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November 24 was the final day for one of Clark County’s oldest businesses. The funeral of Almeta Egbert was the last service from the Gerth Funeral Home’s Wyaconda chapel. Owners Fritz and Janet Gerth announced that they were closing the chapel after 108 years of serving Wyaconda and had sold the building to Travis and Angie Allen, who are turning it into a restaurant.
Gerth Funeral Service will now operate from their Memphis facility, as well as conducting visitations and funerals from Wyaconda churches as well as gravesite services.
Fred Gerth Sr. opened Gerth’s in 1904 in Wyaconda, selling furniture, pianos and doing undertaking. At that time, there were many funeral home/furniture store combinations in the Midwest. The business grew as Gerth earned a reputation for providing a reliable service for a reliable price, something that was exemplified when he handled the funeral arrangements for Ella Ewing of Gorin, the Missouri Giantess, who died in 1913.
George V. Baskett, Fred Gerth’s brother-in-law, joined the firm in 1914 when a second location was opened in Gorin. Baskett took over the Wyaconda branch when Gerth & Baskett, as the firm was then called, purchased the John Mulch and Son funeral home in 1930 and the Fred Gerth family relocated to Memphis. At one time, the business operated funeral homes in Wyaconda, Gorin, Memphis, Rutledge, Bible Grove and Downing, a burial vault company in Jamesport, MO, and furniture stores in Wyaconda, Memphis, Shelbina and Paris, MO.
Baskett gained a reputation as a civic leader in Wyaconda and Clark County — serving as president of the People’s Bank of Wyaconda, founding the Wyaconda Alumni Association, becoming a 32nd Degree Mason, and an ordained Methodist minister who presided over 1,200 funeral services for Gerth & Baskett. He was also elected, without actively campaigning, to represent Clark County in the Missouri House of Representatives in the late 1940s.
Frederick Gerth Jr. inherited the business following Fred Gerth and George Baskett’s retirements in the 1960s. He then was succeeded by Fritz and Janet Gerth in 1993. The business ceased selling furniture at Wyaconda and was renamed Gerth Funeral Service. But a decrease in the population of Wyaconda and the Allen’s interested in the building led to the decision to close the Wyaconda Chapel after 108 years.
“It was a hard decision because of our family’s long history in Wyaconda. My great grandfather, William Gerth, settled at Etna when he emigrated to the United States from Prussia in the 1870s. We treasure the many relationships that we have had with our friends here,” said Fritz Gerth. “But we have spoken to many of them and assured them that Gerth Funeral Service will continue to serve them and their families from our Memphis chapel and visitations and services at the Wyaconda churches.”