Fayette County IAGenWeb


 Join Our Team



Family Connections



Random Ramblings, by Gordon Brant


In our imagination, now, let's take a "time-warp" trip into the past. We'll see how, from very humble beginnings, the funeral industry had it's early start in America.


Due to there being no funeral homes in existence then, men of various skills and trades, ..such as blacksmith and cabinet maker, provided the service of building caskets for the public whenever needed. Gradually, the public desired a more complete service and facility for their specific needs at the time whenever a death occurred. So, some tradesmen began providing special facilities to accommodate an ever expanding demand. The public wanted a more dignified and meaningful burial of their dead. As a result, today we have modern, full service funeral homes. They are staffed by fully trained professional people. They are qualified in several areas of sanitation, scientific preservation, family counseling, various religious rituals, and legal requirements surrounding the disposition of human remains, just to name a few. Now, we trace the development of the funeral home we have been involved with. This is the story of HERBERT AND ALICE BRANT, nee PAINE, the founders.


Herb started into the business in 1898, at the age of 17 years. He started to work for Mr. C. H.. Kinsel in Fairbank, Iowa. Mr.Kinsel owned a furniture and Undertaking business there. Herb sort of managed a branch operation for Mr. Kinsel in Dunkerton, Iowa. In the year 1901, Herb and Alice Paine were married, and the couple settled into their own home in Dunkerton. They wanted to establish their own business there. From the beginning, they developed a family-involved business, which was dedicated to the love of mankind and service to the people. Compassion seemed to be the major requirement in his dealings.


The first home of the young couple was in down-town area, over the Post Office Building. That building once stood just east of the building that Dad built, and on the corner lot. For a time, Herb was filling the role of Post Master, as well. The Brant's lived in the upstairs apartment until about 1912, when they moved into the house we all remember as "home". It was located 1 block south of First Baptist Church in Dunkerton. It is on the northwest corner of the intersection yet today. The family lived here until moving to Oelwein in June of 1928. With faith and confidence in the future, Herb built a large two-story brick building in 1915, to house his expanding furniture- undertaking business. That building is still standing alone, on east Main Street in Dunkerton, on south side of street. The store buildings on either side have long since both burned to the ground. Dad's building has survived those two major fires on both sides.


While yet living in Dunkerton, there are several memories that come to my mind. Our neighbor to the west, was the PETE MAGEE family. They had a son named Lloyd, who was about my same age, near 5 years old. He played with me a lot. Naturally, as boys get better acquainted, the better the chance for a fight to develop. Lloyd and I didn't fall short of our share of fights at all. It resulted in our getting into a wrestling matches on the ground. Whichever of our mothers who would see us first would come running, and start walloping the guy who was on top. They would use any available stick or wooden shingle to spank us with. Myrtle Magee, Lloyd's mother, always had an inexhaustible supply of shingles. Her husband was a carpenter. So, the "wrestling-match" between Lloyd and myself always ended up as a battle to get on bottom of the heap. Guess we showed signs of shrewdness even then. ! One of the frequently used reasons for our many fights was a neighbor girl our same age, by the name of Bethel Page, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. MILLARD PAGE. Each of us, Lloyd and I, wanted to give Bethel a ride in our wagon. So, we had another battle to see who would pull the wagon with Bethel. To this day, I'm sure that Bethel was never aware of the "battle" that was going on over her by these two kids on the block. As for our mothers, Lloyd and I both admitted that we had TWO of them. We each considered the other's Mom was also our own. Lloyd and I developed a very strong friendship that lasted a lifetime. In the early months of 1928, I recall hearing talk of our impending move to Oelwein. This was a real shock to me, as I had lived all my young life in Dunkerton. Moving to Oelwein would be leaving everything and everybody familiar to me.


In June of 1928, our family moved to Oelwein, and a new home. Herb entered into a partnership with an already existing business which was operating a furniture store and funeral home. After Herb joined the partnership, it was known as RIDLER , WHALEN, & BRANT. The furniture store was located on North Frederick Avenue, on east side of street. The building later housed the Spurgeon Store. The funeral home phase of their business was located on North Frederick Ave also. It was situated between the Grace Methodist Church and Masonic Temple. {That building was destroyed by the tornado that hit Oelwein in 1968.} In 1931, Herb purchased the other partner's equity in the funeral home, so that it was now privately owned by the Brant family. The partnership was therefore dissolved. The funeral home occupied the first floor, and the family quarters on the second floor. I am sure that there must have been some rather stressful times for Dad and Mom during this "new" life in Oelwein. At that time, our country was just starting into the Great Depression. Trying to get a new business founded, and off the ground, plus trying to support a family was ,no doubt, a real effort. At that time, my sisters Lucille (now Mrs. Don Hall) and Grace (now Mrs. Charles Spindler) , and I were still living at home. We soon were in the full effect of the Depression. Just about everyone was out of work, and also out of money. It was indeed, very difficult times. This was about 1930, and Herb Hoover was our President. Of course America blamed him for the Depression. Much closer to home, Dad instituted a plan, similar to the "bartering" plan. Of course he had several unpaid funeral bills. People just could NOT pay their bills. So when people would bring in butchered hogs, cattle, chickens, eggs, or whatever produce they had, Dad would give them market value as credit towards their bill. This worked out exceptionally well for both client and Dad. This way, we at least had something to eat on our table. We were so thankful for that provision.


