Company History

Berry  and Gardner –  Over  132 Years of Dedicated Service

funeral planning services In the mid 1800s, Frank Berry was a skilled and capable bricklayer. He helped build the Meridian City Hall, the courthouse which is presently in use, the old city and county jails and many other local business buildings. He also worked on the court house in Livingston, Ala. Unfortunately, while Berry was working on the three-story Citizens Bank Building the scaffolds collapsed and he fell to the ground, sustaining a permanent crippling injury to his right leg.

In 1882, he saw a need for a funeral home to give full-service to the black community. Prior to that time, black citizens had to go in and out of the back doors of white funeral homes with their loved ones. Thanks to Frank Berry, blacks could proudly use the front doors and get proper service. After Misissippi required a license to embalm, he became the first licensed black embalmer (copy of license #64 shown in gallery) and established the first black funeral home at 2513 Fifth Street in downtown Meridian, MS.

During the "Great Depression", Frank Berry served many families for little or no compensation. He provided many with money, food and free rent. He also provided a means for many students to attend school to further their education. In an era when racial harassment was prevalent, Berry also posted bond for many blacks who had been jailed.

An article printed in the Citizens of Color Newspaper Progress Report (1831 - 1962) by John Barksdale highlighted Berry & Gardner Funeral Home. In the publication, Barksdale cited an account of Berry and Gardner's interesting history.

In March of 1901, Henry Strayhorn, Sr., and Frank Berry, prominent Meridian brick layers, established Strayhorn & Berry Funeral Home, employing Reverend E.H. Gaston as manager. George Gardner, a blacksmith bought one-third ownership with Strayhorn and Berry, adding his name to the firm. It operated under the name of Strayhorn, Berry and Gardner until Strayhorn, Jr. went into business for himself. Up to that time, Berry served as president, Strayhorn as Treasurer and Gardner as Secretary. It was chartered under the firm name of Berry & Gardner upon Strayhorn's departure.

After several years of pioneering, Frank Berry took over management and served in this capacity until his death in 1940. This left his wife Lula Cotton Berry, Kate Gardner and daughter Naomi Louise Sims to run the business along with Saul Ruffin as manager and two young helpers Danny Earl Clay and Joe Raymond. 

George W. Sims, born in 1888, became a licensed embalmer in 1920. He married Naomi Berry and worked in many roles supporting the Berry & Gardner operations. His involvement in the business included embalming, funeral directing and working as the substitute preacher. Their marriage was blessed with two sons, George Frank Sims and Louis Berry Sims, and one daughter, Naomi Ruth Sims. They later divorced and he left Meridian to settle in Columbus, Miss., working at Sykes Funeral Home. After his son George Frank took over the day-to-day operation, he was asked to return to assist. George W. Sims remained active at Berry & Gardner until his death in 1983.

The funeral home continued to operate with Lula and daughter Naomi running the business. This became a very tough endeavor for two aging ladies to manage alone. George Frank had left Meridian to pursue a music career. As the eldest son and grandson of Frank Berry, his mother Naomi L. Sims asked him to return home to assist in running the funeral home, which he did in 1942.

George Frank Sims was an honor graduate of Washington University in St. Louis earning a degree in Mortuary Science. He was also a skilled musician specializing in the trumpet and played with Ringling Brothers’ Barnum & Bailey Circus. He played the jazz circuit in many local and famous national bands. The business outgrew the facility on 5th Street. George Frank Sims was a licensed mortician and shrewd businessman. His most brilliant foresight was to erect a state-of-the-art modern facility. The firm moved from the 5th Street address on August 17, 1957 into a new building at 1300 34th Ave. (now George F. Sims Ave.), the present location. In 1959, Kate Gardner, widow of George Gardner, sold her interest to George Frank Sims. With that event, it then became a one-family-owned business.

Berry & Gardner expanded operations to Quitman, MS. On September 18, 1972, construction on a new funeral home was begun at 305 Lynda St. This facility was completed in April, 1973. On May 10, 1973, this location had the grand opening with Charles Goodwin and Carl Jeff Brooks managing. This additional location provided the Quitman citizens and surrounding community the same convenient first class services offered at the Meridian Funeral Home.

Naomi Louise Sims died in 1978, leaving her shares to her three children, George Frank, Naomi Ruth and Louis Berry Sims. George Frank’s brother and sister lived out of town and were unable to actively participate in the operation of the business. Naomi Ruth’s son, George Henry Clay worked in the business with his Granddad, George W. Sims, assisting with general duties. His experiences while growing up in the business provided background and inspiration for a successful career in insurance.

