This story first appeared in the Messenger-Inquirer by Angela Oliver, 270-691-7360, [email protected]
Dorothy Jean and Berna Dean Bibbs used to stand at the doors of Bibbs Funeral Home in Greenville as girls.
Sometimes they’d be holding them open as a funeral procession entered. Other times they’d be listening as their father told colorful stories with his friends.
“We would hear the other guys outside saying, ‘Now, Bernes Lee, you know that wasn’t so!'” said Berna Bibbs-Snipes.
“He was usually a man of few words, but he had his stories.”
A look at their website shows the women — fraternal twin sisters — are still standing at those doors. Now, though, they’re running in their father’s footsteps as licensed funeral directors and embalmers at the family-owned business whose services stretch through Muhlenberg, Daviess and surrounding counties.
Their late parents, Bernes Lee Bibbs and Dorothy Hightower Bibbs, opened Bibbs Funeral Home at 109 Court Row in 1963. He had worked for years at Griffith Funeral Home, which was a black-owned business in Owensboro.
“After high school, they asked us if we wanted to go into the same field,” said Dorothy Bibbs-Kendrick. “We grew up in it, so we wanted to continue something our parents put so much into.”
“Not just the funeral business, but their outreach to the community — the care, love and compassion they exhibited,” said Bibbs-Snipes.
The women followed their father’s lead, gaining licenses from the Mid-America College of Funeral Service in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 1985. He died two years later.
“He would be proud to see us today,” Bibbs-Kendrick said. “And Mom always called us her little angels. She would be proud of us, too.”
The twins also have years of teaching behind them, having followed their mother’s lead to Western Kentucky University for their master’s degrees, then into the classroom. All three taught concurrently at Graham Elementary School. When it closed, the twins moved to Longest Elementary School. By 2007, when Bibbs-Kendrick retired, and with their mother (who died in 2008) having done so in 1993, the three women had a combined total of 96 years as Muhlenberg County educators. Bibbs-Snipes retired from teaching in 2014.
Aside from teaching, the women share many experiences.
They dress alike occasionally. They wear the same salt-and-pepper curls. They finish each other’s sentences and say some things in unison, often ending with a spirited high-five and sugar-sweet smiles.
“It’s comforting,” said Bibbs-Kendrick. “It’s nice to know we have each other.”
“There’s a certain connection twins have,” said Bibbs-Snipes.
“Like a oneness,” her sister continued.
“A twin aura,” said the other. “Even if we’re standing in different spots during a (funeral) service, we can look at each other and know exactly what we’re communicating, exactly what needs to be done.”
They both play piano and often sing at church, political and charitable events, such as the upcoming Second Baptist Church Christmas Cantata and Alma Randolph Foundation’s “Evening With Danny Glover,” the choir for which Bibbs-Kendrick directed. Bibbs-Snipes is the pianist and music ministry director at Zion Baptist Church. She also published
“Breathing Life into Every Season,” a collection of excerpts and interpretations of her pastor’s sermons.
The women also both direct three choirs and are otherwise active in their churches.
“The Lord has blessed us with a gift that we do not take lightly,” said Bibbs-Snipes.
“We want to uplift people, we let the spirit move through us,” Bibbs-Kendrick added.
“It’s never about us,” Bibbs-Snipes said. “It’s about using the gift and how we present it to others. We pray the music and the message ministers to whomever we’re signing to. We pray they receive God’s love.”
As children, they were always in the same classes and each were guards on the former Greenville High School Blackhawks basketball team; Dorothy Jean wore No. 35 while Berna Dean wore No. 53. That continued for two years at Kentucky Wesleyan College, with Nos. 3 and 5 respectively. They decided to end their basketball careers but graduated with bachelor’s degrees in education in 1981.
There, Doretha Bush, who is a member of Zion Baptist, was “an angel watching over us and we didn’t even know it,” Bibbs-Kendrick said. “Our father had asked her to look out for us.”
They had a double wedding ceremony June 17, 2006 — Dorothy Jean to John Snipes, a retired electrical supplies salesman, and Berna Dean to the Rev. Robert Kendrick, retired EMT of the Mayfield Fire Department and now pastor of Sweeney Street Baptist Church in Owensboro.
“I met John first, and I wanted my twin to be as happy as I was,” said Bibbs-Snipes, who met him at Zion a couple of years earlier. So, he introduced Dorothy Jean to Kendrick, who is his family friend as both the men are from Graves County.
The couples live in the same cul-de-sac. And while the twins didn’t have children, they are now stepmothers.
Along with a small staff, the men also work at the funeral home. Being faced with death every day can be daunting. But it’s a relief to work with family, the twins said. Something greater keeps them from being discouraged by it.
“A lot of people look at it as a business, but we look at it as time to to prepare a loved one to see Christ,” Bibbs-Snipes said. “We put our all into every service, for all people. We take that very seriously becuase we know it’s a difficult time for our clients.”
“Sometimes it is hard because it’s a smaller community; we know, or we’re related to, a lot of the people who pass away,” said Bibbs-Kendrick. “But in Christ we are reminded that there is eternal life. With the love of God and his hand guiding us, we will continue to be there.”
“Dealing with death every day makes you truly depend on Christ for strength,” said Bibbs-Snipes. “And it’s a blessing and an honor to know we’re still keeping on our parents’ legacy.”
Angela Oliver, 270-691-7360, [email protected]