The Tips have helped others through the hardest times for four, and now five, generations, and 106 years.
by Kevin Haslam
If you live anywhere in the Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills or Olmos Park neighborhoods, there’s a good chance you have heard of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries. From the very beginning, Mission Park has been truly dedicated to helping families when they need it most. It all began in the late 1800s, when Texas’ first ever perpetual care cemetery, was established in 1907 as a gift to Clara Chambers from her husband, Will. Chambers ran the cemetery for many years, and when the time came, they passed it on to the next generation, and then to the next. But almost 60 years ago, on one fateful day, the future of Mission Park took a special turn.
It was the summer of 1954, and at San Antonio’s Nix Hospital, a descendant of Will Chambers was about to be born. When the baby boy was delivered, he came out not breathing. His grandfather, Dr. Robert Dixon, a doctor at the hospital, miraculously revived his infant grandson. The baby was intended to be named for his father Frederick Julius Tips, but instead it was decided that he would be named Robert Dixon Tips, in honor of the man who saved his life.
From that remarkable start in life, young Robert Dixon Tips came home from the hospital to the family house on Claywell Drive in Alamo Heights. On his third birthday the Tips family moved to Terrell Road in Terrell Hills where he called home until 2012 when the home was demolished. “To say I’ve never been out of the Alamo Heights or Terrell Hills area is true, because for as long as I can remember, Terrell Hills has been my home.” Said Robert Dixon Tips, known to many today as Dick.
From a young age, Dick worked in the cemetery, which was then owned by his father, Fred, and his uncle, Will. He spent time coloring maps, sweeping roads, cleaning restrooms, weeding, mowing, trimming and caring for the beautiful property. “Quite frankly, to this day, I still consider that part of my work,” Dick said. “I’ve dug graves, set headstones – there’s no job in the cemetery that I haven’t done. We’re very much a mom and pop shop. My father and uncle were incredible mentors and allowed me to learn and grow in a hands on way throughout my entire career.”
The time has come
As Dick grew, he continued to work at Mission Park every summer while attending all of the Alamo Heights Independent Schools. After high school, he entered the University of Texas and then after college just short of graduation, he moved back to San Antonio to work for the family business. While working at Mission Park, Dick started an insurance company as a separate company to help families pay for their funeral services in advance. This innovative and cost-effective approach to freezing the price of funerals, was a huge success. As it became more popular, Dick approached his father and uncle about a succession plan for the family business. “I was young and full of new ideas,” he said. “We worked out a program for me to gradually run the company while my father and uncle helped me learn to manage all the operations. I eventually purchased Mission Park from them in 1984.”
Making the foundation stronger
Twenty years later, in 2004 Robert met his future wife, Kristin, at a Fiesta parade. At the time, Kristin, who was the reigning Miss Galaxy, was trying to start a career in the funeral business. Dick was in the Parade as Rey Feo and wanted to meet everyone from beginning to end. “I was walking and running and shaking hands with everybody,” he said. “Kristin was in the parade signing autographs for young ladies. I went up to offer her a Rey Feo raffle ticket and she wasn’t interested in me at all.” “So, I introduced myself to her sister. I said, ‘It’s a shame Kristin doesn’t believe in children’s charities’ – just kidding of course. And then Kristin turned to me and said, ‘Of course I do,’ and filled out the raffle ticket. She gave me her name, phone number and email address and I gave her the ticket.” From there, the two started going to Fiesta events together and “slowly but surely, it turned into a complete love affair.” The two got married in 2009 and Kristin began taking care of Dick’s father and uncle, who were both “in their senior years.” “She spent a lot of time with my father and Uncle Will, riding with them in the mobility van,” Dick explained. “Kristin would just jump in the back of the van and go everywhere with them.” Her care and concern continued until Tips’ father Fred passed away in December 2011, and Will passed away in March 2012. Kristin is now a licensed funeral director and plays an integral role in the operations of Mission Park as President, along with her husband.
