REEDLEY – Dopkins Funeral Chapel, a long-time fixture in the community, recently sold to Dignity Memorial, a brand of funeral homes nested under funeral services provider Service Corporation International.
The sale, which was official at the end of June, marked the end of nearly 130 years of local ownership. Michael Franzen and his wife, Karen Franzen, who were co-owners of Dopkins since 2014, decided to sell the business so they can move out of the Central Valley to be closer to family.
“I’m excited that Dignity (Memorial) is the one we sold to and partnered with,” Michael Franzen said. “They’re a good company, and I really feel good about leaving it in their hands; our values will continue.”
Dignity Memorial has nearly 2,000 locations across the United States and Canada, but Brian Copner, the company’s market director for Central California, said everything that makes Dopkins a special community-based business will remain the same. He said Dignity Memorial always retains the “heritage names” of the funeral homes it purchases, and that those businesses just move under the Dignity Memorial umbrella.
“We would never want to remove those names and the faces of those organizations because of the goodwill that these people worked so hard to impart into a community,” Copner said.
PRESERVING THE DOPKINS MISSION
As of reporting, Dopkins Funeral Chapel staff have been transitioning over to the Dignity Memorial systems and engaging in their in-depth trainings. Copner said that although Dignity Memorial is now the owner, it’s more like they’re working “shoulder to shoulder” with the Franzens.
“(The Franzens) remain very active and we certainly want them to remain active and part of the business as long as they see fit,” Copner said. “They have given us the opportunity to be part of their family and we want to continue that relationship for as long as we possibly can.”
Franzen said the staff at Dopkins puts in all they can to support the families who need their services, and because Dignity Memorial is such a large company, it is able to offer the Dopkins staff additional support during busy times.
“Our heart really is just to take care of everybody,” he said.
Dignity Memorial will have a greater ability to serve the Dopkins community moving forward thanks to their resources and large network. Franzen said Dignity can offer free funeral services for firefighters and police officers and they have special services for veterans.
With locations all around the country and internationally, Dignity can also help with transportation of deceased family members and their connections “benefit families in getting their loved ones taken care of” from wherever they are, Franzen said.
“They’re actually able to do more than what we’ve done, which is a huge comfort to me knowing that they’re a good solid company, and Dopkins will be around for another 129 years just with that corporation behind us,” Franzen said.
Dopkins Funeral Chapel officially became a California business in 1895, but founder George Dopkins began working in mortuary services a few years prior. After moving around the country in his youth, George Dopkins eventually settled in Traver, an unincorporated community about 10 miles south of Reedley off Highway 99, and opened a furniture store with a business partner.
Franzen — who, having spent his whole life around Dopkins Funeral Chapel, loves researching and talking about its history — said George became interested in funeral services after building coffins for people in the community.
“There were very few, but he would make the coffins for (the furniture store), and he just got involved with the funeral service and decided he really liked that,” Franzen said.
George began running mortuary services out of the back of the furniture store offices before eventually splitting away from his partner and dedicating his time to the Dopkins Funeral Chapel business.
In 1920, he built the mortuary on J Street in Dinuba that is still in use today. The business eventually expanded to include locations in Reedley and Orosi as well.
Franzen said George died three years after he built the Dinuba chapel and left the business to his son, Joe Dopkins. Joe ran the business until his death in 1936, at which time he left it to his widow, Evelyn Dopkins Corr, who Franzen came to know well. “She was like grandma,” Franzen said.
Evelyn was believed to be the first woman to own and manage a funeral home in California, Franzen said. She had training from a business college and “was like a high society lady,” he said.
“She knew people and she knew business,” Franzen said. “She took over the business in the middle of the (Great) Depression, and she kept the doors open – her and Jesse Newman.”
The Franzens came into the business because Evelyn went to the same church as Michael Franzen’s father, Leroy Franzen. Michael Franzen said Evelyn sent his father to school and eventually made him the funeral chapel’s manager.
“In a sense, she didn’t adopt (Leroy), but she considered him part of her family,” Franzen said. “So when she passed, she left the business to my folks. … In a sense, it’s sort of a family tree, but not really. It was definitely a sense of family; she was family.”
Evelyn died in 1989 and Dopkins Funeral Chapel had been in the care of the Franzen family since then, prior to the sale to Dignity Memorial. Franzen said his wife, Karen, has been managing the funeral home since his father’s death in 2003, and they officially bought the business from his mother in 2014.
“It’s got a special place in my heart, the communities here, and the history that Dinuba and Reedley grew up with,” Franzen said. “It’s just a part of my life, and I’ve really appreciated all of that.”
Even as those local business ties fall away from Dopkins, the legacy will remain. Copner, whose own family has a history in the funeral services business, said his father went to mortuary college with Franzen’s father, and he is excited to have Dignity Memorial come together with Dopkins Funeral Chapel. He said “it kind of feels like we already have a kinship.”
“We just want to make sure we do well by those good people and continue to do goodwill in the community,” Copner said.