Daves-Culbertson Funeral Home has seen plenty of change during its 135 years. The latest change comes as the funeral home loses a longtime employee, friend and family member after half a century.
Morris Wells is saying farewell to his Daves-Culberston family and entering the next phase of his life with his wife, Dora.
Morris has worked as a funeral assistant with the funeral home for 50 years. In that time he’s seen all kinds of people facing immeasurable grief as they say goodbye to friends, family members, colleagues and more.
In a special letter to the Tullahoma community, Morris said the time to step away from the funeral home had come and he would miss the life and career he’s built over the last five decades.
“During those years I have seen Daves Culbertson Funeral Home bought and sold several times, staff come and go with many changes,” Morris said in his letter. “I have had the privilege of serving many friends – in some cases, generations.”
Morris is no stranger to multiple generations of families as they mourn their losses. Over the years he’s had many funeral attendees recognize him from their uncles’, fathers’ and grandfathers’ funerals and thank him for his service during their family’s grief.
Having those interactions with people, Morris said in his letter, are what has meant the most to him during his career.
Juanita Ruff, the manager at Daves-Culbertson, said losing Morris was like losing a member of the family, as Morris’s tenure at the funeral home outlasts her own.
“He’s been a very important part of the funeral home for many, many years, even before my time here,” she said. “We’ve all worked together a lot of hours. He has been a very integral part of the funeral home for many, many years.”
Ruff said it was sad to see that day arrive, as Morris was one of the happiest, most pleasant individuals she’s worked with.
“He always had a smile for everyone,” she said. “He had lots of stories to share. He would make everyone laugh and feel good. We’re sad that the day has come when he retires.”
Morris said his interest in the funeral industry stems from his family, who owned a funeral home in Nashville. He would occasionally help his family out at their funeral home and liked the work. From the time he was about 11 or 12 years old, Morris said he’d wanted to work in a funeral home.
He even had a conversation with Fred Daves about needing a job about that time.
“He said, ‘When you get 21 years old, you come back and talk to me, and I’ll probably hire you,’” Morris said.
He took Daves up on his offer, though Daves had left the funeral home by that time.
Morris even lived upstairs inside the building where Daves-Culbertson Funeral Home operates with his wife and two sons for a while.
“We went there in ’71, I believe,” Dora told The News. “The family lived over the business for a decade and a half.”
According to Morris, the funeral home used to provide an ambulance service for wrecks or other medical emergencies, and Morris would be the one to drive people to the hospital.
“Somebody had to be there,” he said.
While living upstairs, Morris said he would frequently bring some of his own cream and sugar for coffee during funeral services if it was needed.
Some people might think it morbid or macabre to live above a funeral home, but Dora said their time upstairs was “like living in another world.”
“I didn’t know what was going on down there,” she said. “We had two kids, and I raised them. We had a dog. We had a cat. We had an outside entrance. The only time you knew when they had a funeral [was] when people would get real loud and cutting up. It was kind of like a celebration for a lot of [the funerals].”
Jokingly, Dora said she nearly felt safer living above a funeral home than anywhere else, because “not many people would bother you.”
Over his 50 years, Morris said he’s seen “so many stories” and “so many wonderful people” in Tullahoma. Those people he’s met over the years are what has kept him going, even when he shifted away from full-time hours and began working just part-time at the funeral home.
“You get to talking to them, and they tell you stories,” he said.
Hearing everyone’s stories over the years was something he could look forward to every day he went into work.
Morris admitted the only regret he has over his career is not going back to school to become a licensed funeral director, but he said youthful stubbornness kept him from forging that path.
Regardless, Morris said he’s enjoyed every moment of his career.
Dora agreed, joking that she’s always said he was “married to the funeral home instead of me.”
“He was always on a death call or on an ambulance trip,” she said.
While he is sad that he will no longer be “that tall older fella” who works at Daves-Culbertson, he said his time assisting the people of Tullahoma was an honor and a privilege.
“With a sad heart I’d like to say to all the people of Tullahoma it has been my honor to serve you and your families,” Morris said in his letter. “I will miss you and hope to see you on the other side, someday.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.