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Hills & Heights Life: Five Generations Strong

Five Strong

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The Tips have helped others through the hardest times for four, and now five, generations, and 106 years.

by Kevin Haslam

Editor

 

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.

 

A miracle

 

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.”

 

Building relationships

 

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.

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Corporate Leader Daily CEO Morning Report- The Inestimable Mr. Tips

What do funeral homes, helicopter tours and executive-level dogs have in common? These are just some of the synergistic elements employed to great effect by San Antonio-based entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert “Dick” Tips, once introduced by Jay Leno as “the most interesting person in Texas.”

Mr. Tips modestly shrugs that one off, but the fifth-generation Texan is a true maverick, which suits him fine. His business combination of (recession-proof) funeral homes, insurance companies, luxury hotel, private aircraft and more besides may seem incongruous at first, but Mr. Tips, who turned 54 just yesterday, has it all worked out.

“My great-grandfather founded the funeral business in 1907,” he says. “The insurance component is integral-pre-packaging funerals is a wise step for families. The private jet is for flying in funeral directors from around the country to talk business, while the helicopter is for showing them San Antonio-plus for spreading crematory ashes and fly-bys for our military clients.” Today, his Mission Parks Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries is at the center of an $100 million-plus empire.

Cutting-edge technology and car washes are among the ways he ebulliently transforms the death experience-graves are “underground condos”-and his 37-room hotel, the 1906 Fairmount, is part of the package. He reserves part of this Victorian gem-one of the heaviest structures ever moved-for funeral clients, while also catering to the business executive.

“This is a dealmaking hotel,” he says. “The CEO who needs a discrete, intimate setting for working out that multi-million deal comes here.” And then there’s Luke the Labrador, his “Director of Pet Services.” Near death from abuse, Luke was saved by a vet privately enaged by Tips, and today adds to the hotel’s uniquely at-home allure.

A most interesting man indeed.

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Dick Tips – Celebrating Lives Well Lived

Dick Tips, a man who literally grew up in the funeral business, knows that death care is a subject most people are reluctant to discuss. Visiting with Dick, who operates the largest privately owned funeral home and cemetery company in the US, it becomes apparent that his passion and commitment are not focused on the dead, but rather on the living.

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His full name is Robert Dixon Tips. Everyone who knows him calls him “Dick,” and he’s a man who has literally grown up in the funeral business. He knows better than most that death care is a subject many people are reluctant to discuss. But visiting with this man, who operates the largest privately owned funeral home and cemetery company in the United States, it becomes apparent that his passion and commitment are not focused on the dead, but rather on the living.

“Mission Park has been my family’s calling for over 100 years,” says Tips, Chairman and CEO of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries. “My great-grandfather, grandmother and father taught me that when someone dies the person left behind struggles through the worst day of their life, trying to determine what their loved one would have wanted.”

“Our goal is to help people through these critical times, and assist with the decisions that in many cases have been postponed to the end of life. That’s why I place so much emphasis on planning your funeral in advance. No one intentionally wants to burden his or her loved ones with these decisions at the time of their own death. I always ask the same questions, ‘Have you made your final plans? Will your family have the money to cover the expenses of your funeral?’ Mission Park is here to help make sure the answer to both important questions is, ‘yes.’

“It’s my responsibility as well as all the caring people I work with to help families avoid the worst shopping day of their lives. One of the most thoughtful ways anyone can express their love for their family is to make his or her arrangements in advance. When your specific wishes are pre-planned, you and your family can avoid hasty decisions and financial pressures while they’re grieving,” Dick says.

“Having personally called on him in some of the most trying times of my life, Dick has always been there for me and my family,” says Vicki Buffolino, a well-known TV anchor at CBS affiliate KENS-TV. “He has been in the business of helping others for many many years and it shows,” she said. “He shows the ultimate respect and care for the people who are oftentimes suffering and looking for guidance.”

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Veteran TV sports anchor Greg Simmons of ABC affiliate KSAT-TV says he’s been fortunate to witness and benefit from Dick’s generosity. Mission Park handled the funeral services for Simmons’ parents, who passed away in the 1990s. “Each time he assisted my family in getting through a very rough time in our lives,” he recalled.

“Recently, a friend of mine went through a tragedy in her life. Her son was murdered. She had no insurance for him and was faced with mounting bills including funeral costs. One call to Dick and he was extremely understanding and worked with the family to not only get them through the process but to assist them financially.”

“That’s just the kind of person he is,” Simmons said. “We are lucky to have Dick in our community.”

