History & Staff
We have years of experience caring for families, from all walks of life. Each family comes to us because they know we are leaders in our profession, dedicated to excellence in service, and have the highest integrity.
ARNETT & STEELE FUNERAL HOME, INC.
A COMPLETE HISTORY Just after the Civil War, the Pine Mountain Coal Company was formed around the more than one hundred year old Cumberland Ford community. This area was one of the most heavily traveled gateways for the westward expansion of our country through the nearby Cumberland Gap, an easier route for passage through the Appalachian Mountains. Not long after, some of the first coal and lumber booms were underway, a city was formally organized and a name was officially given to Pineville.
One of the founding fathers of this new city was a local businessman named Thomas Jefferson Hoskins. Mr. Hoskins, who was also known as T.J., and called Jeff by his friends, was instrumental in the organization of Pineville. Serving as our first mayor in 1890 after the city council unanimously appointed him a year after Pineville's incorporation, he also started the fire department here, where he was named the fire chief. While fulfilling all of these civic duties, Mr. Hoskins was also running his general merchandise and undertaking establishment on Main Street that he had begun in 1867, while Bell County was being formed from Knox and Harlan Counties. He served the local communities and camps offering anything and everything westward travelers and new settlers needed, including dry goods, furniture, and undertaking services, with the exception of tobacco and firearms for which he had no tolerance of either.
In the years following, as Mr. Hoskins was serving the area in his many roles, a young N.T. Arnett from the Balkan community of Bell County was a new resident of nearby Wasioto, Kentucky, a small lumber mill community just outside of Pineville. Nate, as his friends and family called him, worked for the T.J. Asher & Sons Company at their lumber mill's company store and offices. While working here, Mr. Arnett was able to develop his business skills and personal inspiration in what was quickly becoming one of the largest and most successful natural resources operations in Kentucky history.
Around the turn of the century, N.T. Arnett had married and moved into Pineville, where he and a Mr. Brownlee joined together to form the Brownlee and Arnett Company. But being an enterprising young man with his first child on the way, N.T. soon decided that he really wanted his own business and dissolved the partnership. Mr. Brownlee left the area and went on to his own successes in Florida, while N.T. stayed in a quickly growing Pineville and purchased all the business interests of Mr. T.J. Hoskins, who now was ready to retire, and formed the N.T. Arnett Company in 1902. In this store, located on Kentucky Avenue between Cherry and Pine Streets, he sold clothing, general merchandise, and coffins.
As the coal and lumber industries were thriving in Bell County, N.T. recognized the need of the miners and lumber men who wanted good value for their money, so be began carrying a higher quality of work clothing and other dry goods. As his business flourished, he quickly began adding variety to the dry goods and merchandise he carried, such as hardware, mine and mill supplies, washing machines, Edison Victrolas and soon, a new invention, called the radio.
Again, with N.T.'s desire to serve and be successful, he also recognized the growing need for a more dedicated undertaking establishment in the area, and in 1907 he attended and graduated from the Cincinnati College of Embalming. He was one of the first licensed Embalmers and Funeral Directors in the area and when folks found out what all he was able to provide in a time a need, he became a very busy young man. His daughter, Effie, recalled her father during this period, "Popa was always going when I was a little girl!" As transportation was still difficult in the mountains, her father would take all of his undertaking equipment and a casket to the Pineville Depot and hop the next train to the different areas of Bell County to do embalming in the home and plan for the funeral and burials for families that had sent word that his services were wanted.
After a few short years as the areas natural resources continued booming, N.T. built a two story building on the site of 119 Pine Street in 1913, which would be the address the company would call home until 1993. As transportation evolved, more and more local folks were able to come into town on a regular basis. The company prospered to the point that N.T. was able to add a third floor to the building just a few years later, and even installed the first passenger elevator in Pineville making it easier for customers to shop all the wares he had to offer. As the customer base for the clothing, dry goods, and hardware business grew, shoe and toy departments were also added, as well as the newest in electrical appliances, and even began employing full time repair and service men. It was also around this time of improving technologies in all aspects of mountain life, that Mr. Arnett purchased the first motorized funeral coach in Bell County in the mid "teens," which was shipped from Cincinnati by rail to Pineville. Now, the need for the embalmer to always go to the isolated area to do their work began to decline, as they could go to the place of death and bring loved ones back to the funeral home for embalming and preparation for the funeral. Soon, N.T. had added a completely modern embalming room in the building, and employed his first full time licensed funeral director and embalmer dedicated only to the always growing undertaking company, Mr. Charles Brown, who became a very active member of the community.