George Frank’s health began to decline so he asked his stepson Robert Kennedy to move back to Meridian in 1979 from Los Angeles, CA to assist in the operation. George Frank died in 1986 leaving his spouse Ulpiana P. Sims his ownership. Ulpiana P. Sims acquired the remaining shares from Naomi Ruth Sims and Louis Berry Sims’ family, making her sole owner. She retired from teaching to devote full time time the funeral home operation.

Ulpiana Pacio Kennedy Sims served as President along with her son Robert Kennedy, General Manager and daughter, Esperanza Kennedy Sullins, Assistant Manager, step children of George Frank. Esperanza, earned a Funeral Service Degree from Delgado Community College in New Orleans and was licensed in Mortuary Science in 1991. She actively works in the business and her husband Palmer serves as a Board Advisor. Their son Jonathan actively works in the business as Management Assistant.

Over the history of the funeral home, many contributed to the success of the firm. They included Saul Ruffin, Gertrude Lucas Coleman-Churchman (granddaughter of Frank Berry), Joe Raymond, Danny Earl Clay, Ellis Washington, Rogers Reese, Reverend M.C. Thompson, Leon Drake, Jessie Sims, Bowen Gaddis, Geraldine Trotter, Charles Goodwin, Carl Jeff Brooks, Otis Bland, Barry Slay, Gordon Greenwood, Willie Wade, Keith Dean, Kenneth Jones, Tony Jennings, Edward E. Gibson, Margie Norman,  Sam Bell, and many others.

On August 4, 2010 at Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Hundred Black Women of Funeral Service inducted Berry and Gardner Funeral Home into the African American Funeral Home Hall of Fame and awarded an induction trophy. Berry and Gardner was also honored with a lead crystal trophy in recognition of being one of the oldest Black funeral homes in the nation.

On January 9, 2014, Ulpiana Pacio Sims made her transition to heaven. May she rest in peace. Her son, Robert Kennedy, Jr. assumed her position as President and CEO. 



 

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Berry And Gardner
1300 34th Ave., Meridian, MS 39301
6014858521

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Contact Information

Berry and Gardner Funeral Homes

1300 George F. Sims Ave.
Meridian, MS 39301

Phone: 601-485-8521 (24 hours)

305 Lynda St.
Quitman, MS 39355

Phone: 601-776-9286
Fax: 601-482-2842

Email: berrygardner@gmail.com

Office Hours of Operation:

Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

We accept Visa. We accept MasterCard. We accept AmericanExpress. We accept Discover.

 

 

 

Funerals and Events

 

- Meridian - 

Mr. Calvin Hampton - Services: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Battlefield, MS. Visitation: Tuesday, April 8, 2104 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Berry and Gardner Chapel. Burial: Mt. Battlefield Cemetery.

Mr. James White - Services: Friday, April 11, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. at New Life Independent Baptist Church. Visitation: Friday, April 11, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the church. Burial: Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Miss Mary E. Cole - Services: Friday, April 11, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. at West Mt. Mariah Baptist Church. Visitation: Thursday, April 10, 2014 at Berry and Gardner Chapel. Burial: Old West Mt. Mariah Cemetery.

Mrs. I.D. Brookshire - Services: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Elizabeth Baptist Church. Visitation: Friday, April 11, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Berry and Gardner Chapel. Burial: Sunset Cemetery.

Mrs. Florine Hand - Services: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. First United Baptist Church, Stonewall, MS. Visitation: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at the church from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Burial: East Cemetery.

Ms. Tammy Denise Armond - Services: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. at Sunlight Baptist Church. Visitation: Friday, April 11, 2014 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Berry and Gardner Chapel. Burial: Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Toomsuba, MS.

Ms. Marsha Johnson - Services: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. at Berry and Gardner Chapel. Visitation: April 11, 2014 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Berry and Gardner Chapel. Burial: Sunset Cemetery. 

Mrs. Maggie D. Williams - Services: Saturday, April 12, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. at 31st Stree Baptist Church; Visitation: Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the church. Burial: Meridian Memorial Park.

Mr. John Davis "JD" Brown - Services: Incomplete

Mrs. Annie R. Gilson - Services: Incomplete

Mr. Calvin Harris - Services: Incomplete

Mr. Louis Hollingsworth - Services: Incomplete

Mr. Freeman Middlebrook - Services: Incomplete

                                     - Quitman -

 Mr. Henderson Lewis - Services: Incomplete