Mortuary has new owners

By: 
Bri Brasher

The staff of Meridian Mortuary: front row, Jerrica Mills, Rita Mashak, Thomas Walker, and Cynthia Crabtree ; back row,  Kevin Reid, Tara Liesinger, Doug Frost, and Marina Cullum.  Meridian Mortuary replaces Worden Funeral Directors in Newcastle. (Submitted photo)

Bri Brasher

NLJ Reporter 

 

Walker Funeral Home of Gillette has expanded into the Newcastle area by establishing Meridian Mortuary. Mike and Sherry Worden, of Worden Funeral Directors, recently sold to Tom Walker, Paul Walker and Tom Vertin, the partners who own Walker Funeral Home. 

“Meridian means center, and just as you’re leaving Spearfish, if you watch on the side of the road, there are state highway road signs that say ‘center of the nation.’ We’re only about 60 miles from there. We think Newcastle is the center of the nation. That’s where that came from,” Walker said.

Walker said Meridian Mortuary is a full-service funeral home; those services include funerals, cremations and monuments. Walker Funeral Home also has its own crematory in Gillette that will be available to Newcastle residents. That will mean better cremation prices for the Newcastle community, according to Walker. 

Meridian Mortuary is staffed by Marina Cullum, deputy coroner, for at least three hours in the morning, five days a week. Cindy Crabtree, the county coroner, is also on the staff in Newcastle. Walker said the plan is to have two people on staff from Newcastle, and both Cullum and Crabtree will do night calls and help with funerals and visitation. The Gillette crew will also be available to help with funerals and arrangements. Additionally, Eric Burquist, a pre-need specialist will come to Newcastle at least once a week to help people with pre-arrangements for funerals and cremations. 

“We feel like we’ll be an asset to the community because we have a larger operation and we can help people for more reasonable funeral costs and cremation costs, and we are definitely going to try to get someone working here eventually from Newcastle that people will know and they can put a face on it,” Walker said. 

“As far as funerals and stuff, we are going to do everything that Mike and Sherry did plus some. We look forward to serving the community, and we want to be part of the community,” he added, stating that he and his staff are working to increase their presence in the community to meet community needs. 

Like the Wordens, Walker is well-versed in the funeral business with over 40 years of personal experience. He is a Wyoming state-licensed funeral service practitioner, and his staff are all licensed as well. Walker was born and raised in Lovell. He is married and he and his wife have five daughters. 

In fact, Mike Worden and Walker met while working together at Moecker Funeral Home in Gillette back in the early 1970s. Walker received his post-secondary education at Northwest Community College and the mortuary college in Los Angeles. He bought Moecker Funeral Home, now Walker Funeral Home, in Gillette, while Worden returned to Newcastle to return to work for Don McColley at McColley Funeral Home. Worden told the News Letter Journal that he got into the funeral business in the 1960s while still in high school, working for McColley as a repair man and lawn mower in Newcastle. 

“When he conducted funerals, he needed at least one other person to conduct the service. One day he couldn’t find anyone, so he asked me to help,” said Worden. 

After high school, Worden tried his hand at a petroleum engineering degree from the University of Wyoming. He decided the degree was not for him, so he fell back into the funeral business, returning home to ask McColley for a job. It was then that Worden started his apprenticeship with McColley in order to get his license. 

Worden said that he then moved to San Francisco in December of 1972 to go to school for a year, attending one of the 11 mortuary schools in existence at the time. Worden said he made many friends from all over the country while in California and kept in touch with them over the years, serving as president of the Wyoming Funeral Directors Association for a time, as president of Wyoming Board of Funeral Service Practitioners for three separate terms, and as a policy board member for the National Funeral Directors Association. 

Worden came back to Wyoming in December of 1973, married his late wife, Sandra, in January 1974, and within a week, got a job with Moecker Funeral Home in Gillette. The couple stayed in Gillette for two and a half years before McColley called in July 1975 asking Worden if he was interested in work and possibly owning the home.

The move to Newcastle meant being closer to family, and in 1980, the Wordens made a deal for purchasing the home. Walker said at that time the funeral home was a combination funeral home and ambulance service, because there was no other ambulance service in Newcastle. He was a certified EMT until the state mandated that ambulance services be upgraded in 1990. After that, the business operated strictly as a funeral home. The same year, Worden bought the business in full after gradually increasing his share of ownership year by year. 

Worden’s late wife passed away in 1998, and he met Sherry three months later. Sherry lived in California, where she was working as a nurse, and Worden said their relationship was one of the first online romances from this area. She came to Wyoming to help him run the funeral business, earning additional degrees in social psychology and mortuary science.

“Sherry turned out to be a perfect fit for this business. She has an innate ability to talk to people and make them accept things as they are,” said Worden, adding that their business was a two-person show, with him handling most of the professional work and Sherry taking care of most other tasks. 

The two kept up a 24-hour, 7 days a week on-call schedule for many years, serving Newcastle, Upton, Gillette, Sundance, Spearfish, Rapid City, Custer and Hot Springs. The schedule was their way of life until about three years ago when Worden’s former partner, Don McColley, came in and said he needed to retire while still in good health. The Wordens have spent the past three years putting together the deal with Walker and his partners, who had previously expressed interest in the business.

With the responsibility of the funeral home lifted from their shoulders, the Wordens are looking forward to traveling and visiting their families, including Mike’s two children and three grandchildren and Sherry’s three children, two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

“I’m missing the people already. The people of Newcastle and the Weston County area were very good to me. They trusted me with something that’s almost untrustable,” Worden said. “We hope he (Walker) serves the people of Newcastle well! We’re hoping we made a good choice.”

Walker invites people to visit Meridian Mortuary, adding that along with the Newcastle staff, he is in Newcastle off and on during the week. Walker said that he understands the responsibility associated with the funeral business, and he wants the Newcastle community to feel comfortable coming to them in their time of need.

 “We feel like we are well trained and well versed in comfort care, as well as after care. Compassion has always been important to us, and we understand what people are going through. I’ve lost a daughter myself, about seven years ago, so I understand the empathy that one should feel for someone that has lost one of their loved ones.”

Walker said that future plans include an open house to invite the community to “come down and meet the crew.

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