Another sad loss
The family house where Dick grew up in Terrell Hills was torn down recently to make way for a new home to be built there. “Deep down, I always wanted to acquire the house and remodel it,” said Dick. “My mother and father raised me, my two older sisters and my younger brother in that home. Although I wanted to preserve those memories, it just didn’t work. So Kristin and I bought a new family home just down the street in Terrell Hills. We have a real love affair with Terrell Hills. We know so many of the people. It’s just our neighborhood. We’ve watched our parents grow older here and it’s truly a family oriented community. It’s kind of like the TV show ‘Cheers’, where everybody knows your name.”
The fifth generation
On Feb. 20, 2012, the family legacy continued for Dick and Kristin as she gave birth to twins, Robert Dixon Tips, Jr., and Margaret Elizabeth Deborah Tips. Dick said, as a first-time father, “I have high hopes our children will carry on the family tradition and take Mission Park forward for another generation.”
When it comes to the funeral business Robert and Kristin see eye-to-eye. “You have to meet the special needs of each and every family,” Kristin says. “No two families are alike.” Dick agrees, “The difference between a family owned business and a publicly owned funeral company is we don’t have to worry about shareholders. We just worry about taking care of what each families needs in the most difficult times of their lives. We put the family needs first and work out the financial arrangements later. Always have and always will.” This commitment to the community and to local families extends to the special way that Mission Park looks after neighborhood police and firefighters. When an on duty firefighter or police officer loses his or her life in the line of duty he or she is buried at Mission Park at no expense. “It’s a tough subject to talk about, but when you need someone there for you 24/7 365 days a year, you need someone out there who will take your call at any hour. I’ve had the same cell phone number since cell phones came out. My phone’s always on. You can call me anytime. “I think there’s a tremendous value in being able to talk to a neighbor and a friend when a death occurs, even if it’s just to ask questions. We’re here to answer questions and to answer them any time day or night. “We never close our doors because we’re not an 8-5 business. We accept that responsibility gladly. I hope my children will carry this on and do the exact same thing. That’s the way they’re being raised. They’ll grow up with an understanding of their responsibility to the community.”
The cutting edge
Mission Park has been and still is on the cutting edge of the funeral business. Dick says they own their own cemeteries and have property available in every cemetery in the San Antonio area. They also manufacture their own vaults, containers and memorials. Dick’s father Fred even invented the six-door limousine, which is now the industry standard for funeral services.
“We’re moving to the next level of vehicles – producing Mercedes passenger coaches, which allow the families the luxury and convenience of riding together so they can be comfortable without crawling through a limo,” he said. The family also owns the crematory. “That’s extremely important,” Dick said. “With us owning the funeral home, the cemetery, making our own monuments and owning the crematory, God forbid, when something happens to someone dear to you… when you call Mission Park, your loved one never has to leave our care. You call one number, talk to one person and we take care of everything. We don’t outsource any part of the funeral process. It’s just one call and that’s all you have to do.”
Mission Park even accommodates weddings with beautiful chapels and white limousines. Tips said they also own the Fairmount Hotel in downtown San Antonio to accommodate bereaved families member coming from out of town to attending a service. This is just part of the Mission Park Concierge service the Tips provide to families. Overall, if you call Dick or Kristin, they take care of everything from start to finish. “That’s the way our company runs,” Tips said. “That’s the beauty of a family business.” Mission Park now runs 27 complete operations, but it all comes down to one thing…being there for families when they need it most.
“The sense of satisfaction that comes from friends and neighbors trusting us with the most valuable asset they have in the world, their family, can’t be put into words,” Dick said. “We all have our health. Our health is our wealth. When something happens where our health or a loved ones health deteriorates, you need to have someone you’re comfortable working with. I hope we’re the family you trust to work with in the future.” For more information, visit missionparks.com, or call either 210-647-7466 or 210-924-4242.