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Congratulations to our 2016 Professional Women’s Conference Scholarship Recipients

Monique Murray Fowler

Monique’s mission in the funeral profession is to build upon the long history of women in funeral service. She attended the Professional Women’s Conference to help affirm the value of women as funeral service professionals, and be a part of establishing women’s place in the future of the industry.

Monique credits her father and mentor, who is an outspoken advocate for professional women in funeral service and other professions, for instilling in her a high ethical standard, a value for continuing education, and encouraging her to “think big” while maintaining orderly routine.

Monique’s “thinking big” has helped her create Brushstrings Foundation, an Atlanta-area non-profit organization, whose mission is to bring awareness to health-related causes through interactive art and music workshops, musical events, and direct art sales. Her work with the Brushstrings has helped Monique move through the grief of losing a child. This spirit of community and giving back is what she intends to bring to funeral service, and says, “Imagine that if out of death, loss and despair, came hope and change.”

Veronica Haskell

Veronica and her husband (a licensed funeral director and embalmer) purchased three small funeral homes in central Illinois in 2013. Having served within office and retail management, and HR roles for 25 years, Veronica left the corporate world, and took on the role of Vice President for Haskell-Hott Funeral Homes. While she admits that the transition was an adjustment, working alongside her husband toward one common goal has become a true blessing her family. In her former HR role, Veronica had to be emotionless and often take a tough stance. She notes that funeral service is completely the opposite.

When Veronica first saw her husband’s professional side, she was in awe of his gentle manner, and his gifts of genuine compassion and patience. Not only did she see her husband in this new light, she also saw how she wanted to model herself professionally, and was inspired to become a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Haskell says, “Frankly, I have experienced more job satisfaction at our funeral home in one short hour, than I have in more than 25 years out in the big corporate world…Nothing compares to being able to honor and celebrate a life lived and to start the family and friends left behind on their grief journey.”

 Heather Heath

Heather has worked as a licensed funeral director for Brown Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Niles, Michigan for over a decade. One of her first high profile funerals was for “Lindsay,” a young woman her age who was well-known throughout the community, and who died from complications of leukemia. Lindsay’s service, procession and burial were executed perfectly, which left Heather both personally and professionally satisfied.

Several months later, a community member approached Heather at a Relay for Life event, and asked her to tell the funeral director who had handled Lindsey’s funeral that they had done an exceptional job. This person wanted to call the funeral home but didn’t know if that was appropriate. Heather shared that she was the director, and what followed remains a defining moment in Heather’s career. Throughout the course of the event, nearly 20 people approached Heather to express their gratitude for Lindsay’s service, and said that it was as if Lindsay had planed it herself. Heather says, “that experience showed me that I was in the right business.  This was my calling and I had made the right decision to follow my heart.”

Ann-Marie Kieffer

Ann-Marie’s professional journey is a bit untraditional. She first entered the profession as a funeral home owner, and although she and her husband sold the business, Ann-Marie says, “I finally figured out ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ even though it took me 45 years!”

Ann-Marie currently works part time as a funeral and prep room assistant. She finds herself in a dual mentor/mentee role both teaching and learning from her fellow students who conduct labs for embalming classes in her firm’s prep room.  Ann-Marie believes it’s imperative to share knowledge and continue to teach each other so that every director can be their very best. 

Each day when she places her name tag over her heart, Ann-Marie says she’s reminded that that she is functioning as a light in a family’s darkest hours, offering assistance, guidance, and a genuine caring hug when they need it. Ann-Marie is honored to become a funeral director, and is thankful to have found not just a career, but a lifestyle to serve and help others celebrate the life of their loved ones.

Jenna Leisner

A successful and comprehensive job shadowing experience in high school made Jenna realize that she wanted to know absolutely everything to took to become a funeral director. Jenna is excited to begin her career in a profession that allows her to actively express her empathetic, caring, charismatic personality on a day-to-day basis. She credits her mentor, Mr. Ed Walker, and his constructive guidance with helping her achieve her most significant professional accomplishment to date: working with a grieving family from removal to the final disposition.

Mr. Walker greeted the family, introduced Jenna, and then waited upstairs. Jenna’s nervousness disappeared, and she felt immediately in synch with the woman who had just lost her husband. The woman told Jenna she was relieved and relaxed making arrangements with a woman.  Jenna was able to say closing prayers holding her hand, and was told through tears how beautiful everything was. Jenna says, “that made my insides so incredibly warm.”

