Martinsville sisters continue the legacy at Neal & Summers Funeral and Cremation Center
By Elaine Whitesides
Morgan County Business Leader
It was the desire to keep the family business going that compelled Thomas Neal’s eldest daughter, Mia Neal, to begin studies at Mid-America College of Funeral Service in 1983. She joined him at Neal & Summers Funeral and Cremation Center as a licensed funeral director in 1988. “I thought I wanted to run the family business,” she said, adding, “The people side of it is my blessing.
Thomas’s youngest daughter, Nichelle (pronounced Nick-ell) Neal Dalton completed her studies at the same school and joined her father and sister in the family business in 1990. During her second year at Indiana University, she said, “I took a good look at what my father had established and so I thought I wanted to carry on the family legacy and continue the friendships that my father had gained over the years.
“Dad was very proud and appreciative of what the community had provided,” Nichelle said. “How do you not come back and carry that on?”
It’s impressive when a business can say it has been open for 45 years. The Neal & Summers Mortuary opened in April, 1967. At the helm were Thomas E. Neal and James Summers. In addition to providing funeral services, the pair also operated an ambulance service to residents of Martinsville and the surrounding area. Neal and Summers worked side-by-side and each served as county coroner through the years. Summers retired in the early 1980s.
According to Mia, she considered the two men the “dynamic duo.” She said she still hears stories about rides in those ambulances and the care with which the two men treated families, especially those whose sons were buried during the Vietnam War era. The connection with families is a bond inherent in this family business.
“I was always a people person,” Mia said. “I love to work with families, visit with them and I have formed really, really good relationships with people. When people say that we make it easier, I feel blessed. It’s a huge hurt, so I can’t imagine a director making it easier, but if I have helped, that’s wonderful.”
When Mia and Nichelle joined the business in 1988 and 1990 respectively, they say it seemed like people figured the “Neal girls” had come back to “help out” their dad.
That may have been due to the nature of operating a family business where everyone pitches in to do whatever needs to be done. This business is never closed. The hours are long and unpredictable.
“Our situation is so unique for a couple of reasons,” said Nichelle, “in small community businesses we do everything; we paint, plant flowers, we change our own light bulbs. And in a family business, all the family has served in some capacity at some time.”
Another reason is that funeral directors are stereotypically men. And, it is a traditional belief that male funeral home owners pass down the business to their sons. That has changed and is no better evidenced than at Neal & Summers in Martinsville, for Thomas Neal had no sons. Of his children, he had two daughters who have taken over the ownership and operation of the business.
The number of females entering the profession has steadily increased and recent statistics show that more than 57% of mortuary school graduates are women. The number of female funeral home owner/ operators is growing as well. Although it’s taken a while for women to be viewed as fully qualified professionals in the role, the two ladies who own and operate Neal & Summers Funeral and Cremation Center are committed to the industry and what they can bring to their community…Download the full March 2013 Edition here.