We started pulling ourselves out of the Depression and it's effects. In 1937, Herb bought a very nice, spacious home located at 221 North Frederick Ave. This would be our new residence, and eventually transformed into a new funeral home. He bought the house from DAN RAFTIS, an insurance agent who was living in it at the time. As I recall, Dad paid about $9000.00 for the property. The house was originally built by a former banker, Mr. Hanson. I remember walking by the house everyday on my way to and from school. My impression was that it was a real "mansion" The year 1937v was also the year that my brother RUSSELL BRANT obtained his Iowa funeral director and embalmer's license. He started working for Dad at that time. By this time, I was involved with being an eighth grader at Central Junior High School. I had completed elementary school at Harlan building in 1936. You will find it hard to locate these old buildings I am talking about. Through tornado's, fire, razing, etc., there isn't a single school building left that was standing when I went through school. That surely ages one quickly, doesn't it? The only remnant left from any of those buildings is most of the material in Oelwein High football stadium. It was built from timber and material from the old Northridge school. It was located in northwest part of Oelwein. It started out as a secretarial college. Then the school board took it over and held classes there for a while. It was located at about the present site of Harlan School.


In 1948, I received my Iowa Funeral Director's and Embalmer's license . Hence, I worked for my father, too. So, now we had Herb, Russell, and Gordon Brant all involved in operating the business. The first major step of adding a building addition on to the residence at 221 North Frederick was taken on August 17,1950. This was to establish a new funeral home at the location of our family residence. We had lived in this house since 1938. The first task was to remove the full back porch from house, on east side on house. From that point, a full basement was dug for new building, foundations laid, all construction done, and incorporating the first floor of original house into funeral home usage. On the second floor, an apartment was designed for Herb and Alice to live in. Thode and Rechkemmer Construction had the contract for the building. The building was completed in May of 1951. We had our formal Open House for our new funeral home on October 28,1951. We were fortunate in having several funeral supply salesmen come in to serve as guides for the open house. During the occasion, we displayed an old adult casket that was a glass-panel sealer, which Dad bought in 1925, and brought to Oelwein with him during his move. I think it is still at the funeral home, at least it was when I left in 1982. We also displayed a century old child's casket. It was made of solid cherry wood. The two wooden pedestals the infant casket was resting upon were equally as old as the casket was. The next phase of improvement came in April of 1959, when new aluminum siding was placed on all of the original building. It was a much needed face lifting.


In 1962, there were some significant changes. It was the year that Herb retired from the business, after 64 years of active participation. He still maintained his residence in the upstairs apartment. Russell Brant (my brother) and I formed a new partnership. It was also the year that we terminated the ambulance business we had been providing for years. Hintz Funeral Home, of Oelwein, also joined us in the cessation of ambulance service. The City of Oelwein assumed that responsibility, through the Police Department. Russell Brant retired from the business in 1971, after 35 years of active participation. Working for us at that time was JOHN KERNS. So, it fell to John and Gordon to form a new partnership. We began the second major addition to the funeral home in October of 1979. We had just purchased the adjacent property to our south. We had the old frame house on it razed by the Amish. This lot would become a much needed parking lot for us.


Another goal of the new project, was to provide a new and larger entryway for the public. This was accomplished by putting on an addition to the south side of building. There were also some changes made in the Chapel area. A coffee and smoking lounge was also a new facility provided. We had another Open House for the public on June 1, 1980. We were all very proud, and tired, after a long, but very pleasant day. We had many, many visitors that day, with many kind words and expressions to us. After many months of planning, work, tearing down, many horrible messes, building up again,---we could finally look at the finished product !! We were NOT motivated by a wish to simply have the Biggest and Best,--but rather by a desire to give something nice back to the people of the Oelwein community, to those who have been so kind in their support of our efforts throughout the many years. We thank Almighty God for the success we have enjoyed.


In December of 1981,--one hundred years after the birth of Herb Brant,-- 83 years after he first started into the business,--another milestone in the history of Brant-Kerns Funeral Home came to pass. John Kerns and I signed a contract whereby I sold my equity to him. This made John the sole owner of the funeral home. It was my lot to be the last member of the Brant family to be actively involved in the management of the firm. I had elected to withdraw in favor of retirement. Right or wrong, the decision was made, the "die was cast". Our very best wishes went out to John in his new role. Into his capable hands we have placed our trust and confidence that he will continue on in the same principal, that "WE OURSELVES THE BETTER SERVE, BY SERVING OTHERS BEST "


The "cast" of this episode has been:

Herbert Wesly Brant------b. 25 Sep 1881 m. 19 Oct 1902 d. 21 Aug 1969 and wife, Alice Sophia Paine-Brant--b. 27 Jan 1882 m. 19 Oct 1902 d. 08 Nov 1956.

Their Children:

1) Morris Edson Brant.......b. 26 Jul 1903................................d.30 Jan 1904

2) Russell Wiley Brant......b. 02 Aug 1904 ..............................d.21 Oct 1989; m.-Mary Ann Rodgers, d. 1961

      Francis C. Farran-Adickes (died 1968)

3) Naomi Ruth Brant........b. 15 Nov 1905....................................d.27 Dec 1995

4) Randall Herbert Brant..b. 05 Apr 1907....................................d.09 Nov 1973

5) Ida Lucille Brant-Hall--b. 15 Nov 1913 - d. 9 Jan 1999 - Married to--Donald C. Hall, deceased

6) Grace Ila Brant..............b. 19 Apr 1920 ; m. Chas. R. Spindler

7) Gordon Allen Brant-----b. 04 Feb 1923, m.-Dorothy M. Shupe--b.19 Sep 1920..................d.13 Feb 1995

Betty Gail Johnson-Miller--b.04 Mar 1923

PLUS our own children, many grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and daughter and son-in-laws.


~compiled and contributed by Gordon A. Brant, digger@marshallnet.com





back to Fayette Home