The Simms Gundy Legacy
In 1838, Henry Sillis Sr. was brought to this country with his mother and sister. They were separated soon after arriving here, Henry was sold to a plantation in Virgina. Later, during his early life he remembered being sold to a plantation owner in Mississippi, where he became a freed man. It was from this plantation that he came to live in Rayville, LA. There was a need for a person to operate the newly owned gin and he came to the job.
It was here that he met and married a young woman, Falba, who had been brought to Rayville by the attending doctor, as a companion for his daughter. Prior to his marriage to Falba Sawyer, Henry Sills purchased his first piece of property, the present site of the Rayville Municipal Clerical Center. As his fmaily grew and his work expanded he was able to acquire additional property. He and Fabla were blessed with seven children , five daughters and two sons. There were no churches in the immediate vicinity for blacks. Although not a minister, he was a very religious man and took it upon himself with help from his family, began to construct the first black Baptist Church in Rayville. He built the church after work at nights as his wife, Falba held the lantern.
He is also credited with saving the lives of the town jail. According to the article, dated January 21, 1888: "....Henry Sills crawled under the jail and kept throwing water on the fire and others cut a hole in the wall on the east side of the jail and kept pouring water on the fire.... holding the fire in check."
Henry and Falba taught their children well and instilled in them the importance of an education, a sound work ethic, Christianity and the love and respect of all mankind. They worked hard for what they obtained and in all their endeavors tried to help someone else. They operated during their lifetime-a store, a cafe, a farm, a funeral home and eventually an insurance company. Two daughters became teachers for a short time, and one son a minister.
The Simms and Gundy Funeral Company Company, Inc., that bears the name of the youngest daughters, Olivia Sills Simms Cook, was established in a frame building erected on the family home site in 1929.
The late Madison S. Simms, realized that no professional service was of more importance to a community than that of a funeral director. Underlying their venture was their belief that funeral directing was a service for all people, the living and the dead. A profession that demanded natural aptitude as well as empathy and experience. They visioned the type of memorial service that could be rendered by their efforts, and succeeded in offering to the community a service of dignity, quietness and reverence. Mrs. Jessie Williams Gundy, granddaughter of Henry and Falba and the daughter of Joseph and and Bertha Sills Williams, as served as the Secretary-Treasurer since the Company's inception and the last surviving member of the original founding party to transition to heaven.
During the year 1936, C.S. Gundy who came to work for the firm in 1931, became a partner and was elected Vice-President. It was this year that the firm changed from Simms Funeral Home to the Simms and Gundy Funeral Company, Inc. Prior to the company becoming incorporated the late Jasper W. Williams, the grandson of Henry and Falba and brother of Mrs Jessie W. Gundy, joined the organization and served as Funeral Director and Mortician, Manger and later Vice President. William Sills Gundy Sr. joined the organization as Funeral Director in 1952. He was the great grandson of the Sills and son of Mr and Mrs. C.S. Gundy.
In 1948 a funeral home was also constructed in Tallulah, La. at 508 North Walnut Street. In 1936 the late Mrs. Falba "Joanne" Williams the great great grand daughter of the late Henry and Falba Sills came to work for the firm and served as its president until 2018.
The late Mrs. Marion "Wilma" Gundy Hill and Dorothy Gundy Washington the great granddaughters, of the late Henry and Falba Sills, the daughters of the late C. S. and Mrs. Jessie Williams Gundy also worked in the family business. Serving as Vice President from 1936 to 2013 Marion ......(bio) graduate of Rayville Colored High School
Officer Dorothy was added as an agent for the company in 1985. Dorothy was also raised in the family church, Macedonia Baptist Church in Rayville, LA, and attended school in Rayville, LA, graduating from Rayville Colored High School. After high school she obtained her BS Degree from Fisk University and obtained her M.Ed. from Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, LA in 1967. She was among the first Black students to graduate from NLU. She pursued other studies at Tuskegee Institute, Grambling State College, and Southern University. Dorothy was not only a Golden Life Member and Delta Dear of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. she was affiliated with numerous organizations but put her religious obligations to God first. She was a true pillar of the Morehouse Parish Community.
To continue giving better service and to serve their clients in a modern and up to date method of operation the Simms and Gundy Funeral Co. opened a branch office at 1407 Washington Street in Monroe, La. 1963. All licensed members of the company are members of the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association and officer and staff members of the company served at various levels of the Funeral Director Association. The company joined the National Funeral Director Association, Inc. in 1938 where Jessie Williams Gundy served on its Board of Directors and Mrs. Falba Williams served as Secretary of the State Association for nine years until her health failed.
The Simms and Gundy Funeral Company believed the fundamental purpose of the funeral and the most significant function of the Funeral Director is "Serving the Living".
St. Augustine said about 400 A.D: " The laying out of the body, the burial rites.. are more of a consolation to the living than of assistance to the dead."