Sam Found became interested in funeral work when attending Nokesville United Methodist Church in western Prince William in the 1970s.
“He was 16, taking a confirmation class, and the preacher brought them over to visit a funeral home,” Doug Found said in an interview Thursday.
“We always joke that he saw them with their air conditioning, driving Cadillacs and wearing spiffy suits, and thought, ‘This is my kind of work.’ ”
That’s how Found & Sons, a family-owned full-service funeral business in Culpeper—celebrating its 30-year anniversary this month—first began as the tiny grain of an idea.
The Nokesville teenager found employment at the Arlington Funeral Home in Alexandria, and began to learn the business over the next few years. He graduated from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in 1987.
“He’d been employed by several different funeral homes by then, and he came to me and said, ‘We’re never going to make it working for other people. We need to be in business for ourselves,’ ” Doug Found remembered, adding that he encouraged his son to do some research. He’d be willing to invest if it looked like the right opportunity.
“Sam learned that Charles Colbert was trying to sell Culpeper Funeral Home at the time, operating out of the Button mansion,” Found said. The historic house at 800 James Madison Highway is where Lidl later built its Culpeper supermarket. “It was a going business, with all the furnishings—we just took it over.”
30 years ago
Started June 30, 1989, Found & Sons was a family endeavor, with everyone pitching in. Doug Found, a pilot for United Airlines, spent the days he wasn’t in the air working at the funeral home. Sam Found and his brother Scott, four years younger, jointly ran the day-to-day operations.
“The Button house was a beautiful building, and a great location,” Doug Found said. “But being an older home, it wasn’t handicapped-accessible, and sometimes we had to bring caskets in through the windows because the doors weren’t wide enough, among other problems.”
The Founds decided to build a modern facility designed especially for the funeral business. A few years after Found & Sons moved to its new location next to Fairview Cemetery on Sperryville Pike in 1991, a fire destroyed the Button mansion.
“Sam was great to work with—he was very social, always interacting with people in the community. A good complement to me,” Scott Found said of his older brother. “I’m more of a quiet guy.”
They made a good team, but ultimately reached a point where they were each ready to be the one completely in charge.
“You can imagine how it might be, working with your sibling all day every day,” Scott laughed.
They saw an opportunity to the east. Found & Sons expanded into Fredericksburg, opening their Spotsylvania location in 1997, operating out of a storefront and coordinating with local churches for services while their new building went up at 10719 Courthouse Road in Spotsylvania County.
“It’s been great, serving the Fredericksburg region,” Scott said. “And now we’ve got Sam’s daughter, Julie, as funeral director out there. She does a fantastic job.”
A family blow
Sam’s death, in October 2011, came as a shock to the Found family.
“He died of liver failure,” Doug Found said. “He struggled with alcoholism, a terrible thing. We did everything we could with the knowledge we had at the time. Of course, you always think: ‘What if we’d done this, or that?’ You can’t help but wish you’d done more.”
“I miss him every day,” Scott Found said. “He was a great big brother, a great personality.”
A key marriage
“We met when I came here for a job interview in 1998,” Jennifer Found, Scott’s wife, said. She had graduated from the Pittsburgh School of Mortuary Science, as had Scott, and both were already funeral directors.
“I worked here for a while and we dated, but it didn’t work out and we broke up. I moved to Roanoke in 2003,” she said. “But he found me on Facebook a few years later. At first, I didn’t respond, wasn’t sure. But eventually I did, and we got together and got married in 2008.”
They now have 5-year-old twins, and a schedule and job duties they both understand and share equally.
“It’s nice. We’re able to truly share all our responsibilities, both at home and at work,” Jennifer said. “We just have to make sure we don’t talk too much business at home.”
The funeral business has changed dramatically over the past 30 years.
“We still have a lot of traditional, conservative funeral services here in Culpeper, but there’s definitely a growing demand for a more updated approach,” Scott Found said. “Many now don’t involve any kind of clergy, and it’s more a celebration of life.”
He said they’ve updated their chapel to better accommodate this growing demographic.
“We’ve brought in all kinds of things to display up front, in honor of the deceased,” Scott said. “We even had a Harley in here. And we’ve got better technology, to play the music people want, and we’ve been live-streaming services for family members and friends to tune in who can’t travel.”
“Thirty years ago, about 5 percent were cremated. Now it’s more acceptable, cremation is up to 40 percent in this area,” Jennifer Found said. “Some areas—more urban—it’s 80 to 90 percent.”
Found & Sons has a crematorium at their Culpeper location, the only one in the county.
With cremation, people have many new options that weren’t available in the past, including having jewelry made that incorporates a loved one’s remains, or arranging to have them scattered in specially designated gardens or to be built into a coral reef.
“You can be buried in a natural cemetery and grow trees and plants on top of you when you’re buried in a biodegradable shroud,” Jennifer said. “Also, with cremation, everyone can have a piece of mom and take her home with them, which is a real comfort to some families. There’s so many choices.”
On average each month, Found & Sons will service 12 to 15 burials and provide 40 or more cremations.
“We shot someone’s remains out of a cannon once,” Jennifer said. “That’s what the family wanted, and we made the arrangements. Tell us what you want, and we’ll try to find a way to make it happen.”
Grief and renewal
Jennifer Found said that what stands out about Found & Sons is that it’s a family business with people who truly care about every family who walks in the door.
“We’re a family here, and our goal is to help everyone feel like our family,” she said. “We know what we’re doing and what people need at a time when they are reeling with grief. We make every effort to walk people through with compassion and personal care.”
Scott Found said they try to be just normal, upbeat people. “Death is a part of life, it isn’t a scary thing,” he said. “We try not to be too solemn.”
But it isn’t easy, absorbing the grief of so many people over 30 years.
“It can take a toll,” Scott said. “We have to make sure everyone gets a break, has time to recharge. We take care of each other.”
Since 1989, the Founds have seen a lot.
Found & Sons provided the funeral service for a husband and wife—Ken and Jennifer Lewis—who were flight attendants on a American Airlines flight that took off from Dulles International Airport en route to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorists commandeered the flight and slammed the jetliner into the west side of the Pentagon.
“They were from Culpeper,” Jennifer said. “We held the service at Culpeper Baptist Church, and it was by far the biggest service I’ve ever been to or ever will—thousands of people. Hundreds of flight attendants and pilots and other flight personnel came to show support. The entire congregation held hands and cried. It was breathtaking.”
In 2007, Found & Sons provided the service for Emily Jane Hilscher, 18, of Woodville, one of the 32 victims killed by a gunman on the Virginia Tech campus on April 16 of that year.
“We’ve seen a lot of deaths of younger people, too, from drug overdoses and the opioid crisis,” Scott Found said. “It’s just heartbreaking to see these young people with so much promise lose their lives in such a way.”
Scott Found said the family is committed to providing the community with quality service for many years to come.
“We’re so grateful for the many people who help us do our job every day—law enforcement, health officials, clergy and hospice volunteers, florists, VFW and American Legion members—there are so many who play an important part,” he said.
The business has planned a celebration, to which the general public is invited, at 6 p.m. June 28 at its Culpeper location. Several family members will speak, followed by refreshments and time to visit.
“We want to thank everyone for all you’ve done over the past 30 years,” Scott said.
“We love the Culpeper and Fredericksburg communities,” Jennifer said. “We hope we’ll be around to serve you for another 30 years to come.”