Funeral Homes

Male-Dominated Funeral Industry On Its Last Leg


Throughout modern history, funeral directors have been overwhelmingly male. In the 1970s, almost 90% of funeral directors in the United States were men, as was the norm in many industries. However, this industry has recently made a dramatic shift. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 16.5% of its members were women. While this does not seem like a large majority, the number of women in mortuary study programs – the course of study required to be a funeral director – is rapidly growing. In 1971, only 5% of mortuary science students were women. In 1991, that number jumped to around 30%. Today, nearly 60% of all mortuary science students are women – a sign that the major demographic changes are on the horizon for the funeral industry.

Industry leaders attribute this development to a few things. First, Dr. Joseph Marsaglia – dean of students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science – credits the changing societal attitudes of woman who work in traditional male-dominated fields. Historically, women were the typical caretakers of the dying and the dead. However, once undertaking became a profession, men took over the job. This was mainly because surgeons became the primary embalmers of dead bodies, and medicine has been another historically male-dominated industry. In more modern times, some people believed women were incapable of being funeral directors because of the “heavy lifting” that was required in order to move caskets or lift bodies. But frankly, that is just not true. According to Joseph Salandra, a funeral home owner from Pennsylvania, “[W]omen can do everything – dressing, embalming, lifting caskets, cosmetology, and, the most important thing, meeting with and comforting families.” Therefore, it is no surprise that women are on their way to dominating the industry.

Another reason the number of the women in the funeral industry has increased dramatically is because the number of funeral director positions has also increased. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has recently reported that the funeral industry is expected to grow approximately 12% in the next decade. Matt Buel – director of funeral science program at Arkansas State University – stated because “the death rate will continue to go up” and the number of future funeral directors is not rising to meet this demand, there are more vacant funeral industry positions than ever. “A lot of funeral directors literally die in their profession.”

This change also reflects the shrinking number of family-owned funeral homes. The Funeral Consumers Alliance that corporate funeral homes are dominating the industry, with the leader being Service Corporation, International owning around 12% of funeral homes in the country. This opens up a number of new positions for the increasing number of female mortuary studies students. Women rising in the ranks of a male dominated field is something very encouraging to see as a woman entering an industry with a similar male demographic. While glass ceilings may not be breaking, women are making impressive progress.

Kelsey Mellan

Funerals Present a Window of Opportunity for Theft

Business management author Tom Peters wrote, “If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.” Candice Nicole Hough took that advice to heart when she pried a window screen off the home of a Colorado widow who was away attending her husband’s funeral. While the widow grieved, Hough broke into the home and made off with $3,000 worth of jewelry and an assortment of credit cards and cash.

Police believe that the robbery was part of a larger scheme to use obituaries and death notices to target mourners attending funerals. District Attorney Dan Rubinstein asked the Mesa County judge to set a high cash bond, arguing that it is “hard to imagine more offensive behavior” than taking advantage of a funeral to rob a widow. Hough is being held on a $5,000 cash-only bond and faces several felony charges. She is due to appear in Mesa County court on November 15.

Hough was by no means the first burglar to find a window of opportunity in funerals. In 2008, a Kansas City criminal dubbed the “Funeral Day Burglar” was handed a 43-year prison sentence following his conviction for one count of first-degree burglary, four counts of second-degree burglary, and five counts of stealing. Like Hough, the Funeral Day Burglar used obituaries to single out homeowners who would be away at funeral services. Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said, “Four decades in prison is an appropriate sentence for this series of outrageous crimes.”

As far as robberies go, using obituaries to identify empty homes is fairly creative. But is there any way to close the window of opportunity and protect grieving homeowners from more sorrow? Probably not, given the ubiquitous use of obituaries and death notices to publish information about funeral services. Particulars like date, time, and location are as crucial to mourners as they are to burglars, and leaving these details out of obituaries threatens the result of poorly-attended services. Unless the public embarks on a collective departure away from the practice of publishing obituaries, it seems like the window will remain open for the foreseeable future.  

Emily Lagan

Fort Wayne (Indiana) to Have One Stop Shop for Catholic Funerals

The Catholic Cemetery Association in Fort Wayne, Indiana announced that a Catholic Cemetery is to be the new site for the Divine Mercy Funeral Home. The facility will have two visitation rooms, with personal family rooms as well as a crematorium and embalming facility. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese views the timing as ideal since Pope Francis has deemed this past year (Dec 8th, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016), a Holy year of Divine Mercy. Bishop Rhoades pointed out that upon this past year’s focus of Divine Mercy many Christians have studied and acted on the Corporal Works of Mercy. There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy: (1) feed the hungry (2) give drink to the thirsty (3) shelter the homeless (4) visit the sick (5) visit the imprisoned (6) bury the dead (7) give alms to the poor. These works are found in Jesus’s direct teachings in the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-45 and in terms of death fall central to the funeral ritual of Catholics. The Bishop expressed excitement to have the Church’s involvement in the entire death and burial process.

