Our company began not as a funeral home but as a firm known as the Joe K. Willis Company, a local tombstone maker. The exact dates are unknown, but it began well before the turn of the century, more than 110 years ago, and has been in continuous operation since that time. The grandson of Joe K. Willis and Albert Willis, Jr. formed a partnership with Frank Ballard, and the business became known as Willis & Ballard Funeral Home. Albert Willis, Jr. went on to become a history teacher and never returned to work at his funeral home. He eventually sold his part of the company to his partner, Mr. Ballard.
Through the years, the funeral home changed owners again, with new partners Tommy Best and Bill Dowdy. These owners continued to operate under the name Willis & Ballard Funeral Home. During these years, the funeral home operated a public ambulance service along with its funeral home operations. Mr. Dowdy eventually sold his part of the partnership to Mr. Best. At this point in the funeral home’s history, it was relocated from what is now known as the Pugh Building in downtown New Bern to its current location at 2201 Neuse Boulevard. A while later, Russ Conner purchased part of the business and became a partner in the company.
In March 1970, the funeral home was sold to R.L. Cotten, Sr. and R.L. Cotten, Jr., and the name of the business was changed to Cotten Funeral Home. The Cottens actively operated the funeral home until September 1, 1978. At that time the business was sold to James Ray Odham, Sr., who had been a funeral director and embalmer of the funeral home for many years. In 1981, Eastern Carolina Crematory was added on-site at the funeral home. In the latter part of 1996, Mr. Odham’s son, Jimmy Odham, and wife Carolyn Odham became stockholders of Cotten Funeral Home. After 20 years of owning the funeral home, the Odhams merged the business with Keystone Group. In March 2010, Keystone Group merged with Service Corporation International.
Today, we’re proud to be a member of the Dignity Memorial® network of funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers. Dignity Memorial providers offer exclusive benefits, including National Transferability of Prearranged Services, the Bereavement Travel Program, the 24-Hour Compassion Helpline® and access to an acclaimed grief management library. As North America’s largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services, the Dignity Memorial brand is your assurance of quality, value, caring service and exceptional customer satisfaction.
After more than a century of service, the funeral home continues today to grow and bring quality service to New Bern and its surrounding areas.