Emmanuel keeps Chenault Bros. legacy alive

Forty-six years ago, James “J.B.” Chenault decided to strike out on his own.

He had been working at Haggard and Sons Funeral Home in addition to his job as an orderly at the Clark County Hospital.

“The funeral homes did the ambulance calls for the colored area,” Chenault’s daughter Bev Emmanuel said. “My grandfather dug graves, back when they hand-dug graves.”

Chenault obtained his funeral director’s license and in 1972 founded Chenault Brothers Funeral Home with his brother John. Chenault Brothers is one of a handful of funeral homes that primarily served Winchester’s African American community.

“He liked serving people,” Emmanuel said, who now runs the funeral home. “He liked running and driving.”

Though the funeral home was Chenault’s passion, it wasn’t his only vocation.

“”He always told me, ‘Bev, you don’t bury people every day. You have to be a hustler.’ If you didn’t have a car, you called J.B. (for a ride). If he couldn’t do it, he’d arrange it.”

Emmanuel said her father also taught her how to care for people following a loss.

“My father instilled in me about serving people,” she said. “He did things like … as soon as someone called (ahout a death), he’d go over and take chairs because people would come over and sit. He taught me to go to (the family). You make it convenient for them. They shouldn’t want for anything for that time. He was going to treat you the same if you had $500 or $50,000.”

Through the years, the entire family was involved in the funeral home at one time or another. Emmanuel said she recently found handwritten notes from her aunt about the process for sending a body to Mexico for burial.

The business has changed through the decades as other funeral homes have come and gone, she said. Where Chenault Brothers used to handle the volume of calls from the African American community, she said they now perform about two dozen funerals a year. In addition to being a licensed funeral director, Emmanuel is also a licensed embalmer and provides those services for clients as well.

After more than four decades, the legacy remains from the Chenaults, she said.

“He had the passion,” Emmanuel said. “I want that to come forward from me, the joy when people are satisfied that you’re taking care of their relative.”