In some ways, it is a wonder that more Catholic cemeteries have not expanded in this way before now. Many funeral homes adapt to the religious views of their patrons-- as one would expect. Funeral directors are professionals that learn and polish their skills in vital areas—but when a Catholic funeral is so intertwined and fundamental to those practicing it makes sense to have full service facilities. Is this the beginning of a trend? It could go either way, because this industry is highly regulated it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some legal trouble. One example is New Jersey’s new law that took effect this past April banning monument sales by religious cemeteries. The Archdiocese has filed suit to fight back since it does not seem just that the government can ban harmless commerce just to protect industry insiders. Is there a possibility that enough business will leave the private funeral homes to cause a problem in Fort Wayne? Maybe-- the facilities also include a crematorium a very interesting addition considering the Church’s preference for burial and recent decree requiring cremains to be kept on holy ground. While the demand for cremation continues to rise, it seems likely Catholics that do choose cremation will naturally want to have it done in the Catholic crematorium. However, religious cemeteries enjoy many exemptions under state laws and attract a very specific crowd. So, as with anything else, it comes down to the money. If enough Catholics begin relying on Catholic funeral homes and crematories the private institutions will feel the effects and that is when law makers will be asked to weigh in.

Brandy Nickoloff

Funeral Homes Saves Your DNA


When I think of the purpose of a Funeral Home, I think of a business that aids one in the process of celebrating the life of a loved one and ultimately disposing of the remains in the desired way. But what if I told you that one Funeral Home is giving you one last chance to preserve the deceased's DNA? That is what one Funeral Home in Santa Barbra is aiming to do. For the low price of about three-hundred dollars, scientist will preserve the deceased's DNA indefinitely, opening up a number of doors for the field of genetics. 

Not only is this option of saving DNA significantly cheaper than the traditional cryogenic options, it is also super simple. All the scientist's at Lakehead University in Canada require the funeral home to  do is take a gentle cheek swab and send it off to the lab for processing and storage. This easy procedure can contribute to discovery of things such as genetic mutations, links to genetic diseases, and ultimately information that can help lead to prevention of these inherited illnesses. It may also lead to the discovery of paternity and assistance in mass-casualty disasters. Not only are they beneficial in this way, but the sample can be tested multiple times, making the idea of it even more appealing. 

Discovering the above things is not the only draw of the practice. Scientist's also say that the family of the deceased receives a beautiful glass vial of the DNA accompanied by a degree of authenticity, both incentives to participate in the practice. They can even have it made into jewelry if they so choose. So if preserving your loved one's DNA when they passover seems beneficial to you, keep an eye out for this expanding market. 

Alston Merritt

Proposed Muslim Funeral Home Pits County Officials Against Establishment Clause

No ground has yet been broken, but a Muslim funeral home in Georgia is already facing vocal opposition. The facility—which would be the first of its kind in the state—is part of a multi-stage development recently announced by Al Maad Al Islami, a nonprofit corporation led by Imam Mohammad Islam. The funeral home and an accompanying cemetery constitute the first stage, set to be built along Highway 162 in Newton County, located southeast of Atlanta. According to Islam, the second stage of the project would include building a mosque on the site. Depending on the availability of additional funding, a school and public park may round out the project.

Though surely applauded by many, the plan is also facing considerable opposition. Newton County Commissioner John Douglas has expressed his reservations about the project, claiming that “[a]ll the emails [he’s] gotten . . . have been negative for various and sundry reasons.” Among them – a concern that the funeral home, cemetery, and mosque might prompt federal authorities to begin settling refugees in the area.

Douglas’ qualms, however representative and loudly voiced, will prove impotent against both local and federal laws that protect religious organizations, including cemeteries, from discrimination. According to the Newton County Zoning Administrator, both churches and cemeteries are permitted uses on the property in question.

More importantly, as at least one county official has noted, “federal law prohibits [government] from imposing regulations on one religious development and not others.” In fact, in both Larson v. Valente and Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, the Supreme Court emphasized that preferring one religion over another violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Therefore, because Newton County does not limit where houses of worship may be built, and because a Christian church already exists across the street from the planned development, any governmental action attempting to impede Al Maad Al Islami’s development will likely run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

Mickey Herman

A Return to At-Home Burial: Funeral Home Start-Ups Embrace a Past Burial Tradition

For the past six or seven decades, funeral homes have been the standard location for conducting funeral rites for loved ones passed. However, this standard practice sometimes prevents the family of the deceased from being involved in the funeral preparations and ritual. Start-ups are trying to change that, mainly by re-introducing and assisting with an age-old type of funeral rites: at-home funerals.