Jenna’s conference experience helped her learn more about strong women in the profession, and helped her build even more confidence as a future funeral director.

Kathy Lentz

Encouragement from friends within funeral service led Kathy to become a certified funeral celebrant, and to create Kindred Sol, a business that specializes in end-of-life celebrations and helping people grieve in healthy ways. Kathy’s background in hospice, her skills in relationship building and business management, and her call to help those working through end-of-life-challenges are the cornerstones for her business.

A resource for funeral homes and families alike, Kathy works to create and design unique, meaningful and memorable celebration experiences for the deceased, while at the same time bringing comfort to the living. Kathy says that she is honored and blessed when called upon to serve a family and accompany them on their grief journey. As a small business owner, Kathy was able to expand her network of resources at the conference, and feel connected to a larger presence and greater community.

Cheryl Demko Morello

Cheryl says that funeral service “picked her” when she was working part-time as a crisis counselor and part-tine in her family’s firm. She says she felt a strong sense of responsibility to the families to be sure they received the absolute best care and quality services. Although she’s been a licensed funeral director for a decade, Cheryl enjoys the role of mentee and learning from veteran funeral staff. Her list of mentors includes:
• Funeral directors
• Embalmers
• Office managers
• Assistants
• Livery drivers
• Sales representatives
• And all the different agents necessary to accomplish successful funeral services.

These relationships have given her the toolbox to work from, and have helped her find her “preferred ways.” Cheryl recalls that one of her proudest moments was using that toolbox when she provided 10 days of coverage for a funeral home, where she had never worked.  Having only assisted on one set of calling hours, and one funeral, Cheryl was left with an “exceptional service attendant staff” and the Rolodex. Cheryl successfully ran the firm’s 14 funerals in 10 days over Holy Week. She says, “This demonstrated to me that I was able to accomplish any task thrown in my direction.”

Katie Reynolds

When Katie was nine years old, she would ride her bike to the cemetery to find a quiet place to read, and thought the Funeral Coach was the most beautiful car she had ever seen. Now, with 16 years of experience in the profession behind her, funeral service has become her passion and her identity. Katie has worked in both family-owned rural funeral homes and in corporate funeral homes in urban areas. Although much is different, she says that much more is similar: The need to be a passionate, hard working funeral director is always paramount. 

Katie believes that her greatest professional accomplishments aren’t the “incredible acts of restorative art that her mind and eyes watched her hands miraculously perform,” nor is it becoming part of the management team of the largest funeral provider in the world by age 30. Rather, Katie’s most proud of the fact that the Funeral Family is her family…She’s proud of her colleagues, her staff, and her immediate family.  Katie says, “I’m blessed to have found a career surrounded by people with great personality, ethics, skill and forte.”

Tiffany Sims

Tiffany began her career in funeral service as the weekend receptionist for Royal Funeral Home in Huntsville, Alabama. Her mentor, Karen Jones Smith, the firm’s owner, saw something in Tiffany, and encouraged her to become a fellow funeral director. Tiffany says, “Karen taught me to become a strong woman in funeral service, and to stand on my own to ensure that services are carried out with dignity and respect.”

Tiffany works to make milestones in career in a firm with mostly men. Her tireless efforts and dedication have led her to become the firm’s lead mortician at what she is proud to call an established, prestigious firm. As the lead director, Tiffany understands that it takes a hard working team to carry out the funeral mission. She has pushed her firm into the twenty-first century, providing new thoughts on arrangements and preparation along with cremation and meaningful memorials.  Tiffany’s conference experience equipped her with new ideas and approaches that will make her even more effective and efficient at servicing her families.

Lisa Wright

A summer position at a funeral home was so impactful for Lisa, that she changed colleges and pursued a career in funeral service. Shortly after this move, her mother died suddenly of a heart attack at age 42. Young and grieving, Lisa wanted to quit school. Her father reminded her how proud her mother was that she had found a career path that she was so excited to pursue. This encouragement combined with the memory of her mother’s pride and happiness led Lisa to become the funeral director she is today.

Her mentor within funeral service, Bill Shannon, taught her the honor and privilege funeral directors have to help families in their time of need, and that every single family mattered when they were in his home.  It was through Bill that Lisa realized that loving what you do and having your job be more than a job will give you more satisfaction than anything else.

Lisa also credits Bill with helping her understand the importance balance of work and family life. Lisa says, “After my son’s birth, he wrote me letters of encouragement, and tales of exciting adventures I will have as a parent…since he knew this too well as a father of eight!”