Downing & Lahey Mortuaries & Crematory’s history in Wichita dates back to 1913 with the founding of City Undertaking by Charles Lahey & Earl Martin. Originally a furniture business and funeral parlor, City Undertaking operated in a storefront across from the old train station in downtown Wichita. In 1915, the furniture part of the business was discontinued, and then in 1918, City Undertaking moved to 922 E. Douglas. The name of the business was changed to Lahey & Martin Mortuary in 1926 and another move was made to 1401 E. Douglas. In 1938 Charles Lahey purchased Earl Martin’s interest and the firm became Lahey Mortuary. Tom Lahey, Charles’ son, joined the business in 1948. Upon Charles’ death in 1949, Tom Lahey continued to build and expand Lahey Mortuary, eventually relocating to 4820 E. Central.
Alongside Lahey Mortuary’s history in Wichita, the Downing Mortuary was also forming and expanding. In 1923, J. H. Downing left his position as manager of Wichita Undertaking to set up his own firm, Downing Mortuary. Unlike most of his competitors, Downing never ran a furniture business in conjunction with his mortuary; his was only the second firm in Wichita to operate solely as a funeral home. Downing Mortuary opened for business in downtown Wichita on Lawrence Street (later changed to Broadway) on October 1, 1923. Downing also operated an ambulance service and maintained a distinctive fleet of seven Packards. In 1932, Downing’s son-in-law, John J. Morris, joined the firm as an embalmer, becoming manager in 1940. John’s son, Jack, joined the firm in 1957 and Jack’s son, Tom, joined the firm in 1985. J. H. Downing remained active in the firm until shortly before his death in 1972.
Downing was the first in the state to install a crematory, first offering this service in 1958. Downing expanded in 1964 by building a second facility, the facility presently occupied. Further expansion came in 1978, when Downing Mortuary merged with Lahey Mortuary. Tom Lahey continued working at Downing & Lahey Mortuary until his retirement in 2001.
With Lahey’s merger with Downing in 1978, the two firms became The Downing and Lahey Mortuary. Lahey’s Crest Hill Building was closed and from 1978 to 1980, the firm operated from the Downing facilities at 327 N. Broadway and 6555 E. Central. When the downtown building was destroyed by fire in 1980, the business offices of the firm were relocated to the present location, which was expanded to allow for storage of the automotive fleet and a new crematory. In February 1999, in response to the growing needs of the community, Downing & Lahey’s west side facility opened at 10515 West Maple Street, about 13 miles from our main facility.
The Downing and Lahey Mortuary is one of the largest and oldest family-owned firms in Wichita, currently owned and operated by the fifth generation of the Downing family. J.H. Downing’s son-in-law, John J. Morris, retired as Chairman of the Board in September 1995 and died in 2003. His son, Jack R. Morris took his place as Chairman. Jack and his wife, Marlane, who was also active in the business, retired from the firm in 2006. Jack’s son, Thomas R. Morris, became President in 1996, a position he still holds today. Allison Morris Walden and Michael Morris, two of Tom Morris’ three children, joined the firm in 2012 and 2017, respectively.
1913: City Undertaking is founded by Charles Lahey & Earl Martin. They would soon change their name to Lahey & Martin Mortuary.
1923: J.H. Downing first opens the doors to his funeral home, Downing Mortuary. We were only the second firm in all of Wichita’s history to operate solely as a funeral home. Back then, most originated as furniture and casket makers. But from the very beginning, our focus has been on helping hurting families. It’s this legacy of compassionate service that gives our neighbors peace of mind when they come to us for funeral, cremation, and burial services. J.H. Downing remained involved at the funeral home until his death in 1972.
1932: J.H. Downing’s son-in-law, John J. Morris, joins the firm as an embalmer, becoming manager in 1940. He served with us until he retired in 1995.
1938: Charles Lahey buys out Earl Martin’s interest in Lahey & Martin Mortuary and changes the name of the firm to Lahey Mortuary.
1948: Charles’ son, Tom Lahey, joins his father in operating Lahey Mortuary.
1957: John’s son, Jack, joins the family business, serving with his wife, Marlane, until they retired in 2006.
1958: We become the first provider in the entire state of Kansas to open our own crematory.
1978: Downing Mortuary merges with Lahey Mortuary. The Lahey family remained involved in the funeral home until 2001 when Tom Lahey retired.
1985: Jack’s and Marlene’s son, Tom Morris, joins Downing & Lahey, becoming president in 1996. Today, he is our owner and President of Downing & Lahey Mortuaries & Crematory.
2012: Allison Morris Walden, fifth generation of the Downing family, joins the mortuary as Office Manager. She has since become a licensed funeral director.
2017: Michael Morris, Tom’s son, joins the firm as an Apprentice Funeral Director. He passed his state and national board in 2017 to become a licensed funeral director and embalmer.