The roaring 1920's saw N.T.’s son, Asher Arnett, join his father in the company, attending embalming school in Cincinnati as well. They changed the funeral home name to N.T. Arnett and Son Funeral Directors, and were now offering ambulance services to the area. Asher, along with partners including Dude Partin, began concentrating more and more on the funeral and furniture businesses only. Part of the third floor became a casket and coffin selection area, with state rooms offered on the second floor for families that were now beginning to get away from the traditions of funerals being held in their homes, which could sometimes last for several days.
In 1953, the Arnetts hired a young, licensed embalmer and funeral director, Robert "Bob" Walden, a Pineville native, who wanted to return home after working in the Ashland, KY area after his service in World War II and then attending embalming school in Louisville. Bob brought many new innovative ideas in the funeral profession with him when he returned home to Pineville, which were quickly included in the services offered by the Arnett family. Asher and Bob, who had become quick friends that complimented each other well in the business, seemed prepared when the death of N.T. Arnett occurred in December of 1956, and Bob Walden was made a full partner in the funeral home soon after. The funeral home was its own company by now, and simply called Arnett Funeral Home, having separated from the furniture and appliance store, which was now Arnett & Combs Furniture and housed in another location in Pineville. The other areas of N.T.'s companies had also merged or sold to other interests over time, as well. Miss Effie Arnett, N.T.’s daughter, who had always assisted around the funeral home, was also a school teacher and then Principal of the Pineville Schools, serving the youth in the area for more than forty years. Miss Effie continued her affiliation with her fathers business after the death of her brother, Asher, in 1973 as a partner with Mr. Walden.
With exciting new funeral home innovations being scarce throughout most of the 1960's and 1970's, and being one of the very few still remaining storefront funeral home locations left in the country, the 1980's saw the funeral home begin experiencing decline for the first time in its now well more than one hundred year history. Funeral home owned ambulance services were shutting down due to tightening and expensive federal regulations, which meant the funeral home also had to phase out a long standing service they had offered to Bell County. Ready to slow down themselves, in 1984, Bob Walden and Effie Arnett decided they were ready to retire and passed the funeral home on to other partners that oversaw day to day operations of the funeral home for them. Then, in 1987, Julius M. "Jay" Steele, Jr. and his wife, Mary Flynn Steele, looking for work in the funeral profession, found an opening for a full time embalmer and moved to Pineville to work for the Arnett Funeral Home. Very soon it was apparent something special was about to unfold for them, as they were asked to purchase the funeral home from all the remaining partners. On January 1, 1988, Jay and Mary completed the purchase of the funeral home, which was the realization of a dream that Jay had had since he was a small child growing up in and around the funeral profession in Hazard, Kentucky.
The Steeles, who realized that the funeral home had been declining in business for several years by this time, saw that the funeral home simply needed to be brought up to date in many areas, as well as become prepared for the nearing twenty-first century, set about making plans for immediate improvements of the funeral home. They soon began negotiations with the owners of the neighboring building to merge the first floor area with the funeral home building. In May, 1989, the beginning of their plans for improvement began when they opened the first ground floor funeral chapel in the history of the funeral home. It was at this time, with the encouragement of many community members, the Steeles added their name to the funeral home, now called Arnett & Steele Funeral Home. The Steeles, although pleased with the improvements they had quickly made, continued to dream about the possibility of building a brand new building for the funeral home, and Mary, who had worked as a registered nurse, decided that she was going to completely dedicate her professional career to the funeral service in Bell County, attended embalming school in Louisville, becoming the first licensed female embalmer in the area.
In 1991, Jay and Mary Steele were fortunate enough to be able to purchase the Abe Euster home located on the corner of Cherry Street and Virginia Avenue in Pineville. The old home, which had fallen into such disrepair, had to be demolished, thus beginning the plans to complete their desire to build a funeral home in Pineville. For the next two years, they toured every funeral home being built within a three hundred mile radius, and consulted with local ministers, families served, and friends about what they wanted in a new funeral home. After almost two and a half years, construction began on the first building built in Bell County, designed for sole use as a funeral home. It is difficult to say who was more excited, the Steeles or the community.
