New York State Funeral Directors Association

We recently spoke with five NYSFDA members in varying stages of their career. Here's what they said about being a Funeral Director.

We recently spoke with five NYSFDA members in varying stages of their career. Here's what they said about being a Funeral Director.

Beatrice E. Lewanduski, CFSP

Bea Lewanduski

Beatrice E. Lewanduski, CFSP
D'Andrea Brothers Funeral Home, Copiague
Years Licensed as Funeral Director: 43

Why did you choose a career in funeral service?

It ultimately came from my experience as a child upon the death of my father.  I was 7 at the time.  My father was 33 and died from lung cancer.  His passing left my mother a widow with two young children and a 2-month old infant.   The funeral director in our town of Deer Park was Mr. Claude R. Boyd.  He cared for my father, and my mother (who always remarked how caring Mr. Boyd was to her).  That was 1963, it was uncommon for children to attend funeral visitation and services.  So, he planned a morning for my mom to bring my 4-year old brother and me to see our father. In the chapel, Mr. Boyd picked me up so I could kiss my Dad, and I told him that my father was cold.  His words: “Well, let’s turn up the heat”.  He carried me over to the thermostat and told me to put the heat up.  Not a momentous gesture, but to this child - this act of love remains with me forever.  But I had no plans to come into this business.  I was aiming for Veterinary medicine.  In high school, I visited my community college with the intent of taking a 2-year liberal arts curriculum to improve my grades for Veterinary school. As I waited to see a course Advisor, I leafed through the written catalog of career paths.  Mortuary Science jumped out, and as I read through the course description, memories of Mr. Boyd came flooding back.  If there was ever an explanation of a “calling”, this was it.  Without hesitation, I immediately changed my course directive.  Later as I was growing up, another funeral home had been established in town by the Mangano family.  Guy and Eleanor Mangano were joined by their daughter, Barbara; who was a licensed Director.  In this decade, while there were women ‘pioneers’, they were few.  I saw that Barbara served on some of our Church committees.  I sought her out, and she became a phenomenal mentor and friend.  I am blessed with a wonderful career, and I credit Mr. Boyd for igniting my passion, and Barbara Mangano for her nurturing and guidance that has me where I am today; and I am truly grateful.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment – what are you most proud of as a Funeral Director?

While I have enjoyed receiving accolades, awards and certificates for my community service and professional achievements, my aim was, and remains, working in a field of service.  I come away from my interactions and relationships with families, knowing I have made their difficult days less of a burden to bear. I so enjoy running into folks I’ve served in local restaurants or stores when I’m shopping.  I’ll usually get another round of thanks, but it comes with heartfelt hugs and non-funeral banter, which solidifies a now-friendship.

What has been a professional challenge for you- and how did you overcome it?

I’m a problem-solver, so on a day-to-day basis, there isn’t anything I cannot handle.  This question does bring to mind the experience of when I was first coming into the business, and not being able to find a job simply because I was a woman.  While trying to find a residency, I ran into more closed doors than I can count.  Every owner or manager was a man, and while I received compliments (and doubts) on coming into this ‘man’s world’, the reasons I would not be hired stemmed from “you can’t possibly fulfill the physical needs of the job” to “my wife won’t let me hire a woman”.  One funeral home gave me that chance, and I’m thankful for that.  I know I changed their perception as they’ve been hiring women since I left.

The number of women in funeral service is steadily increasing – more serving as Funeral Directors and enrolling in mortuary science courses.  What would you attribute that trend to?

I truly believe that our profession is one of caring – and most women are just good at that. That is not an insult to anyone.  When I offer talks on Funeral History, it is known that going back to ‘days of olde’, women were the ones who cared for the family – both the deceased, and the survivors.  When a townsperson died, the men transported the remains to the home, went to the cabinetmaker for the coffin, arranged with the livery person the team of horses and carriage for the day of the burial; and dug the grave in the local cemetery.  It was the ‘womenfolk’ who bathed, dressed and perfumed the body. They cooked and served meals for the visitors coming to the home to pay their respects and kept the home clean for the family while they mourned.  From history, when funeral services moved from the home into formal “funeral parlors”, men took over the care of the deceased, and most of the services performed in the home like cooking and cleaning went by the wayside. And this, I believe, began funeral traditions that evolved to what we have offered for the past 40 years; and which is now again changing.  When I entered Mortuary School in 1974, in a class of 60 there were 10 women. Six of us graduated, and there were three that I know of that had careers.  Today, I believe that tradition of care is what simply makes most women able to wonderfully care for both the dead and the living; and thus, the enrollment numbers are testament to that.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about entering the funeral services profession?

