Irving W. Stetson buried hundreds of soldiers in France and the Philippines during World War II, and after the war made funeral arrangements for thousands of families in mourning.

It was a life he never regretted, following in the footsteps of his forefathers, who established Stetson’s Funeral Home of Brunswick in 1855.

Mr. Stetson, who went by the nickname “Stet,” died Sunday at the Freeport Nursing Home. The longtime resident of Sparwell Lane in Brunswick was 87.

“He was born into the funeral business,” said his longtime friend and colleague, Anthony Purinton of Brunswick.

Purinton, who was trained and mentored by Mr. Stetson as a young boy, now owns and operates Stetson’s Funeral Home on Federal Street in Brunswick. Purinton said he never considered changing the name of the home after he and his wife, Debbie, acquired Stetson’s in 1991.

The history of the home — Mr. Stetson was a fourth-generation owner — and its reputation for providing personalized service would have been lost if the name had been changed, Purinton said.

Stetson’s Funeral Home was established by Mr. Stetson’s family on Brunswick’s Maine Street. It eventually moved to Federal Street in Brunswick because Mr. Stetson’s great-grandfather thought the rent on the Maine Street property — $5 per month — was too high.

Mr. Stetson was born in Portland, the son of Irving W. Stetson Sr. and Mulvina Ragan Stetson. As a teenager, he worked at the funeral home and his father taught him the business.

After graduating from Brunswick High School, Mr. Stetson enlisted in the U,S. Army in 1943. Because of his training, he was appointed grave registration chief. He helped the Army build cemeteries in Normandy and in Batangas, Philippines, during World War II, and according to Purinton, buried hundreds of civilians and soldiers.

After the war ended, Mr. Stetson attended Eckels College of Mortuary Science in Philadelphia.

In 1952, he and his wife, Dorothy, became the owners of Stetson’s Funeral Home.

Purinton said his grandparents’ home was located beside the funeral home. As a child, he would sit in their living room and stare out the window.

“I used to say, ‘What they are they doing over there?’” Purinton recalled.

Over time, Mr. Stetson hired Purinton to mow his lawn and wash cars. And as he grew older, he shared his knowledge of the funeral business with Purinton.

“He mentored me,” Purinton said. “His motto was: Everyone’s life is important. Everyone’s life has value.”

Purinton remembered one family that came to Mr. Stetson but could not afford to buy a casket for their loved one.

“Stet bought them a cemetery plot and gave them a casket,” Purinton said.

The “Everyone’s life has value” motto has stuck with Purinton, who takes pride that Stetson’s is still locally owned and operated.

“Here, you start with me and you end with me,” Purinton said of his relationship with families.

Purinton said he admired his friend because he successfully operated what was a time-consuming business before cellphones and pagers came into use. If Mr. Stetson wanted to take a break and see a movie, he’d contact his answering service and have the operator call him at the movie theater if a family needed him.

In the early days, Mr. Stetson and his father would take a boat to some of the islands in Harpswell to retrieve a body.

Though he traveled around the world after he retired, Mr. Stetson never forgot Brunswick.

He donated thousands of dollars to a Rotary Club fund that benefits people living in Third World countries. He also served as past president of the United Way, served on boards and committees at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, and was a longtime member and chairman of the Brunswick Recreation Committee.

But Mr. Stetson will be remembered most for is his treatment and respect of families in mourning, Purinton said.

“That’s the one thing he instilled in me, to treat everyone with the same respect and courtesy that you would show toward your own family member,” he said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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