The over 100 year old family-owned and operated Donohue Funeral Home
was originally located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 54th and Market.
The business today has funeral homes in Newtown Square, West Chester,
Downingtown, Upper Darby and the newest location in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
When the grandsons of founder John P. Donohue discuss the business,
it is with a great deal of pride - with not only a sense of history,
but also the caring and integrity demonstrated for the past 110 years.
John P. Donohue and his brother, Nicholas C. Donohue, sons of immigrants
from the toplands of Upper Kilmurry Castleisland, County Kerry, Ireland,
who settled on South Randolph St., South Philadelphia, founded the business
together in 1898. Nicholas contracted tuberculosis while fighting for
the Philippine Independence in the Spanish American War. His brother,
John P., continued the fledging business. His funeral attire at the
turn of the century was always formal - cutaway coat, ascot, gray gloves
and a black silk top hat.
Today, John P.'s five grandsons, and 9 great-grandsons - all Donohue's
with the exception of Frank Huf, a son of John P.'s daughter - carry
on the tradition. Raymond F. Ret., John A., Terrence J. Sr. and Robert
J. Donohue and Francis J. Huf are active partners of the third generation
involved. The middle initials are almost a necessity.
All Five brothers in the second generation are now all deceased, but
9 fourth-generation brothers and cousins have entered the business;
James R., John J., Michael K., John R., Daniel F., Terrence J. Jr. and
James T. Donohue, Peter F. and James L. Huf. The Donohue family has
dozens of others, many of whom are in teaching or the health care industry.
John A. and the late Raymond F. Donohue, the oldest brothers in the business, talked
about the evolution of the funeral business and some of its milestones.
"I think the Irish always laid claim to this business because of
their sense of humor," John A. says. "That may sound macabre,
but the Irish accept death as an inevitability. You know, "She's
in a better place". Raymond, deemed the unofficial family historian,
proudly talks about the first motorized hearse in Philadelphia - "It
amazed me how my grandfather was able to move around the city before
he got this. In those days, burial was almost immediate because there
was no way of preserving bodies. The best they could do was rest them
on a slab of ice. My grandfather knew where every livery was in the
city. When someone died, he sent someone ahead, usually one of his kids,
to hire a horse and carriage to transport the body. Then he would take
the trolley to the person's house, bringing along his professional equipment.
He would dress the body and place into a casket, carry onto the hearse
and would be taken to the church or cemetery".
"In those days", Raymond explains, "Everything was handled
in the home. Today, of course, there are strict standards and procedures
to be followed in the preparation of a body for burial or cremation".
A test of the Donohue family's endurance came during the influenza pandemic
of 1918, which claimed thousands of lives in Philadelphia. "They
were dying so fast that we had caskets stacked up in the street,"
John A. says. "People were stealing them and burying their families
on their own." "Our grandfather was a pioneer, an Irish term
for someone who pledges not to touch alcohol. Nevertheless, he said,
John P. Donohue ordered each of his workers to take a shot of whiskey
before going out on a job." "He believed that alcohol was
something of a preventative against the virus - And not one of his employees
died from influenza", John A. stated.
Grandfather Donohue also had to be a public-relations specialist. He
belonged to 33 different organizations in the city. "People wanted
a friend, someone they felt they could trust, to do the burying. So
he had to meet a lot of people," Raymond said. "You have to
remember, there was no real advertising."
The first Donohue Funeral Home was on Market Street in Philadelphia.
In 1938, the family members opened the present location at 8401 West
Chester Pike (Corner Lynn Blvd.) Upper Darby, PA in what was their summer
home. In 1968, they closed the Philadelphia location.
The Donohue family expanded the business to Chester County in 1974,
when it purchased the Edward L. Towsend Funeral Home in Downingtown,
Pennsylvania. The funeral home had been in operation for over 40 years
before the Donohue family bought it. John and Terry said that the expansion
to Chester County was a natural tendency for the family. A majority
of the Donohue family was moving out to the Chester County suburbs ...
and even their Delaware County clients started heading west. "Many
families we served in Delaware County are now customers in Chester County,"
said Terry. The interesting thing has been the clientele. It's a mix
of town versus rural ... a real mirroring image of Chester County, he
Five Funeral Homes have been opened since the first over 100 Years ago,
located at 8401 West Chester Pike - Upper Darby, 3300 West Chester Pike
- Newtown Square, 1627 West Chester Pike - Westtown-West Chester, 43
West Lancaster Avenue - Downingtown, and 366 West Lancaster Avenue -
The Donohue Funeral Home handles about 700 services a year, from the
simplest funeral and burial to the most elaborate, custom-tailored services,
cremation services with no type of funeral service or again with a custom-tailored
service. There is great diversity in what services families choose for
there families needs. Personalizing the services to fit the lifestyle
and activities of one's life.
Cousin Terry Donohue, who runs the Westtown funeral home adds that funeral
today are much more a celebration of life than they once were. People
dress more casually, no longer sticking to traditional mourning colors
of black and purple. Many families chose to make collages of pictures,
use special music and poetry, golf clubs and other artifacts part of
a one-of-a kind viewing and service.
At one time, there was just a simple casket, a service and a burial.
Now, every detail can be customized, down to a special laser engraving
on the outside of the casket to commemorate the deceased's special interests:
a drawing of a fisherman and another of a golf club, a special design,
or maybe for an activity or organization once belonged for examples.
The decor in funeral homes used to be dark. But the atmosphere has become
lighter, airy, more home- like, a living room or family room setting,"said
A major part of the business is the pre-planned, pre-paid funeral. "People
can arrange their funeral and lock in a price that we will guarantee
not to change in the future, " John A. said. "It takes a lot
of pressure off the survivors and people know they will get exactly
what they wish." Terry Donohue calls this "a more intelligent
way to deal with the inevitable." Today, many nursing homes and
extended care facilities require funeral planning before someone becomes
With the funeral home and cemetery industry increasingly dominated by
national chains such as Service Corp. International and Carriage Inc.
a particular challenge for the Donohue family is to remain family-owned