By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Nearly three decades ago West Baltimore native Vaughn C. Greene established Vaughn Greene Funeral Services. The year was 1996. What started out as one location on the 5100 block of Baltimore National Pike has grown to six company locations— four in the Baltimore area and two in Philadelphia, Pa.
Greene began his journey in the funeral industry at age 15 after getting a job at James A. Morton and Sons Funeral Homes. He started with odd jobs around the property: washing cars, mowing lawns and eventually, managing the organization.
“Even when I got into funeral service as a teenager, I knew ultimately, my desire was to be self-employed one day. I wanted to be my own boss,” said Greene.
That day arrived when Greene discovered a building for sale that was previously managed by a White-owned funeral home. He knew the African-American residents in Baltimore County were in need of local funeral services.
After James A. Morton rejected his business proposal, Greene decided it was time to step out on his own.
“In 1996, I located a building that was on the Baltimore City/County line. At that particular time, most of the minority funeral homes were located in Baltimore City. There was not a minority funeral home providing services for minorities who lived in Baltimore County,” said Greene.“I knew in my spirit that
[opening a funeral home
] there was a concept that would work.”
He applied to Provident Bank three times before his proposal was accepted and he was approved for a business loan.
“If you’re committed to the cause, and if God has gifted you to do something, you have to believe in yourself even if people don’t believe in you. We were turned down three times, but ultimately, Provident Bank accepted us on the fourth try, and we never looked back,” said Greene.
Today, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services ministers between 1,200 and 1,300 families annually. In the course of its history, according to Greene, it’s served nearly 20,000 families.
“I’m proud of how much we’ve grown. You don’t do that type of volume unless the community has accepted and supported you,” said Greene.
He runs the company alongside his daughter, Brittney. She officially joined the family business in 2012 although she grew up helping her father around the grounds.
“I’ll be honest, funeral service was never a career that I dreamed about my entire life,” said Brittney, vice president of operations for Vaughn Greene Funeral Services. “I graduated from New York University with a degree in communications and marketing, and I fell into this vocation because I fell in love with serving and uplifting God’s people.”
Greene said initially he did not want Brittany to pursue funeral service because of the industries’ unpredictable and long hours. Once he witnessed her passion and commitment for the vocation, he was overjoyed with her decision.
“I’ve put at least 26 years into this company. Knowing that this work is not going to disappear and that there’s going to be a legacy that moves this work into the next generation— even after I’m gone— is overly encouraging,” said. Greene. “I’m blown away by how committed and how passionate she is.”
Brittney was instrumental in navigating the company through the COVID-19 pandemic. She said it was the most challenging time in her career so far.
At one point, funeral services were limited to 10 people. In turn, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services began offering Zoom funerals and remote alternatives to repast.
“We had to find ways to make connections with families
] the restrictions that were in place,” said Brittney. “Those compromises—while I know they took a toll on the grieving families— really took a toll on those of us that are really called to provide comfort. Our normal day-to-day processes were no longer, and as frontline workers, we really felt how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting communities of color.”
The pandemic’s impact on employees’ mental well-being ultimately led Vaughn Greene Funeral Services to create a mental health program. The company also offered the program’s resources to the families it serves.
Currently, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services is in the process of constructing and opening a crematorium at the Northeast Baltimore location on York Road.
“For the most part, if you are a minority funeral director in Baltimore and a family wants cremation, you have to outsource it. If we have a crematorium house, that family member is 24/7 in our care,” said Vaughn C. Greene. “The goal is to continue to prepare to be able to meet the needs of a constantly changing service model for consumers.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.