During the four month construction period, members of the community let the Steeles know how excited they were about the new building by stopping by to observe the different phases of construction and to offer encouragement, comments, and suggestions, all of which were considered during the completion of the process. On December 5, 1993, the dream came true and the Arnett & Steele Funeral Home was officially welcomed into their new location dedicating the name of the new home as "Bell County Memorial Chapel", closing a long chapter of history in the old store front building on Pine Street. An open house was held on a very wet, rainy, and cold Sunday afternoon where over five hundred (500) people toured the new funeral home on a day when many in the county were under flood warnings. Even Miss Effie Arnett, who was a little skeptical about the funeral home leaving her father's old location, was guiding tours by the end of that day! Everyone was excited and pleased with the commitment and dedication made to the local communities once again, by what was now the oldest continually operated business in the area.
The Steeles, much like N.T. Arnett, were always going. They have been very involved in the communities of Bell County, serving many organizations in the area since beginning their service at the funeral home, all while raising their two children, Jason and Margaret. The 1990's also saw technology in the funeral profession on the upswing again and Jay and Mary were continually looking for the very best in services they could provide for families being served at the funeral home, adding things like the first obituary news line in Bell County, which would receive 800-900 calls a day sometimes! In 1996, for the first time Arnett & Steele participated in the National Funeral Directors Associations (NFDA) Pursuit of Excellence and was awarded their first Eagle Award, earning this distinguished certification every year since. The funeral home also participates in the NFDA’s Consumer Assurance Program.
Jay and Mary were pleased in June, 1997 to assist their son, Jason Steele, with the registration of his apprenticeship for Funeral Director and Embalmer. He attended embalming school in the following year and returned home in the fall of 1999, serving the families of Bell County, and becoming active with many organizations, just like his parents were. With a focus of continuing education now being at the forefront for funeral service providers, in September 1997, both Mary and Jay Steele were thrilled to earn the final credits to be Certified Funeral Service Practitioners. Jason Steele followed suit, soon earning the distinction in 2000. This designation is given to individuals that are willing to exceed their state requirements for continued education, in their pursuit for funeral service excellence. The funeral home experienced the loss of Miss Effie Arnett in 2000, and then Bob Walden in 2003, who even though both had long retired, had remained active and proud of all of the progress the funeral home was making.
The twenty first century was here, and the Arnett & Steele Funeral Home had been experiencing growth once again, for which the Steele family was honored to be called on by families, friends, and neighbors from across the entire county in times of need. The growth also meant the funeral home itself was ready to expand again. It was around this time that the former Foley Motor Company building, located directly across the street from the funeral home, became available. The Steele family acquired the historic building, allowing the funeral home to consolidate its garages and storage needs under one roof now. The building seemed a prefect addition, also allowing the current casket selection area in the funeral home to now become a dedicated chapel, while renovations to the Foley building provided the funeral home the ability to add the areas first Memorial Planning Center. With this addition, the families the funeral home was serving had many more options in memorialization of their loved ones, offering the newest state of the art casket selection area providing more casket options, a new completely separate cremation selection area was also part of this addition, as families in the region were beginning to explore new options offered by this type of services as well, and a complete grief support lending library all paired with a relaxed, home-like atmosphere.
The world wide web was rapidly taking shape and the funeral home was exploring this fascinating tide by starting its first website, which has seen many, many changes in a short period of time, just like the internet has! Jason Steele, while watching the trends and traditions his parents taught him changing in big ways as well, noticed the rise in the number of families across the region choosing cremations over more traditional burials that the funeral home had provided for so many decades. Jason presented the observations to his parents, and they all began talking with other funeral homes in the region about what they were experiencing in traditions changing, and found that they were seeing the same trends, also. In the spring of 2005, the funeral home opened the first crematory in the region, assuring the Bell County families that were now choosing cremation services, that their loved ones would never leave the direct care of the now named, Arnett & Steele Funeral Home and Cremation Center. The Steeles also opened their cremation services to the other funeral homes across the region, giving their colleagues and the families they serve a centrally located place for cremations without having to leave the area.
In 2006, the Arnett & Steele Funeral Home and Cremation Center became the first, and only funeral home in Kentucky to have the distinction of induction to the National Funeral Directors Association's Hall of Excellence. Mary Steele had also become very active in the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky and had started to work towards becoming a member of that board. Jay, always active, was serving on many local boards concentrating on building a better Bell County, and Jason was staying close to the funeral home and raising his daughter Vian, who was born in 2004, had begun working with a newly formed Main Street Pineville, whose focus is to revitalize a waning downtown Pineville.
