This is a re-print of an article published in the May, 2012, Volume No. 52 edition in the Ridgerunner. Information for the Ridgerunner magazine can be found at www.zizzers.org
By Brooke Mayfield
Howell County community fixture Robertson-Drago Funeral Home has been in business since 1934. The business, originally started by Paige Robertson and Dorothy Drago Robertson, featured founders with early experience. They were both previously employed at McFarland Undertaking Company owned by Kitty McFarland. Paige worked as an embalmer and Dorothy as a dress maker. In 1928, the West Plains Dance Hall explosion caused one of the biggest amounts of casualties West Plains has ever seen. Along with two of Dorothy’s sisters, Kitty McFarland lost her life in the explosion.
The undertaking company then went to the hands of Kitty’s son, Jack. At this time Dorothy decided to go to school to become a licensed mortician and the couple stayed employed at McFarland’s. In 1934 Jack McFarland was called to the military, selling the building to Paige and Dorothy. This began Robertson Funeral Home. It was originally located on Court Square near the place of the current opera house. In 1940 they moved the business to its current one located on West Main Street. It was originally the residence of Judge W.N. Evans and has since then been built on to. After WWII George and Robert Drago, younger brothers of Dorothy, attended mortuary college in St. Louis, Missouri.
At Paige’s death in 1958, Robert Drago purchased part of the business and his wife Vivian began working at the funeral home as well. She was previously a school teacher and superintendent of the county’s schools. Two of their children, Charles and Marjorie, soon went to Dallas, Texas, to attend mortuary college. In 1980, while they were still in school, Robert passed away. Marjorie and Charles then returned to West Plains to help their mother with the business. Vivian retired in 1991 and Charles purchased the funeral home from his mother. That same year Vivian donated a building also located on West Main and funding to renovate said building to Missouri State University-West Plains. The building is now the current location of the V.H. Drago College Store, named in her honor.
In 1997 the addition of the crematory was added to the funeral home. They preform cremations for several surrounding funeral homes as well. That same year Howell Memorial Park Cemetery was purchased from Roy and Ola Mae Marshell. It’s a beautiful park located on Highway 63; the first burial dating back to 1959. Also in the area are about 75 rural cemeteries and Charles is an avid supporter in keeping these functional. To help support his own community, they offer free services to families suffering from the death of babies. There are also designated plots in Howell Memorial for veterans with free-of-charge grave space. It has already seen expansion.
The following years were both prosperous and difficult for Charles. In 2006 he purchased West Plains Vault Company and two years later added West Plains Monument to his list of responsibilities. Its origin dates back to the 1880’s being one of the oldest established business’ in West Plains. In 2009 the family suffered the loss of Marjorie and the following year, Vivian passed as well. Losing both of these women was tough for both the family and the business. Robertson-Drago has always had the special benefit of having a female embalmer on staff and luckily enough have found another. Elena Stewart is the current woman on staff. The funeral home has a strong family-type staff, having all worked together for at least 10 years.
They keep trying to better the experience for those who use Robertson- Drago. They now have an active website, robertsondrago.com, where you can see what they can do for you, and add even more customer service by adding videos of services that loved ones far away can not attend. Due to the heightening number of cremations, services can now be held at more convenient times for the family. In order to easier meet families’ needs, they have recently bought a chapel on Langston Street. This idea came about when Charles decided to keep and restore his mother’s home located near the chapel. He and his wife Pam are selling their home and moving in, to help keep historic West Plains alive.