Article Printed in the August 14, 2003 edition of The Daily Record, Dunn North Carolina.
A local institution almost a century old may have changed hands, but its new owner promises a smooth transition.
Second generation funeral director and lifelong Dunn resident J. Nowell Smith III is the new owner of Skinner Funeral Home after purchasing the business from Pete Skinner. Mr. Smith has been a licensed funeral director for 15 years and has worked at Skinner for the better part of a decade. He purchase what will henceforth be known as Skinner and Smith Funeral Home without any involvement from outside corporations.
"I am the sole owner," he said. "We're the oldest independent locally-owned funeral home in Dunn." Mr. Smith pledged to maintain "the same level of service-nothing is going to change."
The business first opened in 1908, with Mr. Skinner's grandfather J.L. Hatcher at the helm. He passed it on the his son-in-law Charles Skinner before Pete Skinner and Paul Drew became the owners of the business in 1957. Skinner moved from Broad Street to its current location on Erwin Road in 1990.
Mr. Smith purchased the business for more than a million dollars in a deal that does not include any interest in Devotional Gardens, which was purchased in May 2002 by Mr. Skinner along with Jimmie Rose and Winn Graham, who together own and run Rose and Graham Funeral Homes in Coats and Benson. "That's a totally seperate corporation." Mr. Smith said.
"Pete's name is well established, he's a third generation funeral director," he said. "My name's not as well established as Pete's, but I'm a second-generation funeral director and my father served this community for 25 years."
Mr. Smith's father, Nowell Smith Jr., was a partner in Cromartie, Pearsall and Smith Funeral Home in Dunn. His grandfather Nowell Smith Sr. was a founder of Mule Days and the Benson chamber arena is named after him.
At Skinner for almost a decade.
Skinner's new owner said he grew up in the business. "I started working at the funeral home as a teenager and I was working funeral services when I was 16," he said.
Mr. Smith, who lives in Dunn with his wife Ava, graduated Dunn High School in 1982, beame a licensed funeral director in 1989 and started working at Skinner in 1994. In the last few years, he has become involved in every aspect of running the business as Mr. Skinner has moved closer to retirement.
"It isn't like I just got here," he said. Mr. Skinner will still be involved in the business on a part time basis as his health permits, Mr. Smith said. "Pete is still going to be involved," he said. "He's still in the picture."
For his part, Mr. Skinner said the new owner's "dedication to our way of business is really the only way I could ever have sold the funeral home."
Mr. Smith said the philosophy he brings to his profession ensures the service offered at Skinner and Smith will remain exemplary.
"You want to be compassionate," he said. "You want to listen to what families want and let them know what is available. There are a lot of things available now, that we didn't do 20 years ago, that people may not even be aware of."
"Our aim is to help families though the most difficult time of their lives with as little stress as possible," he said. " We want to take the burden off them."
Mr. Smith said he hoped the announcement of his purchase will quell the rumors he said have been surrounding the business's future ever since the news began to spread that Mr. Skinner intended to sell.
"We want to let everyone know, 'We're here, we're stable and we're not going anywhere,'" Mr. Smith said. He stressed his support of long-time employees Carey Barfield, Elaine Bass and David Ivey.
"We'll continue offering quality service," he said. "It's my goal to keep this business independently owned, and the service is only going to improve.