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Honoring Traditions and Creating New Ones

In 1931, Rea L. Nelson established Nelson Funeral Home in Berryville, Arkansas. He set up the practice of Mortuary Science with a store front “Funeral Parlor” located on the city square.  Rea Nelson brought the word “service” to this area by giving of himself and his experiences. 1931 was just after the Great Depression had begun, and very few people had little money at the time of a death in the family. As a result of this, in early 1934, he was issued the first Charter for a Burial Association in the state of Arkansas, and began the Carroll County Burial Association. This was a very low cost insurance protection which was the only way many of the local families had to finance necessary expenses at the time of death. Soon after, almost every funeral home in the state had a burial association or something similar to it.

Though times were tough, through hard work he was able to obtain enough financing to construct the Nelson Funeral Home building in 1938, one block east of the city square, where it stands today.

Nelson Funeral Service Inc. holds the distinction of being one of the oldest funeral home buildings in operation today which was built for the primary purpose of offering funeral goods and services. Nelson Funeral Service Inc. also holds Funeral Establishment License #1 in the state of Arkansas.

In 1946, Charles M. Nelson, Rea’s son, graduated from St. Louis College of Mortuary Science, and joined his father in the family business. Charles’ age of 18 made him the youngest licensed embalmer in the state, a record that still stands today.

It was October 5th of that year that Charles married Jimmie Hammons. They had four children; Sherry Nelson French, Carla Nelson Thurman, Andre Nelson, and Douglas B. Nelson. Charles and Jimmie were involved with the business until his death in 1997.

In 1978, Douglas graduated from the Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science and joined the family business as a third generation Funeral Director and Embalmer. In 1990, He became President and CEO of Nelson Funeral Service Inc., serving this office until his death in December of 2005. During that time, his wife, Kathy, a licensed funeral director herself, served as Vice-President.      

On May 1, 1997, Bobby Rea Thurman, Charles and Jimmie’s grandson, joined the family business as a fourth generation. In 1999, he obtained his Funeral Director and Embalmer Licenses after graduating from Arkansas State University at Mountain Home with a degree in Mortuary Science. In July of 2002, Doug promoted him to Vice-President. In January of 2006, Bobby became President of Nelson Funeral Service Inc., an office which he is currently serving today.

In the Spring of 2000, the new Charles M. Nelson Memorial Chapel was dedicated. Its size accommodates a funeral gathering of four times the size of the original Berryville Chapel. The business and arrangement offices remain in the original structure.