Bodies in various states of composition: Shocked South Hadley residents saddened by Ryder Funeral Home shutdown
FILE PHOTO South Hadley's Ryder Funeral Home was shut down last year after a state investigation. Public records show that the home had for at least three years failed to provide regulators with required annual reports on its handling of customer payments — a lapse that could have raised a flag about mounting troubles at the family-run business. Purchase photo reprints »
SOUTH HADLEY — For more than 60 years, residents of South Hadley have relied on the Ryder Funeral Home to handle funeral arrangements for their loved ones.
On Saturday, though, several longtime residents reacted with shock at the news that the funeral home at 33 Lamb St., which was established in 1953, had been shut down after a state investigation revealed health code violations, including five bodies in various states of decomposition after not being properly embalmed, and a sixth that was improperly stored. One of the bodies had been delivered May 1 and the funeral home took possession of the others between May 20 and 22.
Resident Gerald A. Judge said he believes that with Ryder shut down, people in town will have to rethink their plans for end-of-life services because many naturally choose the local funeral home. “It’s part of a town’s life,” he added.
Others among about 10 people interviewed in South Hadley by the Gazette Saturday expressed sadness at the events — including an inspection of the funeral home by state authorities Wednesday — which led the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to immediately suspend the license of funeral director William W. Ryder.
“If you needed that kind of service, you go to Ryder,” said lifelong South Hadley resident Diane LaRoche. “It was a longtime established local business that you just had faith in.”
LaRoche said Ryder handled both her father’s funeral service in 2003 and her mother’s in 2008, and she is surprised to learn about the allegations that bodies were not properly embalmed. “I had no reason to think anything was amiss,” she added.
Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said Saturday that Town Hall has received around three or four calls from residents who have prepaid for funerals at Ryder Funeral Home and are now unsure about what to do.
He said he has encouraged them to seek advice from the funeral homes which stepped in to handle services at Ryder this week. They are Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton and St. Pierre-Phaneuf Funeral Chapels in Springfield and Chicopee.
“We’re not attempting to predict what the future of Ryder Funeral Home is, and don’t really have any inside information on the investigation,” Sullivan said.
The state licensure division has scheduled a hearing for Friday when officials are expected to determine whether Ryder’s license should remain suspended. Ryder can argue to have his license restored at that hearing.
Efforts to reach Ryder were unsuccessful. Gazette reporters who asked for him at the Ryder Funeral Home on Friday night and Saturday afternoon were told by Jay Czelusniak, owner and director of the Northampton Funeral Home, that Ryder was unavailable.
Ryder’s lawyer, Paul Boudreau of South Hadley, said Friday that Ryder has “significant health issues” which are preventing him from meeting the obligations of his license. In an effort to clarify the nature of the health issues, the Gazette again contacted Boudreau on Saturday. In a brief telephone conversation, Boudreau said he had “nothing (further) to report at this time” and that Ryder has an appointment scheduled with a doctor. Boudreau said he would not know more until early next week.
Family well known
The Ryder family is well known to many in town.
Marilyn Ishler, a Select Board member who has lived in South Hadley since 1967, said she knew both of William Ryder’s parents. His father, funeral home founder Myron Ryder, was a “wonderful, wonderful man,” and his mother was “a real lady,” Ishler said.
“It’s something very, very sad,” she said of the news about William Ryder.
Ryder Funeral Home handled the services for both her parents, Mary and Ralph Gates, and her stepdaughter, Kerri Ishler, who died in 2011.
Ishler recalled how when her mother died in 1999, William Ryder arranged a private viewing for her father, who was then in a nursing home.
“He did all sorts of nice things for people like that,” Ishler said.
A group of patrons in Ebenezer’s Bar & Grill, 60 Bridge St., declined to give their names when approached Saturday afternoon because they said they have known the Ryder family all their lives and “preferred not to get involved,” as one woman put it.
“It’s a small town,” another added.
James Peters Jr., who was also at the bar, said he grew up with William Ryder and used to play football with his brothers. He said he does not believe Ryder would do anything to hurt anyone.
“They’re very nice people,” Peters said. “I can’t understand why this is coming down.”