Lisa Craft: Farewell to a Barry County Gem

Saturday, July 25, 2020

I would like to begin this column with a description of a person that held many titles.

Those titles included counselor, minister, best friend, a type of person that you can confide in and one that would drop everything to serve you in your time of need 24 hours a day, seven days a week — special person that always had the mindset of servitude.

There is so much more when it came to the personality of the late Jim Fohn, long-time Cassville funeral director and county coroner.

Jim Fohn Feb. 19, 1949 - June 29, 2020 Owner and Director of Fohn Funeral Home Barry County Coroner

I had the honor of being a sales representative in the Cassville area many years ago and called on Fohn Funeral Home. As long as Jim did not have a family that he was taking care of at the time, I always enjoyed sitting down and talking with him and his wife, Janice, and usually getting off the subject of sales.

Jim was a special individual and far from just the title of “funeral director.” When you would bring your deceased loved one to him, he would become part of your family. He was extremely empathetic, and he would make families believe that it was a true privilege to be there for them and care for their deceased loved one.

I am sure this can be difficult and emotionally exhausting work, but Jim was always able to hold someone’s hand and usher them through the funeral process.

As exhausting sometimes as the work could be, Jim’s generosity never stopped with his job. Jim loved to smoke meats and according to Janice, he had the smoker going every day. Jim donated beef to many charitable organizations, and he loved every minute of it.

“Working with Jim for several years at the Fohn Funeral Home, I observed so many acts of kindness that he showed in many different ways to everyone that he came in contact with,” Janice Varner said. “It was no surprise to me to see and hear so many kind words said about him. He helped so many people from school fundraisers, people in need, helping veterans in so many ways or just someone telling him in a general conversation about their needs and him immediately responding to that need.”

According to Janice, Jim did many things for people around southwest Missouri that will never be known, and that was the way he wanted it.

“No one could begin to estimate the amount of meat that Jim Fohn has cooked and given to people just because he cared and wanted to,” Janice Varner said. “He was well-known for his love of horses and his prize winning Charolais cattle, and had developed many true friends from his compassion. Barry County has lost a remarkable businessman, county office holder, avid cattleman and just an all-around great guy. A truer friend, you could not find anywhere.”

If anyone has any doubt about how he served the community, families, friends, all they have to do is go to the Fohn Funeral Home website and see over 80 comments left on Jim’s obituary. Numerous comments were left about how blessed people felt to call him their friend, comments about his smoked meats, how special they felt when Jim took care of their deceased family members, and how he never knew a stranger.

Jim married Janice Slaughter on Dec. 30, 1969, and they enjoyed 50 years together. The couple had one son, Justin, and one daughter, Lindsay Mounce. The couple has three grandchildren, Richard and Elizabeth Fohn and Genevieve Mounce.

Jim’s Cassville history began in 1990 when he purchased Axley Funeral Home, changing it to Fohn Funeral Home. He purchased Williamson Funeral Home in Cassville and Shell Knob and McQueen Funeral Home in Wheaton in 1995, combining the Cassville facilities to the current location in 2005. In 2008, he became Barry County Coroner and still held that position at his passing. He was also a member of Cassville United Methodist Church, Pythagoras Masonic Lodge No. 383, Abou Ben Adhem Shrine, Cassville Golf Club and a charter member of Barry County Livestock Scholarship committee.

“He was the most giving and caring individual I have ever been around in my life,” said Rodney Hughes, current Fohn employee.

Gary Swearingen, Fohn employee, served as deputy coroner under Jim’s guidance.

“Jim was a good man, kind to everyone no matter the situation that was taking place, and he treated everyone with the upmost respect,” Swearingen said. “I learned a lot about the coroner’s position under his leadership and the great professionalism that he showed, and I could not have had a better mentor.”

My Cassville Democrat marketing executive, Jim Craig, had the honor to occasionally join Jim Fohn’s “breakfast circle.”

“It’s well known that he loved to smoke meat and was very generous with it as well,” Craig said. “But he loved to cook, and many mornings would fix eggs and ham or bacon for breakfast at the office; now and then, even breakfast steaks.

“It was my great pleasure to join with this group on an irregular basis, enjoying great food and conversation with Jim and his employees. Jim was always a friend of mine, and I will greatly miss him.”

There was a comment on Facebook from Missy Wolf on Jim’s level of professionalism, and how he treated grieving families.

“Jim Fohn set a standard for funerals that I have never seen matched and I have sang at literally hundreds of funerals at many, many different funeral homes,” said Missy. “His level of professionalism, compassion, kindness to the grieving families and his giving to the community is unparalleled by any other funeral business I have ever been in contact with.”

“I am not exaggerating, that is a fact,” continued Missy. “My family and I have talked about it many times after singing for a service somewhere else and things were just not handled well. He will be greatly missed in our community. He was a friend to so many.”

There was a comment from a family on the Fohn obituary website for Jim that stood out to me, and I hope they do not mind that I use it. It was from the family of Tim and Billie Sapp. Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Jim Fohn, you will be missed by many and your memory will carry on.

Lisa Craft is the General Manager of The Monett Times. She may be reached at 417-235-3135 or at community@monett-times.com.