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Little-Davenport Funeral Home returns to local hands
Mason & Ward owners purchase competitor
From left: Ben Mason, Pete Davenport and Jerry Ward pose for a photo outside of the Little-Davenport Funeral Home in Gainesville Friday. Mason and Ward are partners in a company that acquired Little-Davenport Funeral Home. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Little-Davenport Funeral Home, one of Gainesville’s oldest funeral establishments, has been sold to the owners of Mason & Ward Funeral Home.

Little-Davenport, which was founded by Alton M. "Pete" Davenport and the late J. Paul Little, was sold in 1988 to Service Corp. International, a corporate provider of death care services in North America with 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries.

Davenport, who has been in the funeral business for 60 years, said he was proud to see the funeral home that bears his name return to local ownership.

"Ben is a fine fellow," Davenport said. "Jerry’s daddy, Buck, and I were good friends.

The new owner is Northeast Georgia Funeral Services, a Gainesville-based corporation that will own and operate Little-Davenport and Mason & Ward. The partners in the corporation are Ben Mason, Jerry Ward and Kirk Barrett of Gainesville and Ralph Buckner Jr. of Cleveland, Tenn. Buckner has been a partner in Mason & Ward and also owns several funeral homes in Tennessee.

The purchase price was not disclosed.

For Mason, the acquisition of Little-Davenport is a homecoming of sorts. He spent 23 years at Little-Davenport before joining Ward and other partners in purchasing the funeral home at 1190 McEver Road.

"We’re bringing another locally owned funeral home back to Gainesville," Mason said. "Pete Davenport and Paul Little are the reasons I’m in the funeral business, and I’m glad to be back home."

Little-Davenport was established in 1954 at a location on Atlanta Highway.

The business later moved to a location on Washington Street and then built its present building on Dawsonville Highway in 1971.

Ward comes from a family with a long history in the funeral business. The family owned Ward’s Funeral Home in Gainesville and Cleveland, where he worked with his grandmother, Sadie Braselton Ward, father H.B. "Buck" Ward, his uncle, Henry O. Ward, and brothers Fred and John Ward.

"This is an interesting circle," Ward said. "Paul Little worked with Ward’s Funeral Home before he joined Pete to form Little-Davenport.

"Our family funeral homes were competitors, but friendly competitors," Ward said. "Ben and I have established the kind of relationship that my father and uncle had and Pete and Paul had."

Ward’s Funeral Home is now owned by funeral director Jimmy Brewer.

While under the same ownership, Little-Davenport and Mason & Ward will keep their present names and locations.