Knotts Funeral Home commemorates late founder with memorial celebration

Jun. 21, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Knotts Funeral Home is deviating from its typically somber role to throw a party in downtown Sanford Saturday, and anyone who wants to come is invited.

The celebration is in memory of the funeral home's founder, W.H. Knotts, who died in 2005. Lula Thomas, his daughter and current director of the funeral home, said this is the second in what she hopes will be a series of similar events every few years honoring her late father's memory and service to the community.

"It was more than a job for him," Thomas said. "He felt it was his calling to be a mortician. He helped a lot of people in their worst times."

In the interest of giving back, she said, admission to Saturday's event will be free, and there will also be free food and health screenings on site. Gospel choirs and mime teams will provide entertainment, bouncy castles will be set up for children, and all guests need to bring are lawn chairs and a good attitude, she said.

The gathering will last from 1-5 p.m. and will also feature booths from various local vendors, Thomas said, adding that many area businesses donated to benefit the event.

Sanford City Council Member Walter McNeil, who provides floral arrangements for the funeral home — which began in Sanford and has expanded to locations in Pittsboro, Siler City and Chapel Hill — said he remembers Knotts as simply a good man.

"He'd do anything he could to help anybody," McNeil said.

Knotts started his funeral home in downtown Sanford in 1957, but Thomas said his desire to serve people in their time of grief started well before then. His biography on the funeral home's website notes that he served in an Army morgue before returning home to Anson County to work as the area's first black mortician for several years. He then hitchhiked to Sanford in 1948 to find work at Anders Funeral Home. He then traveled north with his wife, Nettie, for a few years to find higher wages, although they returned to Sanford after a few years with enough saved up to buy the Anders Funeral Home, which he renamed Knotts Funeral Home.

But Thomas said his passion went back even further than his days as an Army medic or mortuary science student.

"He always wanted to be in the funeral home business," she said. "From the time he was a little kid, he'd bury the cats and dogs in the neighborhood."

Knotts Funeral home has always been at the same downtown location, 719 Wall St., Thomas said, even having been rebuilt there after a fire ravaged the structure years ago.