In 1878 in County Mayo, Ireland, Patrick O’Malley and new bride, Winifred Togher, started life together. They left Ireland and came to Wilmington, DE, and Patrick was employed as a farmer. During the naturalization and emigration process, O’Malley was transformed to Mealey, and Winifred bore ten children, all given the surname Mealey. Three of the children died before adulthood. Of the seven remaining children, only the oldest, Michael, remained in Delaware.
At the turn of the century, the nation was being ravaged by a viral illness, felling thousands. Michael Mealey was a furniture upholsterer as a young adult. Among his duties, he furnished casket linings for the cabinet makers who were overwhelmed with the tragic results of the virus. Many Irish were impoverished and socially scorned, with little ability to provide dignified burial for their departed. From a desire to help ease their grief, Michael opened a funeral home in 1912 at the corner of 3rd and Jackson Street. His compassion and service to his clients is the foundation upon which Mealey Funeral Homes were established and continue to grow today.
Michael was a fiddler, known and liked in many social circles. His honest approach to business quickly earned him a reputation for integrity and fairness among families of all income levels. His stature in the community was growing, yet Michael kept his unpretentious demeanor. An old friend recalls that, on hot summer days, Michael would doze in front of the funeral home with his hairpiece flipped up to give his scalp access to the breeze.
Michael married a local lass, Susan E. Mulhern. They had five children, Frances, John (Jack), Mary, Daniel and Margaret. In 1935, Michael sold the Jackson Street funeral home and purchased a building on the corner of 7th and Broom Street. He converted the lower floors to funeral facilities, and used the other two floors for his home.
In acquiring the new facility, Michael incorporated the business, naming the company Michael A. Mealey & Sons, Inc. His sons, Jack and Daniel, were then active in the company and community. Jack married an Elkton, MD woman, Ann Romanek, and had seven children: Jack Jr., Michael II, Charles, Joseph, Susan, Patricia, and Robert. The boys helped around the funeral home from the time they were youths. They graduated from Salesianum High School and mortuary college, and received their funeral licenses. Daniel married Mary Donohue and had two children, Daniel Jr. and Susan. Like his cousins, Dan Jr.’s education was geared toward the funeral industry. However, he declined to join his family’s business. In 1958, Daniel Sr. died, leaving the company to his brother and nephews.
The company prospered under the leadership of Jack and his four oldest sons. In 1957, Jack, Jr. was offered a career in the Army and left the family business. By the mid-1960’s, Jack Sr.’s health was beginning to deteriorate. He retired, leaving his second son, Michael, as the president of the company, and Charles and Joseph as officers. Jack Sr. died from heart disease in 1970.
In the 1970’s, the Wilmington, DE suburbs expanded dramatically. Pike Creek Valley, once mostly farmland, burst with new developments and townhouses. Michael and his brothers saw in this area an excellent opportunity to serve their clients who relocated from the city. Construction for a new funeral home began on the corner of Limestone and Milltown Road. In December 1972, the first funeral was held. The Mealey family was welcomed into the community.
Like his grandfather Patrick, who left Ireland to toil the land in Delaware, Joseph had a longing to be a farmer. In 1976, Joseph moved his family to Kentucky, leaving Michael and Charles to run the business. Around this same time, youngest brother Robert joined the firm, and worked for several years before he left to pursue other interests.
Michael and Charles had growing families. Michael lived in North Wilmington with wife, Eleanor Kelley, and had five children, Michele, Maureen, Michael III, Mark, and Kelley. Charles married Mildred Bradley and fathered four children, Charles Jr. “Chick”, Lori, Kathleen, and Jane. Charles moved his family from the city to the Milltown area in 1973 to join the community surrounding his new building. In the family tradition, Chick graduated from Salesianum High School and the University of Delaware, and worked summers and weekends when needed at the funeral homes. After earning a degree in business, he attended mortuary school in Pittsburgh, and graduated cum laude.
During this same time, Michael II was diagnosed with cancer. Though he underwent several years of treatments and procedures, he worked when he could. He was an encouragement to many of the families he served during this time. His battle with his illness only deepened his commitment and compassion to the people he served. On August 23, 1982, Michael succumbed to his disease at age 47, leaving his family members grieving and his family legacy with his younger brother.
When his father died, Michael III was prompted to re-evaluate his future. He enrolled in college to earn the necessary credits for funeral licensing. Then, he entered mortuary school in Catonsville, MD. He worked mornings at the funeral home, and commuted to classes in the afternoons. On September 24, 1987, en route home, Michael III was tragically killed in an auto accident. The entire Mealey family was devastated by his loss.
In the ensuing years, the business continued to grow as Chick assumed a larger role, and hired his sister, Lori, to run the business office. Charles Sr., in his forty years as a funeral director, planned funerals, comforted the grieving, buried his father, mother, brother and nephew, and guided the business through financial difficulties. He had confidence in his son and daughter, and consequently, gave consideration to his own future. In 1996, Charles Sr. sold the business to his son, though continued to work until his retirement in 1998. Until his passing in 2015, he stayed in close contact with his children, offering advice from his years of experience.
Now at the helm, Chick’s primary goal is to serve his clients in every way possible. Out of this commitment came the First Annual Mealey Memorial Service. The memorial service was started in 1998 and just celebrated its 20th anniversary this past year. Each year, every family who lost a loved one throughout the year is invited to the Pike Creek facility for a ceremony of reflection, song, and refreshments. The lives of the departed are commemorated with a personalized Christmas ornament. Many family members hang their ornaments on a Tree of Remembrance—either inside the building or on a huge Christmas tree outside the funeral home. Each year for the past 20 years, the Mealey family has displayed all of the ornaments that have been left with them throughout the previous two decades.
As they looked to the future, Chick Jr. and Lori saw the increasing popularity of cremation services. In 2003, the siblings decided to start a new business and purchase their own crematory. Since 2003, Mealey Funeral Homes has owned and operated their own crematory, ensuring that your loved one never leaves their care. The purchase of their own crematory also allowed them to control expenses, thereby offering cremation at a very reasonable rate as compared to competitors.
Chick sees the future of the company in the eyes of his children, Rachel, Amelia, and Patrick. In June 2016, Chick’s oldest daughter, Rachel Mealey, joined the family business to continue over 100 years of tradition. Rachel graduated from Padua Academy and Saint Joseph’s University before enrolling in the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, where her father earned his degree nearly 40 years ago. At a time when many family-owned funeral homes are being purchased by large corporations, the Mealey family is committed to serving families in need personally, professionally, and with the compassion that led Michael A. Mealey to the funeral profession at the turn of the 20th century.