As the natural resources the area had always been able to depend on for keeping the local economy stable began to substantially falter for the first time in 2008, the entire area was feeling the financial impact of coal and lumber jobs leaving Bell County or completely vanishing. The funeral home, which was feeling this impact also, continued to strive to offer more economic funeral services for friends and neighbors that were out of work for the first time in their lives.
The funeral home also saw changes with its employees taking place for the first time in more than 30 years. Jay Steele, ran for, and was elected Bell County Coroner in 2010 and again in 2014, but continues his role at the funeral home to this day. Mary Steele became the first women in the history of the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky to serve as President, completing her term in 2013. The retirement was announced of long time coworker, Grover Brock, who had begun his full time service to the funeral home after the local favorite, P&G Market closed following the 1977 Flood, and soon Terrell Gibson announced his retirement, who had begun his service in 1996 with Arnett & Steele, but had spent many years working with other funeral homes in the area prior to that, after leaving work in coal mining during the 1970's.
As the Arnett & Steele Funeral Home and Cremation Center, Bell County Memorial Chapel celebrates 150 years of service to the Bell County communities and approaches its second century of service to the families of Bell County, it promises it will continue to set trends in the funeral service industry in our area by innovatively and professionally serving and caring for the families they serve.
Our Valued Staff
Jay Steele, President, Funeral Director, Embalmer, Cremationist
Jay Steele, a 1974 graduate of Kentucky School of Mortuary Science is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Kentucky and Tennessee. He is originally from Hazard, Kentucky. His wife, Mary, a registered nurse and a licensed funeral director and embalmer are honored to be owners of the funeral home and be able to serve the families of Bell County. They have two children, Jason, who works with them in the funeral home and Margaret, a forensic chemist and biologist and a granddaughter, Vian.
Jay, Mary and Jason are all Certified Funeral Service Practitioners and Mary was the recipient of the National Funeral Directors Association's 2007 Initiative Award which is given each year to a woman who has shown outstanding contributions to funeral service.
Grover Brock, Associate
Grover Brock has worked at Arnett &Steele Funeral Home since 1988, he began his career at the funeral home in 1977 under the direction of Asher Arnett and Bob Walden.
Grover is semi-retired and still enjoys working with all the families that he has served since 1977.
John Vancleave, Funeral Director
John is a Licensed Funeral Director and has worked at Arnett &Steele Funeral home since 2005. He is married to Belinda.
Jason M. Steele, Funeral Director, Embalmer, Cremationist
Jason Steele is the son of Jay and Mary. He has worked at Arnett and Steele Funeral Home since 1995 in many capacities. He has a daughter, Vian.
Margie Miracle, Assistant
Margie Miracle has been an associate of Arnett & Steele Funeral Home since 2013. She assists in the office and answering the phones. Margie greets people as they enter the funeral home.
She is married to Larry and has two children.
Mary Flynn Steele, Funeral Director and Embalmer, Cremationist
Mary Flynn Steele has worked with Arnett & Steele Funeral Home since 1987 and had been a Licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer since 1991. She meets with families to help them select the arrangements they need for services to their loved ones. Mary is a Certified Preneed Counselor to assist families when they want to pre-arrange their services. Mary is also a Certified Crematory Operator.
Mary served as the first woman president of the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky in 2012.
She is an active member of the International Order of the Golden Rule and serves on several committees for them including Finance and Strategic Planning.
Mary has been married to Jay Steele since 1977 and they have two children, Jason, who works in the funeral home with her and Margaret, who is a Forensic Toxicologist with the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory in Baton Rouge, LA. Jay and Mary have one granddaughter, Vian.
Donald Horton, Funeral Director and Embalmer Apprentice
Donald Horton is a Level II Apprentice Funeral Director and Embalmer with Arnett & Steele Funeral Home. He is helping to assist families as they make funeral arrangements and he is also assisting with visitations and funerals.
He is married to Angie Horton, has a daughter, Brittney.
Gerald Baker, Associate Funeral Director
Gerald Baker is an Associate at Arnett & Steele Funeral Home. He is married to Mitzy Grubbs Baker and they have a daughter, Riley. Gerald assists with visitation and funerals.