Funeral service is a wonderful career if you’re thinking about a service profession.  Caring for those suffering a loss is so different from any other field.  I would advise seeking out a woman Funeral Director working in our industry, as I did.  Visit the local funeral home and ask for a tour of the facilities.  Ask questions of how this Director began her career, how she feels about working in the industry, what her duties are.  Also consider taking a part-time job in a funeral home as a receptionist or doorperson.  This certainly introduces you to funeral service on the inside and will help you decide if this career will be your future.

 

Heather A. Rauch

Bea Lewanduski

Heather A. Rauch
Petykiewicz, Iocovozzi & Burns Funeral Home, Herkimer
Years Licensed as Funeral Director: 12

Why did you choose a career in funeral service?

Long story short, I took the aptitude test in 11th grade. My result…embalmer. At that point in my life, I hadn’t lost anyone to death, nor had I known a funeral director. I decided to shadow a licensed director in Buffalo on my high school’s career day. She was awesome. It was my very first glimpse into the rest of my life.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment – what are you most proud of as a Funeral Director?

I am proud to be able to help people through some of the worst times in their lives. My greatest professional accomplishment has been being called upon when some of my well-respected colleagues have lost someone close to them. I am entirely honored to be called upon by anyone, but there is something special about someone you look up to in the industry thinking of you as the one they would like to entrust their own family members to.

What has been a professional challenge for you, and how have you overcome it?

My greatest professional challenge has been proving to others as well as myself that I am perfectly capable of going on the type of house call which presents as a challenge for a wide variety of reasons. I have come to realize that when a situation presents itself, if you have to, you will find a way. Be confident, be inventive and lift with the legs.

The number of women in funeral service is steadily increasing – more serving as Funeral Directors and enrolling in mortuary science courses. What would you attribute that trend to?

There are more women entering the workforce these days than ever before, some out of necessity and many to seek their greater purpose in life. Times have changed and here we are. Women have slowly infiltrated the working community as a whole and what was an once male-dominated industry is now graduating a higher percentage of females than males from our mortuary programs. There is lots of room for a compassionate hug and a friendly smile in funeral service. I feel like I’m full of those.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about entering the funeral services profession?

If you think you can do it, you probably can. People tend to have one of two reactions when I tell them what I do for a living, either they cringe and ask me how I could do such a thing (those people probably couldn’t do it) or they are fascinated and ask me a million great questions (they could). We all come with our very own skill set, find what you bring to the table and bring it.

 

Kathleen Sanvidge

Bea Lewanduski

Kathleen Sanvidge
Townley & Wheeler Funeral Home, Ballston Spa
Years Licensed as Funeral Director: 26

Why did you choose a career in funeral service?

While in my senior year at high school my parents asked me what the “heck” I thought I was going to “do with my life.” I took my question to guidance at SHEN and they helped me to set up some interviews in the area pertaining to my interest of anatomy and forensics.  It was no joke that I wound up working at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady under the direction of the then head pathologist, Dr. Thomas Oram.  Boy, I did not even understand what an opportunity I had at hand.  Dr. Oram was wonderful to me and he took the time and invested his interest to teach me.  It was there, in the throughs of the morgue, weighing organs and assisting autopsies that I got to meet some other spectacular people – mostly men.  They were the funeral directors.  It took my attention when they would occasionally come by to pick up a body from the morgue.  I remember everything stopped and the comradery between the staff at the hospital and the funeral director seemed so natural and, in some ways, fun!  After my counselor learned of my newest intrigue, I was escorted to an interview with a funeral home in my hometown.  The owners agreed to take me in for 10 hours of shadowing.  It was the start of something overwhelmingly right.  I just knew it in my heart and 10 hours turned into 10 days which in turn became 10 years and so on.  My high school path led me to my career path, my calling, my life work, my life’s meaning which is pretty enriching by the way.  

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment – what are you most proud of as a Funeral Director?

There are so many accomplishments large and small, so I do not necessarily know how to break this one down.  I am super proud to be NYS only certified Women Owned Business Enterprise.  It was a qualification that I set after for no particular reason at all – just a personal accomplishment.  Turns out that I am currently the first and only one in the State!  Cool beans, eh?  Every day I am humbled to serve those in need and I am blessed with the relationships that I have forged throughout the years.  I am filled with grace and for that I am considering myself accomplished.  I am thankful for that. 