While San Antonio’s landmark family funeral company is more than a century old, Mission Park has grown most dramatically in the past quarter century thanks to Dick’s emphasis on pre-planning and his vision fordevelopment, expansion and integration of added services into Mission Park.

It’s interesting to note that Dick’s greatgrandfather, Will Harry Chambers, an architect and builder by trade, founded Mission Park in 1907. He presented the 200+ acres that now comprise the Mission Park South Cemetery to his wife as a wedding gift. The early success of Mission Park was a result of Will Chambers’ unwavering commitment to live by the Golden Rule, not only in how he treated his employees, but also the families served by the first Mission Park Cemetery.

In the early ’60’s, Dick joined his grandmother, Margaret; father, Fred; and uncle, Will, working summers and weekends at the family-owned cemeteries. “I did it all” says Dick. He swept the roadways, emptied trash containers, mowed, watered, trimmed and learned how to dig a grave for burial. Dick’s father and uncle, his mentors, always instilled in him the belief that we shape our own tomorrows by what we do today. And, with an eye toward the future, the Tips-owned cemetery properties offer a permanent, peaceful and pristine environment for families to come and visit their loved ones. Where you rest in death is just as important as where you lived in life from the standpoint of your future generations. Sensitivity to family dignity, understanding of family traditions and respect for the spiritual needs of individual families are the goals of Mission Park.

In the late 1950s, Mission Burial Park North was established on approximately 200 acres adjacent to The Dominion on Interstate 10 West as a birthday gift for Dick’s grandmother. During this same time, Lockehill Cemetery was acquired on the corner of Fredericksburg and Huebner Roads, which was once a stagecoach stop. The early 60s brought about more change in the funeral service industry in San Antonio when the first funeral home and cemetery was established at one convenient location at Mission Park South. Not surprisingly, it opened on June 25, 1965, Dick’s parents’ wedding anniversary. In 1978, Will and Fred Tips, responding to the demands of the north side, built a second funeral home on Cherry Ridge Drive at Interstate 10 and Loop 410. To continue a family tradition, the funeral home opened June 12, 1978, which is Dick’s birth-day.

In 1984, at the age of 29, Dick pur-chased the compa-ny from his dad and uncle. At that time, there were two funeral homes and three cemeteries in the Tips family business. However, it wasn’t long before Dick started to expand. He wasted no time in purchasing funeral operations throughout South Texas. A sharp downturn in the economy in the early ’80s, coupled with the growing expenses of expansion led to financial challenges. The company needed more cash to keep growing.

To raise more capital, in 1990 Dick sold 49 percent of Mission Park to Service Corporation International (SCI). Tips retained control of the business, and with his new partnership, inaugurated plans to go national, and then international with his cemeteries’ and funeral homes’ unique emphasis on taking care of people in need. Dick soon learned that working with a public company as his partner was foreign to the operating style that Mission Park was founded on. Having learned a valuable life lesson, Dick turned to a friend, Steve Dufilho and his team at Compass Bank to help him buy back the SCI interest in Mission Park. With Compass Bank’s financial backing, SCI’s Chairman Robert Waltrip, agreed to sell back its interest, which returned Dick to 100 percent ownership of Mission Park. Dick and Waltrip remain close friends today.

After several years at the helm of Mission Park, Dick became aware that families were much better off addressing the dreaded day of funeral arrangements by making those hard decisions well in advance of a time when heartache and mourning clouded good judgment. To assist our community, he established MTM Life Insurance Company to fund pre-need funeral planning efforts, to ease the financial burden that comes with an unexpected death. MTM has been so successful that it acquired Transwestern Life Insurance Co. and a substantial interest in North America Life Insurance Co. as well as Atlantic Southern Insurance Co. in Puerto Rico. Together, these companies offer life insurance, funeral service cost coverage, mortgage loans, and funeral home financing to assist in-dependently own-ed funeral homes.

Helping people through this difficult time of life is the driving force behind Mission Park’s growing areas of service. When a family has the foresight to make arrangements ahead of time, Dick’s companies will offer a supplemental benefit free of charge, which covers children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. And Dick continues to emphasize the message that no one should burden their loved ones with the decisions and plans that should have been made in advance.

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Buckner Fanning, former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church and founder of The Buckner Fanning Christian School, has been a Tips family friend “for as long as I can remember. I feel like I’ve always known him,” says Fanning.

Having presided over more than 800 funeral services Fanning said he views Dick’s work as a ministry. “You’re really helping people through a difficult time and you never know what the circumstances may be,” Fanning said. “There is a correlation to being a pastor because you never know, but you try to help people whatever the circumstances may be. You have to be flexible and understanding. He and his staff have always been just the epitome of compassion.”

