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2023 People of the Year: Chris and Mary Beth Branson

2023 People of the Year: Chris and Mary Beth Branson

O’Reily-Branson Funeral Service & Crematory owners recognized as the heart of their community

By Sherri Coner

Though Chris and Mary Beth Branson, owners of O’Reily-Branson Funeral Service & Crematory, never talk about who they help or when they help, their huge hearts are noticed. 

Through the years, parishioners of St. Mark Catholic Church on the Southside have observed and appreciated this couple’s helping hands, especially since the church and the funeral home share a parking lot.

“One Sunday afternoon, they literally transformed the funeral home for our grandparent’s program,” said Ann Berkemeier, a 47-year member of St. Mark. “There has never been a time when Chris has not accommodated us. They are very giving people.”

Fellow longtime parishioner Christine Risch agrees.

“Just meeting them, you instantly feel that they love people, and they love helping people in any way they can,” Risch said of the Bransons.

Because church services and special functions can bring in a large crowd along with large services at the neighboring funeral home, lots of other neighbors might get a bit testy with one another.

But not these neighters.

Squabbles are not part of the relationship between parishioners and the Bransons.

Appreciation and friendship blossomed as a result of honest communication and open hearts.

That is exactly why Berkemeier nominated the Bransons as People of the Year, a year-end activity highlighted by The Southside Times when those in the community nominate others for the honor.

An early start to a lifetime commitment

When asked about his beginning in the funeral business, Branson said, “I was always interested in this service, even as a kid.” 

As a high school student, he went to work on weekends and during school breaks at a family friend’s funeral service.

Following high school graduation, Branson enrolled at Xavier University and then attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science. He also continued employment at Leppert Mortuary, the family friend’s business on the Northside of Indianapolis. 

“I stayed there 12 years,” said Branson, who was the general manager when he and his wife. Mary Beth made a big decision about their future.

Feeling ready to take a huge step onto a path of their own, the Bransons bought another family-owned business in 2007, Carlisle Funeral Service in Mooresville.

A decade later, they took another huge step and purchased the family-owned Daniel F. O’Riley Funeral Home on the Southside, which had served families since 1971.  

Service over self

With two active teenage sons, Benjamin and Buddy, Chris and Mary Beth manage to squeeze in time for community activities. Chris is a member of the Mooresville Kiwanis, St. Thomas More Knights of Columbus and is also a 4th Degree member of the Bishop Chatard Assembly Knights of Columbus.

But to balance time between community activities and two funeral services, Branson appreciates his life partner’s commitment to their family and both businesses.

“My wife is a huge asset,” he said. “She is hugely instrumental.”  

Along with being a devoted mom and assisting families in their time of loss, Mary Beth serves on the advisory board of United Way of Morgan County. She recently finished a three-year term on the school board at SS Francis & Clare Catholic School where their sons attended.

As a family the Bransons are members of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Mooresville where they also reside.

This work can definitely be hard on the heart.

“You have to believe in it,” Branson said. “You have to see the value in it.”

An evolving industry

Over the last decade or more, cremation has been a much more prevalent option for some families while others don’t always see value in planning any type of service.

“We have seen lots and lots of changes in our industry,” he said. “You have to give people what they want, what they need.”

There are times, however, when a family doesn’t know exactly what they want or need. Sitting quietly with them in comfort is always a perfect place to help them feel centered enough to make their decisions.

“The power of presence matters. Human contact matters,” Branson said.

Dedicated, industrious and professional staff in both locations add up to 180 years of experience in serving families.

“It’s a great group of people,” Branson said of the staff.

When they can get away – even for just a couple of hours – the Bransons often drive a few miles out of town to their paradise, a 32-acre farm where goats, mini donkeys and even a few chickens scramble in their direction as soon as they exit the car.

“All of our animals are very much pets,” Branson said with a laugh.

He and Mary Beth hope to someday build a home on the land.

But until then, driving out there to feed and water their pets, check on fencing and enjoy the quiet does wonders for the mind and heart.

“Your name and the level of service you provide is all you really have,” Branson said. “When it comes down to it, everything is about how you treat other people.” 

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