147 Main Street, Poca, WV 25159
Gatens Funeral Home was founded on
May 1, 1940 by Joseph M. Gatens Sr.
and his wife, Norma Lee Gatens
in Poca, WV. Since then, the Funeral
Home has been an important part of
the community of Poca and a central
focus for the energies of the Gatens
family. As we move into the new
millennium and the 79th year of
the Funeral Home, we have prepared this
brief history of the business and the people
who have most influenced it over the years, especially the two "Joes", Joseph M. Gatens Sr. and Joseph M. Gatens, Jr., and Norma Lee Gatens.
Joseph M. Gatens Sr. and Norma Lee (Harmon) Gatens
Joseph M. Gatens Sr. was born in Charleston, WV on December 7, 1912
to Arthur William Gatens and Myrtle Clyde (Wick) Gatens. He was the 3rd
of nine children. The family moved to Bancroft, WV in 1913 where his
father became a successful merchant in that coal mining community.
Joe attended Bancroft Elementary and graduated from Poca District
High School in May 1930, as a member of the first class to attend all
4 high school years at Poca. Until March 1933, Joe worked in his father's
General Merchandise Store in Bancroft. He then left for the Cincinnati College of Embalming in Ohio, where he graduated in March 1934. His father and his Grandfather Wick before him had also been involved in the art of embalming and funerary sciences in Bancroft and Winfield.
On October 3, 1934 Joe married his high school sweetheart, Norma Lee Harmon,
daughter of Albert M. Harmon and Lolla F. (Watkins) Harmon of Red House.
On October 14, 1935 their first child, Jane Lee (Gatens) Vaughan was born and on
October 7, 1937, their son, Joseph M. Gatens, Jr. was born. Norma Lee
was also a Poca graduate (class of 1930) and attended McMillian Hospital School of
Nursing in 1930-33 and became a Registered Nurse in 1934. She worked at most of the
Charleston area hospitals and was also a county nurse in Putnam County.
From March to December 1934, Joe was employed as a funeral director and embalmer
at the Perrine Funeral Home in Cedar Grove. From December 1934 to May 1940
he was employed at the Johnson-Cunningham Funeral Home in Charleston, WV. On May 1, 1940, Joe and
Norma Lee had the grand opening of the Gatens Funeral Home at its present site, at what was then known as the Schowen home, at 147 Main Street in Poca. Joe and Norma Lee became an integral part of the Poca community and the Funeral Home grew over the years under their leadership. In 1960, they established the Haven of Rest Memorial Gardens cemetery to more completely serve the Putnam County community.
In 1944, Joe was inducted into 232nd General Hospital Unit of the United States Army. He served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, serving on the island of Iwo Jima during 1944-1945. Before and after the war, Joe and Norma Lee lived on the second floor of the Funeral Home until 1980. At that time, they moved into the bungalow on the lot at the rear of the Funeral Home property, where Joe and Norma Lee resided until their death.
Chad R. and Billie J. Harding
Chad was born in Charleston, WV to Robert E. and Diane Lee Simmons Harding. Chad being raised in Poca attended Rock Branch Elementary, Poca Middle and Poca High Schools. Chad was very blessed to receive a full scholarship to University of Charleston. After attending the University of Charleston Chad attended WV State College to finish his requirements for Mortuary School. Chad graduated from Mid-America College of Funeral Service in Jeffersonville, IN.
Billie was born in Charleston, WV to Dennis and Judy Lett Craigo. Billie being raised in Poca attended Poca Elementary, Middle and High Schools. Billie graduated from University of Charleston with a degree in Radiologic Technology.
Chad and Billie were married June 7, 1997 and have three beautiful daughters Shelbie Jo Harding born November 29, 1999, Savannah Pearl Harding born January 29, 2004, and Shiloh Lee Harding born February 26, 2007.
Today Chad and his family live in Poca and attended Maranatha Fellowship in St. Albans. Chad and Billie are very blessed and give God all the praise for allowing them to be owners of a successful funeral home.
The Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Building
The physical building that was the original Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, and is still the core of the facility, has an interesting history. In 1775, the American colonists were engaged in a War of Independence with the United Kingdom. Five Schowen brothers from Germany were sent to America to join the British Army as mercenary soldiers (like the Hessians Washington defeated at Trenton) in their war against the Americans*. Like many of such European mercenaries, the Schowen brothers quickly came to sympathize with the Americans and their fight for independence and defected to the American side, joining General Washington's Continental Army.
To repay the brothers for their wartime service, General Washington offered the brothers their choice of lands in western Virginia. One of the brothers, John Schowen, selected land in what is now the town of Poca in Putnam Co., WV. In Washington Park, along current highway 62 near Hometown is a historical marker, which makes reference to these Revolution-era land grants. The original land grant records for John Schowen's lands can still be found in the Dominion of Virginia land office in Richmond.
In 1872, one of Schowen's descendants, also named John, built the home that is now Gatens-Harding Funeral Home. He had two sons, John and Charles, and three daughters, Maude, Frances Ella (Nolen), and Blanche (Woodard). Charles became heir to the Poca property on his father's death. However, Dr. John Nolen, who came to practice medicine in Poca, a booming coal town at the time, married Charles' sister Ella and purchased the property from the heirs. Unfortunately, Dr. Nolen died prematurely of pneumonia in 1940 and his wife, Ella, was committed to the Huntington State Hospital. As a result, Ella's sister Maude Schowen, who never married, was appointed guardian of their minor son James and the administratrix of the estate.
Funeral Home in the 1970's
In May 1940, Maude rented the home to Joe Gatens Sr. for use as
Gatens Funeral Home as well as a residence for Joe and Norma Lee.
She later sold the property to the Gatens'. "Aunt Maude", as the Gatens
family knew her, continued to visit with the Gatens' until her death.
In 1953, the first chapel was added to the funeral home building.
A second chapel and further improvement were added in 1974.
The current funeral home was renovated extensively in 1994 as
originally proposed by Joe Gatens, Jr. shortly before his untimely
death in 1989. Today and always, the central core of the funeral home
is still the old Schowen home, built in 1872.
*It is interesting to note that the Gatens' family Irish ancestors were originally Scottish mercenaries called gallowglasses. The first Irish Gatens (then called McGettigan) moved from Scotland to Ireland in the 1600's as captain of a mercenary unit sent as part of the dowry for a Scottish girl who was being married to Red Hugh O'Donnel, an Irish tribal chieftain in Donegal.
Continuing the Tradition
On January 1, 2004 Chad and Billie Harding became the sole owners of Gatens Funeral Home and on April 1, 2004 they became sole owners of Haven of Rest Memorial Gardens. The Gatens family was very thankful that Chad wanted to keep the business family owned and operated. Chad has worked for the Gatens family since June 12, 1992 and they felt he would carry on the legacy of Joe and Norma Lee Gatens. On June 1, 2004 the name of the funeral home changed to Gatens-Harding Funeral Home. Both Chad and the Gatens family felt this was important to have Harding added since Chad is the sole owner. Chad realizes he wouldn't be were he's at today if it hadn't been for Joe and Norma Lee Gatens.
As we celebrate our 79th anniversary at our historic Poca location and enter the new millennium, we at Gatens-Harding Funeral Home proudly reflect on our past and optimistically look to our future. Joe Gatens Sr., Norma Lee Gatens, and Joe Gatens Jr. built a business, which was founded on the premise of a locally owned and operated business with solid family and community values.
Today, Chad and Billie and the rest of the staff perpetuate and expand that tradition. In today's world of mega-funeral homes owned by large corporations, the friends and customers of Gatens-Harding Funeral Home can rest assured that we will remain, as we always have been, a small family-owned business dedicated to the residents of Poca and the surrounding area. We look forward to our next 79 years.