For 100 years, the Morris family of Wilkes-Barre has been helping other families in their darkest hours.
“Funerals are not really for the deceased; they are to help the living,” John V. Morris III, the fourth generation of the Morris family to run the John V. Morris Funeral Home on North Main Street, said.
“They are really for the widow or widower and the children and grandchildren. We take the family through the process toward healing; we help them get through it and reach a healthier outcome.”
The family’s funeral home was established in April 1914 by Morris’ great-grandfather John V. Pacovsky and his wife, the former Mary V. France. When Pacovsky died in an accident in 1917, two area pastors implored the widow not to go back to her native Philadelphia as her services were still needed here. She became the first female funeral director in this part of the state in 1918.
A few years later, she met another funeral director named Joseph Morris, and the couple ran the home originally located two doors down from the current location until the 1950s when John V. Morris Sr. (who was three months old when his biological father Pacovsky was killed) took over.
“Funeral homes were not utilized much in our area until the 1960s,” John III said. “Before that, and certainly in my great-grandparents’ time, most funerals were done in the homes of the deceased. My great-grandfather would have taken care of the men, mostly miners at that time, and my great-grandmother would have taken care of the women and children.”
John Sr. married the former Cecilia I. Kalafut from Plymouth, and the couple ran two funeral homes: the North Main Street location and one in Plymouth until Agnes hit in June 1972. They added a third location, 281 E. Northampton St., in 1970, which is still in operation along with the original.
Cecilia Morris, now 92, is still a funeral director and was honored in 2012 for having a continuous license for 57 years, making her the second-longest running female funeral director in the state. She still lives above the North Main Street location and will answer the phones and give advice to the new generation in charge.
John Sr. and Cecilia’s son, John V. Morris Jr., became a licensed funeral director in 1972 and took over the business in 1982. John Sr., now 66, turned over the reins to John III earlier this year.
“Dad was 65 when he let me run it for a couple years, and now I have turned it over,” John Jr. said. “Old funeral directors don’t really retire, they just slow down a little.”
John Jr. remembers going to funerals at family houses when he was younger. “Our ancestors worked a lot harder as funeral directors,” he said. “They had to move all the furniture out of the living room and dining room, bring the casket to the house — and that was no easy feat, as most times the doorways weren’t wide enough, and you might have to take out the front window to get it inside — and bring 72 folding chairs and portable fans to the site.
“And since this was the days before interstates and air travel, the calling hours lasted two or three days. When the family went to the church, I stayed behind with one of my father’s employees and got rid of all of our equipment. We had to have the house ready for the luncheon following church as in those days they didn’t go to a restaurant; everything was done in the home.”
John III, now 44, obtained his license in 1991 and recalls his grandfather’s funeral as one of the most memorable.
“He was the last Republican mayor of the city of Wilkes-Barre,” John III said with a chuckle (John Sr. served as mayor from 1968 to 1970 and on City Council from 1970 to 1972, and died in 2003). “That was an honor and privilege to have a hand in that.”
Both John Jr. and John III said one of the differences about the Morris funeral home is that a family member always answers the phone.
“Funeral homes are definitely a family business,” John Jr. said. “The family (of the deceased) sees us from the beginning to the end. All the way through the process, we are right there for them.”
John III said there is a fifth generation, his son Richard, who has shown interest in keeping the business in the Morris family.
“We are so proud of what my great-grandparents started and would love to see it continue,” John III said. “Being in business for 100 years is quite a milestone, and I’m honored to be taking over.”