Cecil Rodgers, 74, of Alvarado, passed away Jan. 6. Friday morning found him resting in a coffin inside a U-Haul truck parked in the driveway of his family’s home awaiting a trip to Cleburne for burial later the same day.
Explanations of how that came to be differ between a family member and the owner of an Alvarado funeral home.
Annette Rodgers, Rodgers’ daughter-in-law, said Clayton Kay Vaughn Funeral Home in Alvarado asked the family to retrieve Rodgers’ body on Thursday because they did not have the funds to pay.
Anna Lax, owner of the funeral home, said the family was not upfront about their financial situation with her even after she worked with them and discounted prices.
Rodgers said that, because the family didn’t have the $8,000 to pay for funeral services, the funeral home asked them to pick up Rodgers’ body. Which they did, picking Rodgers up in a U-Haul truck at about 5 p.m. Thursday.
Rodgers said the funeral home required them to have a police escort out of the building.
“We had an escort from two Alvarado policemen,” Rodgers said. “The police met us there. I’ve never heard of anything like this. It just blows my mind. I don’t know how they could have the heart to do this, no telling how many others this has happened to.”
Rodgers, on Friday morning, said the family made arrangements with a funeral home in Hillsboro to handle the burial, which took place about noon in a cemetery near Cleburne.
Lax said several family members were very considerate, but that others “verbally assaulted her” and were not forthcoming concerning their financial situation.
“We picked Mr. Rodgers up [Jan. 6] at his home and I invited the family, three daughters and a son, in the next day to discuss arrangements,” Lax said.
Lax said the family told her they didn’t have much money, but said their father had an insurance policy, which could cover funeral service costs. Lax said she was never able to verify the existence of the policy.
Lax said she discussed cremation or putting the family in touch with County Judge Roger Harmon’s office to discuss indigent burial arrangements, neither of which the family wanted.
Nonetheless, Lax said she worked with the family, discounting a $2,100 casket by $995 and discounting roughly $7,000 worth of services to about $5,000.
Family members signed a contract for services at those prices and told Lax they would get a loan from a relative who works in the oil field industry to pay for it, Lax said.
Lax said she worked with the family and did not force them to buy anything.
A service was held for Rodgers on Jan. 10, Lax said.
Lax said she treated the family with dignity and respect, provided music, coffee and cookies and let them use an adjacent building she recently purchased and renovated for such use after the service.
Heavy rain on the day of the service ruled out grave side services and burial. At that point Lax said some family members “became nasty about things.”
Family members asked if it would cost extra to bury Rodgers later, to which Lax answered no.
The gravedigger’s fee — an independent contractor who does not work for the funeral home — is $850, Lax said.
Lax said she the family gave her $300 and asked if she would give it to the gravedigger and take it off of her fee, which she declined to do.
Lax said some members of the family called and said she was taking advantage of them. Lax, however, said she was the one taken advantage of as the family paid no money and that she ended up paying for the arrangements, funeral and service.
Lax said she also denied the family’s request to pay their bill over time after she already discounted services because she didn’t want to deal with the potential problems of having to collect.
Lax said, after family members told her about farm equipment Rodgers had owned, she offered to possibly take some of that as payment.
“I’ve actually done that before,” Lax said. “If I can sell the item to get money. Even then, if it sells for more than the fee, I would return any money over and above. I can’t really think of another funeral home that would consider a hay truck as payment, but they never brought anything by.”
Rodgers said Lax said she called and left messages with two of the relatives concerning the rain delay on burial, but said the relatives told her they never received any such messages. Lax said she talked with family members several times.
Lax said family members contacted Alvarado police alleging a pricing dispute and the police subsequently called her. Lax said she asked the police to come to the funeral home and remained past closing time to meet with the family.
Lax said family members signed a waiver releasing the body to their custody and went on their way.
Two family members signed the waiver on Thursday, which is also signed on the witness line by an Alvarado police officer.
The waiver includes information about the discounted funeral services and Lax’s promise to accept farm equipment in lieu of money. One family member said she would need to get a loan to pay for services, but was unable to do so as she had just taken out a $22,000 note on a Volvo, according to the waiver. The waiver says other family members agreed to help with costs and that Lax “strongly urged” a modest service, but that one family member was adamant that her father be buried in a bronze-colored casket, which Lax agreed to discount.
“After speaking with the police, a local county judicial office and the Texas Service Funeral Commission, it has been decided that Clayton Kay Vaughan Funeral Home will release the body directly to the family of Cecil Rodgers and he is no longer in the care of a funeral establishment,” the waiver reads. “By signing this agreement it is known to all parties that the funeral home has done no wrong.”
A total of $300 was received from a family member via telephone on the same day, according to the waiver, leaving an outstanding balance of $5,173 and noting that the funeral home received no additional money or goods.
“Let it be further known that the family has taken the body into their possession after they decided not to pay the funeral home,” the waiver reads. “The funeral home - Clayton Kay Vaughan - has released the body of Cecil Rodgers into the care of his family along in the casket provided by the funeral home and two flower arrangements.”
Lax said she grew up in the funeral business and has seen a lot of things, but never something quite like this. Lax added that it’s not uncommon, however, for family members to transport a body to another state or Mexico for burial.
Such arrangements are legal, according to the Texas Health & Safety Code.
“A relative, bona fide friend, or representative of an organization to which the deceased belonged may claim the body for burial,” the code reads.
Lax said she only collected $300 in payment, but hopes the matter is over. She said she has no desire pursue the matter further.
Rodgers said she’s not sure how much Lax was paid. Rodgers said Lax agreed to take farm equipment to cover most of the cost but then apparently changed her mind. Rodgers said Lax, on Thursday, said she needed $3,000 to bury Rodgers and later increased the price to $5,000.
Lax said she purchased the funeral home in 2003 and remodeled and lowered prices. She said she treats everyone with respect and is always willing to, and frequently does, work with people to provide caring, dignified and affordable funeral services.
Lax said she has performed charitable funeral services in several cases and said she recently spent a couple of weeks helping a single woman with little money whose father, a veteran, passed away. Lax said she was able to provide services and assist the woman in getting her father buried at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Lax said she takes pride in working with families and goes out of her way not to upgrade or oversell services.
“I grew up in a funeral home and it’s my job to take care of people and try to make their lives easier in their time of need,” Lax said. “Everyone who comes in here has a name, is a person, and is treated with respect. To see Mr. Rodgers hauled off in a U-Haul was sickening to me and I hated seeing that and asked the family if that’s really what they wanted to do.
“My rule of thumb has always been just be upfront with me about what you can do and afford and I’ll be happy to do everything I can to help. We’re a compassionate business and we’ve always gone over and above to work with people and cut costs.”
Lax also made reference to Facebook postings addressing the matter.
“I think that the real story here is how people can use the social media to distort facts and do harm to innocent persons and businesses.”
A representative from U-Haul and Friday said the company has no restrictions against using their trucks to transport an embalmed body in a casket.