When people enter a funeral home, they often feel one of two emotions: deep sadness or intense anger.
But no matter how they felt walking into Newcomer-Silverthorn Chapel on the Hill in Orfordville over the last 62 years, they always left feeling peaceful.
That was because longtime funeral director Thomas Newcomer knew how to help people, said Beverly Newcomer, his wife of 64 years.
Thomas died Saturday at age 84.
“Orfordville will never be the same,” his daughter Tracey Hoehl said.
Friends and family thought Thomas would be around forever, Beverly said.
He followed the same routine every morning: He woke up, read The Gazette and then headed to town to find someone to talk to, his wife said.
He and a handful of other men met nearly every day at the Footville Mini Mart to shoot the breeze.
Beverly can recall only three days in her 64-year marriage when Thomas stayed inside the house all day.
He never stopped moving, but he moved at his own pace, his family said. He never rushed anything, whether he was doing lawn work, chatting with friends, tinkering in the basement or repairing something at one of the rental properties he and Beverly own in Brodhead.
Thomas worked many jobs over his 84 years, but the funeral home—which he ran for 62 years—occupied the biggest space in his heart. In working there, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Dwight Newcomer, who was also a funeral director.
Thomas’ son Todd Newcomer will take over the funeral home.
“I felt Dad was an artist, and his father, they were artists in (preserving) bodies,” Tracey said. “The bodies always looked alive.”
Thomas felt strongly about his community. He and Beverly were the first emergency medical technicians in Orfordville and operated the village’s only ambulance service for years, Beverly said.
Funeral directors often worked other jobs to make ends meet in the 1950s. They typically were the only people in their communities who owned vehicles large enough to hold bodies, Beverly said.
The couple ran Newcomer Ambulance Service out of their home and station wagon. After the state enacted stricter mandates on ambulance services, the Newcomers helped create the Orfordville Fire Protection District’s EMS services, Beverly said.
“We have taken farmers to hospitals with arms and legs ripped off,” she said.
Thomas also served on the school board when Footville and Orfordville schools decided to form the Parkview School District, Beverly said.
Residents called Thomas at home at the time, angry and screaming about school board decisions. Thomas always listened and never got angry—that just wasn’t his style, his family said.
He taught his children to “never, ever say anything in the heat of the moment because you can never take it back,” Beverly said.
Thomas loved people and hated sitting still, his wife said. On a flight to Spain for a vacation, Thomas got up and talked to everyone on the plane until he knew each passenger personally.
Throughout their trip in Madrid, Thomas and Beverly ran into people Thomas had met on the plane. They all wanted to say hi to the “funeral director from Wisconsin.”
“He was an Energizer Bunny,” Beverly said. “He kept going early morning, late at night. Not at a fast speed but a perpetual motion.”