O'Keefe Family Business Marks Anniversary - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

08/11/05

O'Keefe Family Business Marks Anniversary

Five generations of O'Keefe's have helped thousands of families during their time of need. The O'Keefe family is celebrating 140 years in the funeral business. And the story begins in Ireland.

Edward O'Keefe immigrated to America from Tipperary County, Ireland in 1859. He opened a boarding house and livery business in Ocean Springs. That humble beginning launched a family and business success story.

"This business began after the civil war. My great grandfather came over as a farmer from Ireland," said Jerry O'Keefe, as he looked at an old photograph. "He started this livery and undertaking business. And that's been in the family now for five generations. So, we're here to stay."

Horse drawn hearses carried the deceased during the early days. The livery service proved an easy transition into undertaking.

"And this is my Aunt Mary here," said O'Keefe, pointing to another photo, "And she's the one after whom the Ocean Springs school is named after, the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center," he explained.

The familiar O'Keefe in Ocean Springs has long been a landmark. But hard times took the homestead away during the Great Depression. The family bought it back, 48 years later.

"My older sister and I were determined we were going to get it back. We didn't know if it would ever happen. But eventually it did. But it took a long time. Almost half a century," said O'Keefe.

An old wooden wagon tongue comes with a story. A horse drawn hearse was hit by a train near Marshall Park. The accident destroyed the hearse and stunned both horses and driver.

"When the wagon had been destroyed behind him, he was running down Washington Street with the reins of horses trying to stop them," said O'Keefe.

A restored hearse gave Jeffrey O'Keefe some anxious moments. He and the owner of a team of Belgian horses rode the rig in a 1699 parade.

"Bridles and all got caught in the wagon tongue at one point and it became interesting for a moment. So, I was glad to have him with me. But he got them all calmed down," said Jeffrey O'Keefe.

By Steve Phillips

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