Local family-owned funeral homes have undergone many dramatic changes in the last decade. In response to economic conditions and changing preferences in the industry, a handful of large conglomerates have stepped in and purchased many smaller funeral homes that may not have family members who want to continue the business. While large corporations offer certain advantages to funeral home operators, some funeral operators prefer to keep the business in the family, if possible.
This semester, Mesa Community College’s Mortuary Science Program has three graduates who will be taking over local family businesses. Graduates Bill Lowman, of Lowman’s Arizona Funeral Home, Taylor Adair, of Adair Funeral Home, and Bryce Bunker, of Bunker Family Funeral Home, all say it’s an honor to be carrying on the family tradition and MCC’s program helped them obtain the necessary credentials.
For Lowman, 43, it was his father’s illness that spurred a career change. After working in the electronics industry for several years, he quit his job and went to fill in for his father in the family funeral home.
“It was just amazing, the fulfillment I got out of helping families,” Lowman said. “I decided to go to school and get my funeral director license so I can eventually run the family funeral home.”
Lowman said the most valuable thing he learned was how different people cope with death and how, by body language and voice tone, he could present himself in an appropriate manner to assist the family.
“The instructors are fantastic and very knowledgeable,” Lowman said. “They convey information by involving a little bit of humor so that the learning process is a little easier.”
Adair was also pleased by the instruction he received from instructors Tom Taggart and Donna Backhaus.
“They know things from personal experience and that information keeps you focused,” said Adair, 32, who initially went into resort management in California, but returned to the family business to work with his sister and father. He likes having the ability to help people during a hard time and try to make their experience a positive one.
Adair has noticed that the industry could improve by incorporating more technology into the business.
“The industry has fallen behind technologically and I would like to be part of changing that,” Adair said.
Bunker, 28, is the youngest of six kids and the only one to go into the family business. He originally graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in applied biological sciences, started his own business, but returned to the family business when his father told him he didn’t want to sell his business to the conglomerates.
For him, the most valuable part of MCC’s program has been building relationships with others in the industry and having exposure to different ways of doing things. He feels honored when he helps a family decide how best to celebrate the life of their loved one.
“If there’s anything I’d like to accomplish, it’s to let people know that it’s ok to celebrate in a different way sometimes, whether extremely formal, or a more casual celebration,” he said.
“It’s ok to celebrate an individual’s life in a unique and individual way and to strip some of the stereotypes away… we want our business to reflect more of a message of hope and light and that we will help you celebrate and heal.”
All of the graduates say they decided to attend MCC’s Mortuary Science Program based on others’ recommendations and the fact that it’s the only accredited program in Arizona and one of few in the surrounding states.
The program is a member of the National Association of Colleges of Mortuary Science and offers an Associate in Applied Science degree in Mortuary Science. The curriculum combines coursework in mortuary science with a general education component.
The AAS degree from MCC is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. Completion of the program prepares the student to sit for the National Board examination and begin state internship requirements.
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