Each year, we have the honor of working alongside funeral professionals from across the country. We get to share some of your success stories in our newsletter for our funeral home customers. Each funeral home that we interview for our cover story has a unique approach to caring for their community members, but they always astound us with their dedication to caring for those who need help the most.
Learn more about the amazing funeral professionals that we have the opportunity to work with every day.
A Service for the Biggest WWE Fan
Adam Strahan, owner of Lumberton Family Funeral Home in Lumberton, TX, fondly recalls the funeral service of a local mother and grandmother. “We were looking at photos of this woman with her family, and she was just this really sweet, classy lady. I never would have guessed that she was glued to the television every Monday night to watch WWE Raw,” he laughingly recalled. “That’s why we ask. Those are the details we want to include to create a meaningful tribute.”
To make the memorial memorable for her family, they played Stone Cold Steve Austin’s walkout music as they rolled her casket to the front of the church. Austin was her favorite wrestler. “People only have one mother, one father. Most people only ever have one spouse. Our job as funeral professionals is to create an experience for people where they look back and think that we took care of them like they were part of our family,” said Adam.
A Lifelong Dedication to the Funeral Profession
Funeral directors and co-owners Robert Rey and Lorena Rey Garcia followed in the footsteps of their father, Roberto Valle Garcia, when they decided to join their family-run Garcia Mortuary in Oxnard, CA. Roberto noticed a need for a Hispanic mortuary in his community in the 1970s when he was working selling burial plots at a local cemetery. “We live in a heavily agricultural area, so a lot of Mexican farm laborers would come here seasonally,” recalled Lorena. “At the same time, a lot of them were passing away and getting shipped back to Mexico.”
At the age of 25, Roberto began attending mortuary school an hour and a half away from his home. “His day would start around 5 a.m., and he would commute with a few other guys to the school in Los Angeles. He would be at school all day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then he would come straight home and go to his apprenticeship at a local funeral home. He did that for two straight years,” noted Lorena. Roberto was also raising three children under the age of five with his wife.
After graduating, Roberto opened Garcia Mortuary, which was the first Hispanic funeral home located between northern California and Los Angeles, and filled a major need in his community.
Discovering the Importance of Pre-need
Bob Bell, the fifth-generation owner and funeral director at Austin & Bell Funeral Home in Pleasant View, TN, had the opportunity to see the importance of pre-need first hand after the death of a local woman. Her children, a brother and sister, arrived at the funeral home the next day to plan the funeral. “They were so nervous about how to come up with the money. They didn’t want to stick other people with the bills,” said Bob. “Then I pulled out their mother’s pre-need file and they discovered that she had prearranged everything and didn’t tell them.”
The woman’s children were so relieved and surprised that they burst into tears. “It’s like opening a gift on Christmas morning. It completely changes the way the funeral goes and the way they feel. I can’t think of a greater gift to give your kids,” said Bob.
Caring for a Community After a National Tragedy
For Riffe’s Funeral Service, Inc. in Narrows, VA, the Virginia Tech Massacre of 2007 hit too close to home. One of the people killed that day was a bright, well-liked student from the firm’s community. “He was weeks away from graduating with honors, and he had already been accepted into a master’s program,” said James Riffe, the manager of his family-owned firm. “He was going places.”
The close-knit community and the student’s family leaned on James and his staff to help them make arrangements. Not only did the student’s family and friends have to deal with the sudden death of their loved one, but they also had to manage attention from the national media. “We had to worry about keeping the mourners safe and keeping the media at a respectful perimeter,” James recalled. “It was the largest funeral we’ve ever conducted, and it took all of our staff and several other funeral home owners in the area just to make it work.”
On the day of the service, nearly 1,800 people arrived at the high school to pay their respects during the visitation, and another 600 people filled the auditorium for the funeral. Simultaneously providing grief support to the family, while also managing the logistics of the services is just one of the many ways Riffe’s Funeral Service has cared for their community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the impactful stories in funeral service, sign-up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on industry news and other helpful tips.