GRANDVIEW, Wash. -- His name is Tim Morris, but they call him Cemetery Tim. He’s the “Whoop! Whoop!” guy.
You don’t know the “Whoop! Whoop!” guy? Let us introduce you.
Morris sells headstones from his office in Grandview. He ships headstones all over the country and gives away free headstones during Facebook Live videos. He created the Facebook page for his business on May 29, 2017. That’s when they started calling him Cemetery Tim.
“I would name a winner for headstone giveaway and I would clap and say, ‘Whoop! Whoop!’” Morris said recently as he stood at Lower Valley Memorial Gardens outside the city. “Someone called me and said, ‘You don’t realize you’re saying whoop whoop all the time.’”
So he was and so he does, more than ever. He has nearly 500,000 likes on Facebook, and those followers embrace it, praising his headstone designs and thanking him for helping people during difficult times. God bless you, they say amid dozens of comments on each of his posts, along with #CemeteryTim and #WhoopWhoop and variations of each.
“I put myself in other people’s shoes. ... Make it about the families. You’ve got to help them,” Morris said. “I’ve lowered my pricing a lot because I want to help the families.”
He’s a cheerleader for his business, just like any good businessman. But Morris is also a booster of the Lower Valley in general. He and Gloria Mendoza, founder of the GMC Training Institute and a member of the Grandview City Council, co-founded Lower Valley Business Connections in January to unite Lower Valley cities and promote being loyal and buying local.
The organization’s first town hall meeting takes place at 6 p.m. June 11 at 801 Grandridge Road, Grandview. It’s open to the public and will feature several leading Lower Valley business people in what they hope will be the first of many fruitful discussions.
“The idea is to start investing in our Lower Valley community, in partnering with one another, staying to buy local, do business local,” Mendoza said. “Tim’s very passionate about that. He is very passionate about the Lower Valley and just giving back to his community. ... He really lives what he preaches.”
Morris leads and participates in fundraisers for people in need, such as the eight children of Maria Gonzalez-Castillo, who died in June 2017. Her husband, Jaime Alejandre, is accused of killing her and remains in jail; his trial is set for August.
And Morris is passionate about recognizing veterans. He and Command Sgt. Maj. Ramon M. Dang Sr. of the Yakima Training Center are working together for a three-piece headstone at the grave of Staff Sgt. Jack Pendleton, the only Medal of Honor recipient buried in Yakima County. Dang raised $9,038 through a GoFundMe account and Morris designed the memorial, which he hopes to set this summer.
An ebullient guy in a business that could wear down the most positive of people, Morris loves his job and loves where he lives.
“There is no place like the Lower Valley,” he said.
Morris has run his headstone design business for about three years, starting it from scratch after managing the Memorial Gardens for about three years. He enjoyed overseeing cemetery operations but decided he wanted to work for himself.
After working at a variety of jobs for most of his 44 years, Morris has found a keeper.
“I found something I’m truly passionate about — helping families,” he said. “That keeps me motivated. That keeps me on track.”
Born in Yakima, Morris grew up in Seattle, where he moved at age 2 with his mother when his parents divorced. His mom, Phyllis Kroum, was born in Sunnyside and grew up in Toppenish. His grandmother, Mary Layman, ran the popular Maria’s Restaurant in Parker for years.
“I never knew what I really wanted to be growing up,” said Morris, who’s single. He has a younger brother, Zach, 31, who is a corrections officer at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla and an Army veteran who served in Iraq. Their mother retired from the U.S. Postal Service and lives in Richland.
His first “real” job was in food service, at Cafe Recess in Seattle, he noted in a Facebook post. “I was the busser, prep cook, dishwasher and everything else for $3.35 an hour!” Morris wrote.
During summer vacations, they would return to the Yakima Valley to reconnect with relatives.
After high school, Morris continued in the service industry or sales of some kind. He has sold insurance and worked in construction and real estate, among other jobs, before returning to the Valley for good in 2012.
“I was a little bit tired of the hustle and bustle, the traffic jams,” Morris said. “I’ve been blessed — now I’m here.”
While a businessman, he also sees himself as a community leader. “I just go from the heart. I dibble and dabble in all kinds of things,” Morris said. “I use my voice as much as I can for things I can stand behind.”
Dang likes his dedication to his work and his causes.
“He is a very responsive guy. That’s the reason why I trusted him with another project I had,” said Dang, who found Morris on Facebook.
He designed a plaque for the training center gym to honor Army Capt. Aaron Blanchard, a Selah native who died in a 2013 rocket attack on his forward operating base in Afghanistan. Dang showed it to Morris, who had it cast in bronze with color. The plaque went up in April.
“The entire family was appreciative of it,” Dang said. “It’s like we were cut from the same cloth when we got hooked up together. As much as I want the stuff to get done the right way, he is the same way.”
A name and a story
Pausing at the grave of 1-year-old Isabella Orozco, Morris talked about the process of creating her headstone. Isabella died after being struck by a car in the Sunnyside Walmart parking lot in March 2017.
“What we came up with is a diamond etch of Isabella’s photo. ... This is all done by hand, it’s not done by machine,” Morris said. “We have an artist that actually takes a diamond etching tool; he’ll set the photo next to where he’s going to do the etching and he’ll just start shading. ...”
“On top of that, we were able to take it one more step and add color. We added pink and blue to her hat ... a little brown for the fur on her jacket,” he added. “Just a beautiful little girl and a great, great family.”
Once headstones are designed, a large fabrication shop in Seattle crafts them.
“I’m really proud of this one,” Morris said softly at the gravesite of Angel Gabriel Mendoza.
Known as Gabby, Mendoza died in a car accident in November 2015. He was a junior and honor student at Granger High School.
“It’s all done by hand. This took a good 40 hours to make,” Morris said of the large flat granite rectangle etched with images of Mendoza at different ages against a background of wheat. A tall cross in matching black granite towers over the flat stone.
“It was the largest funeral I’ve ever seen. There were lots of family and friends that really loved this guy,” he said.
Headstones range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Even with layaway, it’s a big financial commitment.
Still, “I think everybody should have a headstone. Everybody should have something with their name and some kind of story,” Morris said.
The headstone giveaways help make that happen. He’s given away about 110 headstones since he created the Facebook page, he estimated. Families sometimes just need a break, Morris said.
In February, Morris traveled to Dallas, where he placed a donated headstone at the gravesite of Hector Escobar Jr. Vandals had destroyed Escobar’s grave in 2015. Relatives spoke with a local television station about their hopes of placing a new customized stone there, and word got all the way to Cemetery Tim.
“The poor guy’s grave was torched. I ... selected that family, flew down there and hand-delivered it,” Morris said.
Mendoza met Morris at a business social and initially thought to herself, “That’s got to be an interesting job,” she said. Soon she was impressed.
“As I started hearing his story and seeing the work he’s doing in the Lower Valley to get families to talk about death — that’s not an easy subject to talk about,” Mendoza said. “He does such a nice job about making it an approachable subject.”
She thinks his low-key approach as demonstrated on his Facebook page is a big reason for his success.
“He is always giving back. I think that’s the reason he is doing so well getting followers. People know that he cares,” she said. “He will get in a plane and go to New Mexico to personally deliver a headstone.
“If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is. He’s wonderful.”