Undertaking LA, a start-up based in Los Angeles, California, is a funeral business that primarily assists clients with at-home funeral and burial preparations. The company was founded by Amber Carvaly and Caitlin Doughty in the summer of 2015, and since then has been an important source information for persons who seek to conduct at-home funerals or burial preparations. The two women have helped answer questions ranging from how to wash and dress a body to how to fill out death certificates and transportation paperwork.

Undertaking LA is just one entity of a group that is trying to make people more aware of the option for home funerals. All but ten states allow for people to conduct their own funerals in the home (in the ten exception states, hiring a funeral director is required). According to Kateyanne Unullsi, a board member of the National Home Funeral Alliance, the positives of a home funeral is that “’[i]t’s more natural. It’s also about reducing cost, but more than anything it’s the need to be more hands-on.’”

Unlike the high standard funeral home price of a funeral (the median cost of a funeral and burial arranged by a funeral home in 2014 was $8,508), the cost of an at-home, self-conducted funeral can be $100 for less. Undertaking LA offers assistance with this do-it-yourself method, but for a small price as compared to funeral homes. For a home funeral service, which includes a three-hour visit, a service fee, and assistance with body preparations, the company charges $996. For a three-hour in-office consultation on how to prepare a body and fill out necessary paperwork, the company charges $30. For a witness cremation, where the family provides the coffin and helps initiate the cremation process at the company’s location, Undertaking LA charges $1,470. The company also provides a small selection of simple coffins for retail, if a family does not provide their own.

Undertaking LA, while unusual as compared to standard funeral homes, operates within the bounds of California funeral law. Besides not requiring persons to hire a funeral director to prepare a body for burial, California law does not require that funeral homes be outfitted with either an embalming room or a coffin display room. In addition, Ms. Carvaly and Ms. Doughty are licensed California funeral directors under the California’s Business and Professions Code, which outlines the scope of what actions a funeral director engages in. While technically funeral directors, Ms. Carvaly and Ms. Doughty merely aid persons with conducting their own independent home funerals by giving advice to families and sometimes providing hands-on assistance with body preparation services.

Undertaking LA seems to have embraced a possible future for the funeral home industry, as many become more frustrated with standard funeral and burial costs. Hopefully, more start-ups across the U.S. (such as this one in Brooklyn) will begin to embrace this cost-friendly, environmentally-friendly, and family-oriented form of funeral rites.

Nina Banfield

Unlicensed Funeral Homes Mishandle Corpses

Last year police in West Philadelphia were in for an unsettling surprise when they found decomposing and improperly stored bodies in an unlicensed funeral home. Blair Hawkins, a 53-year-old funeral director from New Jersey, faces probation after being found guilty of three counts of abuse of corps for mishandling bodies in his unlicensed funeral home, Hawkins Funeral Service at 53rd and Vine streets.


According to police documents, two of the bodies were decomposing. Another body was improperly embalmed, and kept in a coffin in an unventilated room. One of the bodies was left in a body bag so decomposed that it was impossible to determine the gender, and Hawkins said he could not identify it. To make matters worse, the police also found non-medical bags filled with human organs.

The building where Hawkins Funeral Service was located, was abandoned, and without refrigeration. Philadelphia Police Lt. John Walker said, "You have a responsibility to care for the dead as you are supposed to…You shouldn't cut corners in situations like this where you're using a building that you clearly know has been out of business for some time."

Hawkins, who had an unblemished record as a funeral director since 1989, is not the first funeral director in Pennsylvania accused of mishandling corpses. Just this August police found three decomposing bodies at Powell Mortuary Services, a funeral home that was also operating without a license. Police found one body in a coffin, and two others decomposing in cardboard body boxes.

Pennsylvania statute 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5510, states that “[e]xcept as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.” Moreover, according to regulations, bodies must be embalmed within 25 hours or refrigerated. In both cases, the bodies were kept without ventilation. The police reported that the bodies were authorized to be cremated.

Debora Flores Franco

Why You Should Double-Check Your Prepaid Funeral

In October 2016, Toby Polley, a former Missouri funeral home owner, was charged with five counts of felony financial exploitation of the elderly.  Polley was allegedly taking payments for “pre-arranged funeral and burial services,” but then forcing consumers and their families to pay again later for the services that had already been paid for.

A “preneed” funeral contract allows funeral consumers to pay in advance for the funeral and burial services they will require after their passing.  Many consumers choose to prepay for these services to spare their loved ones the hassle and expense of financing a funeral, which typically costs thousands of dollars.  When a consumer enters into a preneed funeral contract, the payment is deposited into a special account, which cannot be comingled with the funeral establishment or funeral director’s personal funds.  Polley allegedly failed to deposit preneed payments into special accounts and then consumers and their families were forced to pay for the same services a second time.

