, started working at Noel Funeral Home in 1957, and in 1964 he bought into the business. Shortly after, the company changed its name to Noel-Henderson Funeral Home.
Prior to that Noel Funeral Home had been in existence since 1900 when Orville Noel opened the business in its original location at 412 Elizabeth St. in Pekin. Then, in 1939, Noel moved the funeral home to 420 Walnut St. The location was an 11-room colonial-style mansion which was built in 1862.
Greg Henderson began working at Noel-Henderson Funeral Home when he was 16 years old. Every other night he would stay there to answer the phones. He also worked during visitations at the door to direct people.
Henderson and his two brothers joined the family business as licensed funeral directors. In 2006, Henderson and his wife bought out his brothers and changed the business name to Henderson Funeral Home and Crematory. They remained in the same location until April 2013 when the newly constructed building at 2131 Velde Drive in Pekin opened.
While he has 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. office hours, his career as a funeral director keeps him on the clock 24-hours a day. Once office hours end, Henderson is on-call. He and his wife live in the upstairs of the building. He could get two or three calls a night or none at all for several nights. It is unpredictable.
His schedule during the day is never the same from one day to the next. There are certain tasks that are consistent though. He often meets with families who are either grieving the loss of a loved one and need to make arrangements or folks who are pre-planning. Those who are pre-planning typically meet with Marla who is a certified pre-planning consultant.
Henderson conducts services or visitations, picks up the deceased, conducts everyday administrative work and also handles the maintenance around the building. He mows, pulls weeds and makes sure the grounds look nice.
“We’re here to help guide families through what they need to do,” he said.
He helps coordinate arrangements with the church the deceased belonged to, helps with music selection, files the death certificate, notifies The U.S. Social Security Administration office, attains required permits when necessary and helps with the obituary. Henderson said he takes care of the details that people might not be thinking about especially when the loss of a loved one was sudden and unexpected.
He does recommend pre-planning especially for married couples.
“They really feel the benefit,” Henderson said. “Knowing that all these arrangements have been made and that the remaining spouse does not have to make those decisions alone gives peace of mind.”
Henderson feels the service is the most important part because it is to honor the life who has passed on. However, he is finding more and more that people want to skip a service.
“That’s the most challenging part — educating families about the need for some type of service,” he said. “Our main focus is on those who are living.”
Cremation has become more popular in recent years. Henderson attributes the shift to two possibilities. He said people think it is an easier option for those who are living or it could be financial reasons.
The cost of a funeral varies from person to person based on their wishes. Henderson said it is hard to put a total on funeral costs, but did say that a casket and service could run $7,500 to $8,000. The estimate does not include other expenses though.
“We get different requests sometimes, like a family wants to serve a certain cocktail or food that their loved one (who passed on) enjoyed,” said Henderson. “Every family you meet with is different. We can now do a catered lunch here because we have a room specifically for that. It has become more popular in the last 10 years to have a lunch after the service. It’s possibly due to the aging church population who is not as able to provide that service anymore. There are some churches that are still able to provide that though.”
One of the biggest changes over the last 20 to 30 years for Henderson is getting a call to have someone who is deceased picked up who is not from the immediate Pekin area and has no ties to Pekin. He said online reviews and cost most likely factor into those decisions.
“It’s just a different mind-set,” he said.
A call came in from near Galesburg for Henderson to pick up a deceased person, and the family did not wish to have a service and wanted cremation. They did not have a connection to Pekin either. He said there is not one particular age group where this is more popular. It happens with all ages more and more.
Although Henderson has quite a lot to do on a daily basis, he has a team who helps.
Henderson and Dave Fisher are the two licensed funeral directors at Henderson Funeral Home. Fisher started working as a driver, opening doors during a visitation, parking cars and helping with housekeeping work in the building.
“He’s been a wonderful mentor,” Fisher said. “I’ve been here five years. Greg instinctively knows what I struggle to do. He’s so ethical, caring and does what’s best for families.”
Henderson said there are eight part-time staff members who he called “the backbone” of the business. His daughter, Mallory Morris, works there, too. Currently she helps with social media and is an administrative assistant. She has completed her first year of college to become a licensed funeral director which will make her the third generation of Hendersons to be funeral directors.
Henderson has been a licensed funeral director for 38 years. He is required to attain at least 24-hours of continuing education every two years.
“You change with the times or become obsolete,” he said. “Technology has really changed since I started.”
Henderson has stayed active within his profession. He was invited to be part of the Selected Independent Funeral Homes group. Henderson described the group as progressive and that he grows professionally from it and learns new trends and techniques as a funeral director. In the spring, the select group met at Henderson Funeral Home for their regional meeting. He is also the vice president of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association. They have quarterly meetings in Springfield. He works as an advocate in regards to state laws that are proposed whether in the Illinois State House of Representatives or Senate. The group also promotes funeral service and benefits for its members.
Henderson Funeral Home has received the National Funeral Directors Association Pursuit of Excellence Eagle Award.
Henderson is also involved in the community. He has been part of Pekin Rotary Club for 34 years and is a past president. He is a member of Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, is a past president of Pekin Main Street and a past chairman of the Pekin Salvation Army Advisory Board. This summer marks his 10th year with the Pekin group of runners in the Memphis-to-Peoria Run for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“Being active in community groups has helped me to learn about community needs,” Henderson said. “It’s vital to stay active.”
As part of his job he works closely with community agencies such as the Coroner’s Office, hospice agencies, the County Clerk and area nursing homes. Henderson Funeral Home also works with grief groups. It is a joint effort for Henderson. He provides the meeting space at the funeral home and the group provides a counselor and or hospice chaplain.
“You want to be the one to take care of loved ones and friends,” he said.