Our History

Vankirk Funeral Home was founded in 1955 by Alvia S. Vankirk and his wife Helen Cottongim Vankirk.

They devoted over 40 years to serving families in the Corbin area, both in ambulance work and funeral service.

Alvia Stephen Vankirk was born on January 18, 1922 in Middlesboro, Kentucky to Dr. Thomas D. Vankirk, a veterinarian, and Hazel McCarty Vankirk. He attended the University of Kentucky and was a graduate of the Kentucky School of Embalming. (Left: Helen and Alvia Vankirk - 1955)

Even after he devoted countless hours to the funeral home, ambulance runs and serving as Whitley County Deputy Coroner for many years, Alvia never turned his back on his civic activities. An active member of the Corbin Kiwanis Club, he was a past president of the Corbin Club and Lieutenant Governor of District 5. He had 40 plus years of perfect attendance at Kiwanis. A Mason, Shriner and a member of Oleika Temple, he was responsible for many children being admitted to the Shriners Hospital for treatment. He had also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Cumberland Valley National Bank & Trust Co.

Alvia was a veteran of WWII and served in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre. He was recipient of five battle stars.

A life-long Presbyterian, Alvia served as an Elder of the Corbin Presbyterian Church which just happened to sit right next door to the funeral home. He became an active member of the Venice Presbyterian Church in Florida after his retirement. (Right: Vankirk Funeral Home - Winter 1957)

Helen Cottongim Vankirk was born February 5, 1929 in Barbourville, Kentucky to John Cottongim and Cleo Muncy Cottongim. A graduate of Corbin High School, she continued her education at Ward-Belmont Junior College in Nashville and graduated from Northwestern University in 1951 earning her Masters Degree in music for both the organ and the piano. Her love for music led her to further her studies at the Brevard School of Music in Brevard, North Carolina. Over the years, Helen taught piano and was an elementary school teacher in addition to being a funeral director.

When the Vankirks retired, they spent part of their time in the Corbin area, but they also enjoyed their time spent at their home in Venice, Florida.

In 2001, Eric and Dawn Grisell bought the funeral home and it became the Vankirk-Grisell Funeral Home. Eric, Dawn and their three children are from West Virginia. Eric is the sixth generation in his family to become a funeral director.

Alvia and Helen Vankirk met the Grisell family during the time they were purchasing the funeral home and were very pleased to see the legacy that they had built was to be left in such caring and capable hands.

Alvia and Helen were able to celebrate their 50-year journey through life together on their golden wedding anniversary in December, 2001. Sadly, Alvia passed away a few days later on January 2, 2002, with Helen following closely behind him on March 1, 2002. They are missed and will not soon be forgotten.