The s un rose and set at Palms Funeral Home for founder and owner Cortez “Matt” Preston Matheson, his kids Nancy Davis and Tommy Matheson said. That dedication remains as the siblings celebrate a half-century of serving the community.

Family describe Matt Matheson, the son of cotton and wheat farmers in Southwest Oklahoma, as a hard worker thrashing cotton on the farm. One day, while sweat dripped from his brow, young Matheson kept an eye on the dirt road that led to the farm. He saw “the funeral director driving a shiny car and wearing a crisp, clean suit,” and decided that was the kind of life he wanted to have, according to a history of Palms Funeral Home.

After serving in World War II, he attended mortuary school in Houston.

“He went to Dallas and it was full, so he came to Houston because they had openings in the class and that’s how he ended up in Houston,” Tommy Matheson said. “He finished mortuary school there and served his apprenticeship out in Houston at Fogel-West, which at that time was the largest funeral home in the Southwest. He went on to work for various funeral homes and then partnered with Jack Niday, which was one of his good friends, and they built their first funeral home in the early ’60s.”

Matt Matheson served as manager and then president for the funeral home for 30 years, driving back and forth daily from Danbury, where he and his wife, Billie Jean, and their growing children lives, Davis said.

“Dad’s dream ever since he started was to own a funeral home in a small town,” Davis said.

In 1972, with the help of Billie Jean’s boss, attorney Dave Evans, Matt Matheson bought the 2-acre lot at 2300 E. Mulberry St. in Angleton, where the funeral home still sits, Davis said.

“They had two huge date palm trees right in the front entrance, and that’s where Palms came from,” Davis said.

They broke ground for the business in August 1972 and had a grand opening four months later.

The business became a way of life and home for the entire family.

Although they had a house in Danbury, there were no phone extensions or pagers at the funeral home site in case of an emergency, so the Mathesons created a two-bedroom apartment in the back of the business.

Tommy Matheson was about 7 or 8 years old at the time and lived on-site with his parents, and Nancy, an eighth-grader, moved in with her grandmother, she said.

As the times changed, so did the business. After about five years of living in close quarters, the family moved back to Danbury and conducted business without interruption as phones became available in every home, Davis said.

But that didn’t lessen the amount of time and effort put into creating a successful business for the family, she said.

“I always tell people the only reason I was able to get a driver’s license was so I could run flowers on a funeral,” Davis said, laughing. “I ran flowers and then Tommy ran flowers and my husband, while we were dating throughout high school, he helped with an ambulance service too, because back then, the only places that had ambulances were funeral homes because they had cots.”

As a family of six, the brother and sister didn’t plan to make the business their own, it just kind of happened, they said.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Tommy Matheson said. “I started college right out of high school and went to Brazosport Junior College and I started flying. Dad didn’t like that at all. I was finishing up at Brazosport and my buddies were going to Southwest Texas and A&M. My objective was probably to go to one of those schools and finish up in mechanical engineering. Well, that summer, we had a long talk and I ended up in mortuary school. Two years later, I was licensed here.”

Tommy Matheson has been a funeral director for 35 years now.

Davis thought she had found a different path working in retail after her marriage in 1977. She had her daughter in March 1980, which changed her perspective, she said.

“I didn’t really want to go back into retail because it was just a lot of hours and weekends,” Davis said. “I was looking around and Daddy kept saying, ‘Why don’t you come over here and help your mom with the paperwork.’”

She declined at first, but then eight months later, Davis said her dad requested she help her mom with some tax preparation, so she brought her daughter with her to do the work.

“I am still here,” Davis said. “And it wasn’t an option. I mean, it wasn’t ‘Hey, would you like to come do this today?’ No, it was like, ‘We need some help with a service. I need you here at 10,’ but it was a lifestyle.”

Over time, the business passed through a few corporate ownerships until 2009, when the siblings and their spouses made the choice to buy it back. The funeral home underwent a big renovation in 2019 to adjust to the times, and business is as busy as ever, they said.

Another thing the siblings have chosen to do differently is to highly depend on their staff so the work doesn’t become overwhelming.

“They are not employees, they are our family,” Davis said. “They keep the ship rolling.”

There are two funeral directors, Brandi Zapalac and Tracy Loy, receptionist Angela Richardson, technology and maintenance assistant Austin Soloman and Danny Wisnosky, who has been with the business for 35 years.

The work is hard and there’s no way to not be affected by it, the siblings said.

“I don’t ever think it’s not hard. The day that it doesn’t affect you, you need to find something else,” Davis said. That’s part of it, but you have to look at it that you’re trying to heal people at the worst times of their lives and make things just a little easier. If you do that, you’re successful. But as far as morbid, no, scary, no. There’s nothing in here scary. The people we take care of are people’s loved ones.”

The family is thrilled to have celebrated 50 years of service, Davis said.

“It’s an honor and a privilege and we don’t take that for granted,” she said. “There’s other choices they can make, and the fact that they chose us, we don’t take that lightly. We appreciate it. That’s what it’s about … we’re grateful for 50 years.”

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