Raymond Fondel Sr. passed away on Tuesday. Fondel, 72, spent most of his life in the service industry working as a funeral home owner and director. He leaves a legacy of helping countless families who lost their loved ones. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 04, 2013 11:27 PM
One night years ago when funeral directors served as ambulance operators in Lake Charles, Raymond Fondel Sr. and Zeb Johnson drove up to a local hospital in a hearse with a live person in it.
Johnson, who was friends with Fondel, initially responded to a call to transport a sick woman to the emergency room.
“On the way to the hospital, my ambulance got a flat tire. I was in front of Fondel’s place. I went inside and he ran out and saw I needed help. All he had was an old hearse. We rushed that lady to the hospital and everybody was wondering when we got there what was happening. You had two different ambulance company owners showing up in a hearse with a patient. It was kind of funny afterwards,” Johnson recalled.
That nugget is one of many that Johnson can recall about his friend Fondel, who died at 8:05 a.m. Tuesday in Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.
Fondel, 72, spent most of his life in the service industry working as a funeral home owner and director. He leaves a legacy of helping countless families who lost their loved ones.
He opened Fondel Memorial Chapel, at 832 N. Lyons St., in 1965. Later he started an ambulance service that operated from 1965 to 1985. The business grew to include funeral homes in Jennings and Kinder.
Fondel died after a number of years of ill health.
“I will miss Raymond calling me in the middle of the night with something going on and asking my advice and us ending up talking an hour and a half. I will miss that booming voice,” Johnson said.
For years, Fondel was regarded as a living historian after witnessing Hurricane Audrey and then gathering and burying the victims at the age of 17. Every year since, his recollections about the storm were sought.
Johnson said the two shared an interest in helping families who were hurting after the death of a loved one.
“The thing about Raymond is that he was always helping people. He figured it out as a kid. He had a lot of families that he helped,” he said. “In business, you do for people and it makes it easier in life. It was addictive because you realize the satisfaction the families and you get. The funeral business was hard to get away from as a result.”
Raymond Fondel Jr. said his father leaves a legacy that is ingrained in him and the rest of Lake Charles. “He liked working in the funeral business. There was never anything in life he wanted to do other than that,” he said.
Fondel’s interest in the mortuary business was planted when he was 7 years old and spent time at Gilmore Funeral Home, which was located near what is now the Enterprise Boulevard and Interstate 10 intersection.
Eventually he attended Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Services.
Fondel’s son followed in his father’s footsteps in wanting to own a business.
“At first all I wanted to be was an ambulance driver. When that ended I went to Southern University and then started working in the insurance business before opening my own insurance agency,” he said. “Dad was about helping folks, and that’s what I learned to do. He always believed in helping people.
“In the funeral business, Dad made sure that families who had nothing were going to have a dignified service for their family members who died. He would be in chapel working on the last details because everything had to be perfect. Everybody had to get his seal of approval.
“He told me that this was the last time people would see their loved ones again, so everything had to be perfect.”
Fondel said his father was “resilient to the end.”
He said plans are to keep the funeral home his father started open.
“It is something that was started to benefit the community,” he said. “That’s what he was about. We will make sure it will be there for people.”
Fondel Sr.’s siblings are the Rev. Frank Fondel Jr., George Fondel and Mary Fondel Simien. His children are Raymond Jr., Paul and the late Martha Fondel-Smith.
Funeral services are pending.