Muehlebach Funeral Home started with a good name and an innovative owner

Sixty-five years ago, Bud Harrington had a vision for the future of the funeral home business. It changed the industry.

Muehlebach Funeral Care Celebrates 65 Years in Kansas City

By Diane Euston

  In June 2019, Muehlebach Funeral Care at 6800 Troost Ave. celebrated 65 years of serving Kansas City. At the heart of its operation to this day are the values of a family-run business devoted to affordable options when families are in their darkest hours.

  The story of Muehlebach’s legacy is more than meets the eye. James V. “Bud” Harrington (1912-2002) is at the heart of this story. Born in Kansas City to parents Daniel Webster Harrington and Rosa Muehlebach, Bud had a vision for the future of the funeral home business. He worked in the 1940s as an automobile dealer. He later purchased small, old cemeteries in surrounding states and sold the lots. Once sold, he moved on and purchased another.  According to his son Jim, Bud had a knack for selling cemetery lots. In 1949, he helped Bishop O’Hara open the Catholic cemetery Mt. Olivet at Blue Ridge and Gregory by promising to sell a million dollars worth of lot sales. He succeeded. 

Bud Harrington

   Traveling out of town eventually got old. He missed seeing his five children. Bud shifted his interest to funeral arrangements in January 1954 when he broke ground on the funeral home across the street from Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery.

  But what should he name it? In Kansas City, the surname Muehlebach meant something. There was a brewery, a hotel and a baseball field all christened with this name. His own maternal grandfather, William Muehlebach (1860-1938) who was a distant relative to the more famous Muehlebach family, had made his way to Kansas City from Switzerland in 1880 and worked as a winemaker. He ran a saloon at 15thand Grand from 1880 to 1900 and then opened his final tavern at 41stand State Line that was in operation from 1900 to 1909. 

  Bud never knew his father Daniel Harrington who died when he was two years old. He decided to name his new business venture Muehlebach Funeral Home after his maternal ancestors. Opening in June 1954, Bud created the concept of “pre-need funeral planning” that was one of the first in the United States. Salesmen went knocking door to door selling funeral plans for $10 a month with a $10 down payment.  An innovation at the time, pre arrangements are now a well-known concept.

Muehlebach Funeral Home’s first ad announces its opening 65 years ago in the Kansas City Star. Photo courtesy Jim Harrington.

  Bud’s son, James S. Harrington joined the family-run business in 1963 and in 1977 became president when Bud decided to take a back seat. Bud went to Mass every day, was an avid golfer, and eventually helped develop Mt. Olivet Cemetery for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In 1995, Jim bought the business from his father.

  The time came to pass the torch along to someone else, and Steve and Nicole Pierce were the perfect candidates. In July 2003, they bought Muehlebach Funeral Home from Jim with the promise to keep the business local and family-owned. 

  Thousands of people have passed through the doors of Muehlebach over the past 65 years to pay their final respects to friends and family. Keeping the name “Muehlebach,” synonymous with Kansas City history, and upholding  the traditions that have been successful since 1954 is what sustains Muehlebach as one of the top funeral homes in the Kansas City area.

  Congratulations on 65 years of success!

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