In Missouri, preneed funeral contracts involve several parties.  A “seller” is the one who executes the contract with a consumer.  The seller or his agent remits payment to the provider.  The “provider” is the one who provides the funeral or burial services specified in the contract.  Each of these parties must be licensed by a board to enter into preneed funeral contracts and must renew their license yearly.

In addition to criminal punishment for financial exploitation, a complaint can be filed by the licensing board against Polley to an administrative hearing commission.  If the commission finds that Polley was mishandling funds, he could be put on probation for up to five years or have his license suspended for up to three years.  If Polley’s license to enter into preneed contracts gets revoked altogether, he must wait only three years to reapply for his license to enter into more preneed contracts.  If you're going to prepay for your own funeral, it pays to double-check what's happening to your money or you might end up paying double.

Lauren Stovall

Resurrection of Competition in the Funeral Industry: Potential Online Price List Requirement

Funerals can be both emotionally and financially draining on a deceased’s loved ones. When planning a funeral, there are numerous expenses involved – including embalming, caskets, flowers, use of the funeral home, burial plots, headstones, etc. It is very common that loved ones do not shop around when purchasing these items, but rather buy from the first funeral home they are in contact with. Even if consumers attempted to compare prices of funeral homes, they likely will not be able to locate the prices of these items on a funeral home’s website.

This is because funeral homes are only required to produce prices over the phone pursuant the “The Funeral Rule,” a rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) promulgated in 1984. This rule has not been updated since the advent of the Internet, and therefore, does not require funeral homes to furnish their prices online. In fact, most funeral homes do not provide their price lists online. According to a study conducted by the Funeral Consumers Alliance (“FCA”) and Consumer Federation of America (“CFA”), only approximately 25% of funeral homes produced a price list on their website. The likely reason for this lack of publication is that the funeral industry is well-aware that consumers are unlikely to compare prices and therefore, it is most advantageous to the industry to not make price lists readily available. Multiple major news sources, such as the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, have picked up on this seemingly unethical practice and published suggested practices for funeral consumers. Some suggestions include: set a budge, spend wisely, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with funeral homes, if possible.

However, change is on the horizon. In this past July, the FCA and CFA produced a proposal to the FTC that would require funeral homes nationwide to publish their price lists online. This would create at least some competition within the funeral industry, explained CFA executive director, Stephen Brobeck. He noted that posting prices online typically “intensifies competition, drives down prices, and improves services.” The FTC has yet to act on this proposal, but in order to protect consumers, one can only hope that competition in the funeral industry is brought back from the dead.

Kelsey Mellan

Discovery of Decomposing Bodies in Funeral Home Leads to Arrests

Callaway, Florida. Two funeral directors were arrested this summer after Bay County Sheriffs discovered sixteen corpses in various stages of decomposition throughout Brock’s Home Town Funeral Home.   At 5 PM on August 18, officers from the BCSO entered the funeral home and immediately noticed an abundance of flies buzzing throughout the funeral home. They soon realized that six bodies were being kept in the parlor of the funeral home without any refrigeration at all, causing the bodies to decay. There were an additional ten corpses being kept in the funeral home’s “cooler” at a temperature of sixty-two degrees. State law, however, requires that corpses be stored at temperatures not warmer than forty degrees. The funeral home had promised the families of the deceased either cremation or embalming services. However, “‘none of the bodies had been embalmed,’ officers wrote. ‘Those remains whose families requested cremation had not been cremated.’”

Following this grisly discovery, Gregory Dunphy, the funeral home’s director, and Felicia Boesch, the daughter of the home’s owner, were charged with 16 counts of unlawful storage of human remains. Yet bringing charges against Dunphy and Boesch did not even begin to address the issues that now faced the families of the deceased.

Following the arrest of Dunphy and Boesch, responsibility for the bodies being held at Brock’s Home Town Funeral Home fell to local authorities. Specifically, the 14th Judicial Circuit’s Medical Examiner’s Office was tasked with the arduous undertaking of “going through the paperwork for each of the deceased to see what the families wanted for their loved ones and honor those requests.” To make matters worse, many, if not all, of these families had to pay cremation or embalming fees a second time. According to local official, “if another funeral home doesn’t step up to offer assistance, the families of the 16 deceased likely would have to pay out of pocket and then pursue relief through the civil courts.” Given the fact that Brock’s was “primarily a low-income funeral home,” these families were likely put under tremendous financial stress by this horrible turn of events.

In short, the Brock’s Home Town Funeral Home fiasco was nothing short of a nightmare for those involved and illustrates the importance of regulation of the funeral home industry so as to avoid similar catastrophes in the future.

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George Kennedy