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Lucian Aurelius Vest, also known as “Uncle Reely”, was born April 27, 1873 at White Gate, Virginia, the oldest of nine children. At an early age he went to live with his Uncle Floyd and Aunt Sallie Vest where he learned the skills of a carpenter and cabinet maker. He loved working with wood and grew to be very skillful at cabinet making. This skill was the beginning of what A. Vest & Sons Funeral Home is today. People knew of his skills with wood and when he was only 23 years old they began asking him to build their coffins. Measurement of the deceased loved one would be done using a string or stick. This information was brought to Uncle Reely who would build the coffin the size they needed. Because embalming was not used very much back then he would work day and night to complete the coffin if necessary. Gradually he began making them to have on hand when needed, thus began his trade for the next 55 years. This trade was passed on to his sons and grandsons.

In the beginning everything to make coffins and furniture were done by hand, from cutting the timber to dressing the wood. Uncle Reely used lumber from walnut, oak, chestnut, pine, poplar and cedar trees . Later he was able to purchase a steam engine to use for power and gradually added machinery that helped in the production of finished lumber. As he produced lumber it was placed in a dry kiln (that he built) in layers with strips of wood between them so they would dry thoroughly. The rough lumber was then dressed to be used for furniture and coffins.

Uncle Reely would then use a fat pork skin to rub on the wood. This technique brought out the beautiful appearance of the grain in the wood. When varnish was invented he was able to accomplish a much better result in the shine and luster of the wood. Uncle Reely designed and made his own coffin and casket interiors. Later he started using a cloth covering on the outside of caskets which gave people a choice in design for their loved ones caskets.

When embalming became available in this area he contracted with Thomas M. Seagle and Sons of Pulaski. If a family wanted embalming he would transport the body to Pulaski for Thomas M. Seagle and Sons to embalm. When Uncle Reely passed away DuVal Seagle assisted with management of the funeral home until the grandsons (Edward Louis Vest & Nelson Lee Vest) completed their licensure. Upon completion of Edward and Nelson’s licensure they were able to acquire the management of the business.

Aurelius started his business out of his home at White Gate, Virginia in 1896. For a brief period he moved to Poplar Hill, Virginia then back to White Gate in March of 1957 to the present site of where the funeral home is now. The first part of the building, at the present site,  was built by Edward S. and Robert C. Vest. A chapel, embalming room and rest room was completed by Edward Louis Vest in 1973, bringing the building to its current structure.

A. Vest & Model T FordUncle Reely’s first means of transporting coffins of the deceased was in a wagon or buggy with a horse drawn hearse. His first processional motorized vehicle was a Model T. He bought a Model T Ford truck chassis then designed and built the body himself. This hearse remains in excellent running condition, thanks to Mr. Bill Bane who had sheltered the vehicle in his barn for many years.  A. Vest & Sons Funeral Home displays this wonderful piece of funeral history in the Andrew Johnston House Musuem in Pearisburg, Virginia. For more information about the Andrew Johnston House Musuem go to http://www.gilescountyhistorical.org/johnstonHouse.htm 

Not only did Uncle Reely prepare the body for burial and built the coffin or casket, he also conducted many of the funeral services. He served the community in many ways, including being a pioneer with the construction and maintenance of a telephone system both to Pulaski and Staffordsville. Along with being a carpenter and cabinet maker he also owned and operated the first threshing machine (a machine used to separate the seeds of a harvested plant from the straw and chaff, husks, or other residue) in the White Gate community. He and his family threshed for many families.

Lucian Aurelius Vest (A. Vest) departed this life on September 6, 1955 at the late age of 82 years old. His desire to learn, grow, help and always do his best has set the foundation and established business that is now in its third generation.