Eulogy of Our Founder
Charles L. Verheyden 1889-1985
Given at Mr. Verhyden’s Funeral
By The Reverend Father Jack Burkhart
Charles L. Verheyden, who had lived and had established his business in this community for the past 51 years, was born in Grosse Pointe Township in 1889. He was baptized at St. Paul On The Lake and received his sacramental and educational training there. His formal schooling was through the sixth grade, or as Charlie would say more precisely, through 6B.
One of Mr. Verheyden’s employees of many years stated that Charles Verheyden had two great loves: his profession and horses. He strove for perfection in both and wanted to be the best in both.
When Charles Verheyden was only 10 years old, he went to New York to serve an apprenticeship under Frank E. Campbell, who at that time had probably the largest funeral home in the country. Returning to Detroit, he operated his first funeral business out of his home on Field Avenue, being only 20 years old. In 1910, he built a storefront funeral home on Mack Avenue near the old Eastern High School. The original building on Mack Avenue still shows the Verheyden name cut in stone on the façade. The business was moved to Grosse Ponte Park in 1942, where the Verheyden Funeral Home was opened at its present location. In 1951, the building was expanded and more than doubled in size.
Charles L. Verheyden had been in the business of providing funeral services for 76 years, and was very active in the decision making of his corporation until 1981, when he was 93 years old. Even after that, Charlie could frequently be seen in his wheel chair on the first floor of participating in the recitation of the rosary.
Other than his profession and business, he had a great love for horses. This goes back to his early childhood. His father’s business establishment was located directly across from a farm where trotting horses were bred and raised. Young Charlie would spend many hours there where a Japanese veterinarian befriended him and taught him much about the care of horses. It’s been told that as a boy of 12 or 13, he would go to the Saturday horse auction on state, buy a horse for a few dollars, bring it home and nurse it to good health, and then sell it a few weeks later for a modest profit, reinvesting the money to purchase a better horse. Horses, of course, were used in his business in the early days to pull the hearse and hacks, and one wonders if it was not that relationship that may have attracted him to the funeral director profession in the first place. Horses were an important part of his life. He rode in the hunt for 37 years and was still jumping fences astride a horse when he was 75 years old. Committed to the breeding of good horses, he established a horse-breeding farm in Florida in his later years. He was the oldest living member of the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club.
As far as Charles Verheyden the man, the person, – he may have been somewhat difficult to know. He certainly was an individual, firm in his convictions, on top of things as a businessman. But there was another side of him that was masked by his self-assuredness. He appeared to be hard on the surface, but had a soft heart. He sometimes had a hard time expressing his love. One of his associates described him as somewhat like a “godfather.” He wanted to guide you, give you direction.
A definite attribute that Mr. Verheyden had was the ability to gather around him dedicated and loyal employees: Clayton – 46 years; Joe – 43 years; Ernie and John – 36 years; Doug – 34 years; Bob – 32 years; and others over 10 and 20 years. Arnold Tognoli was his companion for the last five years and was dedicated to his care.
Charles Verheyden had various charitable and fraternal interests. Siena Heights College in Adrian gave an expression of their gratitude to him by awarding him an honorary doctorate degree. He served for years as President of the Michigan Mortuary Science Foundation and played a major role in the fostering of the Michigan College of Mortuary Science and of its transfer to the Wayne State School of Mortuary Science. For his concern and dedication, Wayne State University honored him with the honorary doctorate degree. The school library at St. Clare of Montefalco is dedicated in his honor. He was the last surviving founder of the Belgian-American Century Club, and was knighted by Belgium’s King Baudoin. Throughout his life he remained an active member of the local Belgian community and members of several Belgian clubs served as honorary pallbearers.
One of the memories of Charlie Verheyden is sitting in a wheel chair saying the rosary at a memorial service. When changes came in the church and a wake service sometimes replaced the rosary, Charlie would often approach the family after the priest left and offer to lead them in the rosary.
People can find a special message in his participation in the rosary. The rosary, after all, is not just the repetition of Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s. An integral part of it should focus on the mysteries of each decade. These mysteries focus on the joyful, glorious, and sorrowful events of Christ’s life. Life for a Christian is, after all, the walking along with Christ in these Christ events, and the reflecting of them in our own lives. As Christ in his humanity had his moments of joy, of glory, and of sorrow, so do we. That is what life is all about. When all is said and done, that is what the life of Charles Verheyden was all about. In his 96 years of life, he certainly had his agony in the Garden. He was called to carry his cross many times, and like Christ, occasionally fell under its weight and needed help in carrying it. As Christ died on the cross, there were little moments of death each day in Charlie’s life – moments of disappointment, of failure, of anger, of human weakness. As Christ hung dying on the cross his last words were those of forgiveness- the moment God forgives us of the sins of our life, the moment we reflect that forgiveness by forgiving the person who may have offended us in life, the moment we ask forgiveness of that person. As Christ rose from the dead in Resurrection, so did Charles Verheyden. He was called from this earthly, human, temporary life to eternal life. He, with Christ, has ascended to the gift of heaven life.
Ninety-six years ago, the gift of life was given to Charles Verheyden. Now he returns that life to God, and in the losing of human life, gains eternal life.
Charlie, may perpetual light shine upon you, and may your soul rest in eternal peace.