COLUMBIA — Mary Ratliff met Harold Warren Sr. almost half a century ago. She can testify to many of his charitable acts of service throughout the black community as well as the entire city over the years.
"Mr. Warren has put out his soul and billfold in Columbia for far too long," Ratliff said. "He never turned anyone away."
Ratliff, the president of the Missouri NAACP and the organization's Columbia chapter, said Warren has helped everyone - baseball teams, the Boys and Girls Club of America, scholarship funds, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has always been a resource for the community, she said.
"He's given to everything that's come along," Ratliff said.
But these unconditional acts of generosity might have contributed to financial problems for both Warren himself and the funeral home he directed until late February, when he handed the reins to his son, Harold Warren Jr.
Warren Sr. and Helen Warren filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in October 2006, and that case was closed in August 2007, according to PACER, the federal court database.
Financial problems at Warren Funeral Chapel had previously led Warren Jr. to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a month earlier, in September 2006. The case, which is still pending, lists 21 creditors, including casket manufacturers and government agencies. Also among the funeral home's creditors are Warren Jr. and Sr. themselves, according to PACER.
Harry Boul, who represented the Warrens in both cases, was unavailable for comment.
The Warrens and their funeral home have also been parties to dozens of suits in Boone County Circuit Court, including eight filed by the state Division of Employment Security since 1995, according to Missouri Case.net.
Others who have previously sued the Warrens in the circuit court include Capital One Bank, Mid City Lumber Company and MFA Oil Company, according to Missouri Case.net.
Court records show judgments in those cases have ranged from a little more than $150 to more than $4,000.
Last week, Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit in Boone County Circuit Court asking the court to close the funeral home because inspectors found unsanitary conditions. According to the lawsuit, inspectors found a garbage bag containing organs from multiple bodies in a casket and the decayed, unembalmed body of a woman who had been stored at the funeral home since September 2007.
On July 30, Warren Funeral Chapel agreed to a temporary restraining order that effectively shuts the business' doors for 15 days.
While the suit has drawn negative attention to the Warrens, members of the black community have expressed their support of the man they feel has helped those in need in the past.
The local chapter of the NAACP will hold a fundraiser to benefit Warren Funeral Chapel at 4 p.m. Sunday at Second Baptist Church, Ratliff said.
She said several area choirs and soloists will perform at the event.
"Now that he is in trouble," Ratliff said, "we feel that the community ought to be there for him."