There have been speed bumps along the way for Dick in his personal life, however. In 2001, between Thanksgiving and

Christmas, his home in north San Antonio burned to the ground. The silver lining?: No one died. And as Dick says, &”Although I lost my home, I still have what is most important to me: my family, friends, freedom and faith.&”

After that loss, Dick lived in a hotel in downtown San Antonio, rediscovering the city where he was born and raised. That year the New Year’s Eve celebration was held in front of the Fairmount Hotel. Seeing that this jewel of San Antonio had fallen into disrepair was disappointing. Dick located the owners, purchased the hotel, and renovated the entire property.

What do a Hotel and a Funeral Home have in common? “They are both 24/7/365 operations, and they are both all about Customer Service,” says Dick. Those who use Mission Park have the luxury of allowing the Fairmount to be their “spare bedroom” for family and friends during life’s most difficult time. &”If you don’t have a place to receive well wishers? No problem, you have the Fairmount,&” Dick tells everyone. &”We help people coming in for a funeral with travel and lodging plans. Provide them with e-mail and phone service, connect the family to our housekeeping services and car wash. And we work with the family on the memorial folder as well as their video tribute. My home is your home, ” is Dick’s philosophy, and to help make it feel more like a home, we have Luke Tips &”Director of Pet Relations&” the Fairmount’s concierge/live in Labrador retriever who was rescued by the Tips Family.

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“We handle receptions anywhere the family wants,” Dick says assuredly.  “We will go to a house, hotel, to a park. The same is true of funeral services. We will go wherever the family wants. We know that funeral services need to be unique to the individual. Not everyone wants hymns. Some prefer country music, others jazz. Several times families have asked if they could have bagpipes. One woman asked that we play ‘Waltz Across Texas’ at the end of the service because she and her husband loved to dance. ”

Dick always keeps the family’s needs in mind. Dick has made private flight arrangements to get loved ones to their destination and has picked up vacationing family members by helicopter when an unexpected death has occurred.

For many, cremation is preferred to burial. Because Mission Park owns the crematory, the loved one never leaves the premises until they are inurned, or the ashes have been scattered over places of special importance, such as at sea, a favorite view overlooking a river, or laid to rest in an urn garden. “We are here to help them carry out their final wishes,” Dick says proudly. Beyond catering to unique final requests, Mission Park offers the only perpetual care cemetery for pets in all of Texas.

Established in the late 1970s, when a new highway was going to disrupt the burial place of a family’s beloved pets, the Tips family opened a pet cemetery. “Our pets become such an important part of enjoyment of life, that it is fitting that we lessen our loss by putting them to rest in a place where they will be remembered”, Dick says.

What is the secret of success of this century old business? “We never forget that our families’ needs come first and quality care and service go hand in hand. That’s something my great-grandfather established and it’s become our culture – to go above and beyond, do whatever it takes to assist our families,” says Dick.

Dick knows that a company’s strength is its people. With the team that he has built over the years, he continues his family’s calling to serve his community in the way he was taught by older generations, as well as improve that care through innovative services. “At Mission Park, it truly is our mission to care.” says Dick.

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Rey Feo Scholarships, Inc.

Robert D. Tips, Rey Feo LVII, President, Mission Park Funeral Chapels and and Cemeteries

Robert D. Tips has been a leader in the cemetery and funeral business for the last three decades, helping to preserve the family owned spirit of this important area of San Antonio’s life and culture.

Mr. Tips began his career working in the Mission Park Cemetery as a preteen, mowing the grass, and setting headstones. Growing up in the San Antonio-based business his father and uncle owned, he saw first hand how important it is for families to make their funeral plans in advance. So, in his twenties, Mr. Tips pioneered a new pre-need division for Mission Park, which has become a model for family-owned funeral businesses across the country.

The tremendous success of Mission Park’s advance funeral planning division led Mr. Tips to purchase the entire company from his father and uncle in 1984 and assume his current role of Chairman and CEO of MPII, Inc., which owns and operates Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries.

Over the past twenty years, Mr.Tips has dramatically expanded the operations of Mission Park while keeping the tradition of family service at the heart of all that the company does. Under his leadership,the business has added eleven more family run funeral homes and cemeteries throughout Texas,a casket manufacturing company that delivers high quality caskets at affordable prices, a monument design and manufacturing group, an architectural and construction division serving independent funeral operators throughout North America, two insurance companies and a trust company to protect the investments of Mission Park’s pre-need customers, and an in-house advertising agency to market Mission Park’s growing network of services.