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William C. Harris Jr.

William C. Harris Jr.

William C. Harris Jr. believes that a funeral director should be a community leader. He has dedicated his career to being a strong role model as a north St. Louis County businessman.

“A funeral director is a pillar of the community – he is a person of integrity and decency. Families have always looked to funeral directors to get things done, from helping to bury their loved ones to help with charitable events,” Harris said.

“A funeral director is someone who stands out in a community. That’s what we’re here for, to serve,” he said. “As a funeral director, you have to be able to do what you can to assist a family. We say, ‘we can’t help you get over this, but we’ll help you get through it.' I must have the broad shoulders to help the families I serve.”

The owner of the funeral home that bears his name, William C. Harris Funeral Directors and Cremation Service, Harris takes pride in his education at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, where he graduated in spring 1993 with an associate degree in applied science in funeral service education.

“They prepared us for the sociological, psychological, theological, physical and legal needs of the families we would serve, and also stressed the high standards of ethical conduct,” Harris said.

“Steve Koosmann (professor and program coordinator) took us to England during spring break to study at the Fredrick W. Payne Undertaking Company. While in England, a drawing was made that I said would hang in my own funeral home someday.”

His certificate from the British Institute of Embalming isn’t the only keepsake he brought home after studying the culture of funeral service in London. That pencil portrait is proudly framed over the fireplace in the impressive foyer of his tastefully decorated lobby/reception area. A spiral staircase and beautiful chandelier are also impressive elements in this spacious funeral home, where everything is attractively arranged and immaculate.

Nothing is out of kilter in his colonial funeral home on Halls Ferry Road, where Harris’s wife Garnet and four of his six children help with the business: sons William III, Windall and Westley and daughter Tiara. He has two teenagers still in school.

Harris continues to keep up-to-date in the field, and is active in several professional organizations.To date, he is the only African-American funeral director in his area with the certification, Certified Funeral Service Practitioner, from the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice, which he earned in 2004.

“CFSP is like an MD designation. It’s 30 credit hours of continuing education, which isn’t required in the state of Missouri, but I wanted it,” Harris said. “It means a lot to keep up with funeral education for the bereaved.”

Growing up in University City, he initially learned the trade from his godfather, Theodore V. Foster Sr. He began working at the Ellis Funeral Home in 1977 when he was only 12 years old.

“My parents divorced, and I figured there were things I wanted and needed that I would have to work for. I started out at $10 a week. I was able to do the things I wanted to do.”

Six years later, he became the youngest licensed funeral director in Missouri in 1983, at age 18.

After graduation from STLCC, Harris was a funeral director at the Wade Funeral Home. In 2002, he became associated with the Stygar Family of Funeral Service, and was an independent contract funeral director. In 2006, he purchased his funeral home from the Stygar family.

Harris has emphasized service throughout his career. “Where Service is an Unforgettable Memory” is his credo. “We make sure that a family is 100 percent satisfied,” he said.

Since 1999, he has served as both secretary of the Missouri State Funeral Directors and Association and as a board member of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association. He was also appointed governor of NFDMA’s District VII and State of Affairs chairman.He has planned two successful state funeral directors conventions.

St. Louis Radio Station HOT 104.1 FM named him among “Who’s Who in Black St. Louis” in 2010. He is a Shriner, belonging to Medina Temple 39. He is a member of 100 Black Men, the H McGee Alexander Lodge 85, and the AIDA Star Chapter 1 of the Eastern Star.

His funeral home is located at 9825 Halls Ferry Road in St. Louis.

By: Lynn Venhaus