Reflecting on 70 Years in Business

(Above: Dirk and Terry in front of the funeral home at 917 Blondeau Street.)

This August marked 70 years of the DeJong family owning and operating their business in Keokuk, a milestone they are very proud of.

DeJong’s Funeral home in the 1950s

Presently owned by Dirk and Theresa (Terry) DeJong the business was started by Dirk’s parents, G. William and Dorothy DeJong who bought the Pearson Funeral Home in 1944 on 917 Blondeau Street and established DeJong’s Funeral Home. Bill DeJong, born and raised in Keokuk, was a Licensed Funeral Director for over 50 years.

Newspaper clipping announcing Bill and Dorothy’s purchase of Pearson Funeral Home which they would soon establish as DeJong’s Funeral Home. DeJong’s Funeral home in the 1950s

After graduating from Keokuk Senior High in 1935, Bill attended and graduated from both Iowa Weslyn College in Mt. Pleasant and the College of Mortuary Science in St. Louis, MO. After graduating in 1941, he returned to Keokuk and became an assistant at Pearson Funeral Home where he worked for three years until he took ownership in August of 1944. He and his wife, Dorothy, operated the funeral home and raised their family of three children in the home. Bill was a full-time funeral director and operator of the funeral home until 1991 when he became disabled by an accident which eventually claimed his life in 1993. Dorothy died in March 2005.

From the time of his birth, Dirk lived in the funeral home building with his family and was raised in the family business, helping with the work at the funeral home in many ways. He helped set up tents, carry and drive flowers, and whatever else he was asked to do. During the time the funeral homes also acted as ambulance services for the community, Dirk was on hand many times to assist in emergencies, including the explosion at the Keokuk Armory in 1965.

 

Dirk graduated from Keokuk High School in 1967 and later from SCC. Following his marriage to Theresa Neff in 1972, he attended Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science. Following his graduation, he served an internship at Westover Funeral Home in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1975, he and Theresa returned to Keokuk to join the family firm and became integral parts of the funeral business. He again worked along-side his father and learned to appreciate Bill’s knowledge and experience as a funeral director.

Dirk receiving his diploma during his graduation from Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science in 1975.

After completing a degree in Mortuary Science and a professional internship in 1998, Terry also became a licensed funeral director. Born in Hancock County, Illinois, Terry moved with her parents, Estel and Cecel Neff, to Keokuk in 1958. She attended Keokuk Public Schools, graduating in 1969. She attended SCC and the University of Iowa. Terry was a stay-at-home mother with their four daughters until 1983. She then began helping and doing part-time work at the funeral home. Becoming more and more active and interested in the work, she attended both SCC and Carl Sandburg College, and received her degree in Mortuary Science in 1997.

Terry’s graduation from Carl Sandburg College in 1997 where she earned her degree in Mortuary Science.

Dirk and Terry have owned the business since 1995, purchasing the funeral home when they assumed the leadership role following Bill’s accident. They continue to carry on the tradition taught to Dirk by his parents in his years growing up in the funeral home. His parents always tried to do their best to help people both in the business and in the community through service and contributing where they could. They taught him to do the same and he has tried to carry on their work the best he can.

Terry wasn’t raised in the funeral home like Dirk, but also learned a lot about what the job means from working with Bill and Dorothy. She saw how much help and support they could be to families during a time of profound grief and it has always been important to the both of them to make that the first priority. These are values they hold dear and have tried to pass along to their own children.

Dirk and Terry are both licensed in Iowa and Illinois and Dirk is also licensed in Missouri. As full-time owners and funeral directors, Dirk and Terry are actively involved in all activities of the funeral home.

The original business building at 917 Blondeau Street was renovated in the fall of 1960 by combining the existing building with the neighboring home at 923 Blondeau Street, more than doubling the space to accommodate larger services and allow a more modern approach to funerals.

The original two buildings (917 & 923 Blondeau) as construction began and the combined building during construction.

In January of 2011, DeJong’s Funeral Home purchased Greaves Mortuary to create the DeJong-Greaves Celebration of Life Centers. This allowed for the DeJongs to once again usher in modern approaches to the industry. As traditions and styles of funerals are changing, the DeJongs wish to make more options available to families. Celebration of life is not just the name change to the business but also what more and more families wish for as a farewell to loved ones. There are many families who find a lot of comfort in a traditional funeral service. However there are a growing number of families that want something different. So we can have services at their favorite fishing spot, or in their garden they took so much pride in. We can provide special services such as dove or butterfly releases. The options are as endless as the personalities of the individuals we are honoring.

 

Bob and Susie Kraus, former owners of Greaves Mortuary with Terry and Dirk DeJong as they announce their purchase of the business and the merging of these two historic family funeral homes.

In additional efforts to embrace this change, Dirk and Theresa attended training and became Certified Funeral Celebrants in 2009 which allows them to provide personalized memorial services to individuals and families who either wish for something non-traditional or non-denominational.

In May of this year, Dirk was honored for both 40 years dedication to funeral services and for three years of service as district 3 governor at the 134th annual Iowa Funeral Directors Association Convention in Ames, Iowa.