What has been a professional challenge for you, and how have you overcome it?

My professional challenges are few.  I honestly am blessed with a keen business mind that remains gentle and open to new concepts and I strive to keep my challenges joyful. 

The number of women in funeral service is steadily increasing – more serving as Funeral Directors and enrolling in mortuary science courses. What would you attribute that trend to?

I am on the vanguard of promoting young women and raising them up in this career path.  It is my mission to educate and help young women understand the value of becoming a funeral director.  I attribute the steady increase of women serving as funeral directors to other like -minded professionals.  I also think that good mentors and counselors at the high school level are to be commended.  Way back in 1989 that was the case for this first-generation funeral director!

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about entering the funeral services profession

Do it!  If your heart is speaking to you about this then jump right in and follow it!

 

Michelle Ironside Kinville

Bea Lewanduski

Michelle Ironside Kinville
Ironside Funeral Home, Inc., Oneida
Years Licensed as Funeral Director: 12

Why did you choose a career in funeral service?

I chose to become a funeral director because of my dad.  When I was growing up, we were very much a family funeral home.  My brother and I each had our certain jobs that we had to do when we were serving a family.  At the end of the funeral, I would always see the family hug my dad.  I told my dad in second grade, I wanted to do what he got to do, and I haven’t looked back.  Each hug meant that my dad had made a difference in someone’s life.  I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life especially during the most difficult time in their life.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment – what are you most proud of as a Funeral Director?

My greatest professional accomplishment is working in my family funeral home.  I take great pride in knowing that our family funeral home will continue for another generation.  My dad has worked very hard to establish a business in our community that families entrust their loved ones to.  My girls are growing up just as involved in the family business as I did.  I hope that one day they will choose to do what mommy does.  If they do that will be my greatest professional accomplishment, hands down.

What has been a professional challenge for you, and how have you overcome it?

A professional challenge for me has been balancing being a full-time mom and full-time funeral director.  My girls are my whole world but when someone loses their whole world, my family takes a back seat.  I treasure every second I get to spend with my family.  It’s tough on days when you have a funeral and then arrangements and have to squeeze in the Halloween Costume Parade at school.  We always seem to make it work. Our family at home and our family at the funeral home feel like they are the most important people in the world.  I never want either family to feel like they are not getting the best me so finding the balance between the two is tough at times.  I definitely could not do it alone.

The number of women in funeral service is steadily increasing – more serving as Funeral Directors and enrolling in mortuary science courses. What would you attribute that trend to?

I believe more and more women are entering the funeral industry because they are realizing that this field is all about compassion.  You can’t fake compassion; families will see right thru you.  Women are born to be compassionate it.  They instinctively show more empathy than men (most of the time).  It’s our maternal nature.  We want to take care of people.  This is the heart of the funeral industry; taking care of people at the absolute worst time in their lives.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about entering the funeral services profession?

If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone entering the funeral industry it would be that this job is going to test you in ways you never knew possible.  But it will always be the most rewarding career you can ever do.  Hang in there on the worst days, someone will give you a hug at the end of it.

 

Sabrina Joynes, CFSP

Bea Lewanduski

Sabrina Joynes, CFSP
Granby's Funeral Service, Inc., Bronx
Years Licensed as Funeral Director: 8

Why did you choose a career in funeral service?

My late grandmother who I called the “funeral groupie” loved attending funerals whether she knew the person or not. My mother was a single parent and had to work to maintain our household; my grandmother became my caregiver, so I had to accompany her to every funeral. Attending funerals near and far created a desire to learn more about funeral service. As I got older, I went to the library to borrow “Careers in Funeral Service” and asked funeral directors numerous questions. As I continued my research and shadowed funeral directors, I knew I was called to be a funeral director.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment – what are you most proud of as a Funeral Director?

I have been blessed and proud to achieve a few great professional accomplishments in my eight-year career as a Licensed Funeral Director. One is being selected as a participant in the inaugural class of the NYSFDA Leadership Academy, featured in the Careers in Funeral Service video and a proud member of the Bridge Commission. I am most proud of being an Adjunct Instructor at the American Academy McAllister of Funeral Service. I love being able to give back and to help train and mentor students, Registered Residents and newly Licensed Funeral Directors.

The number of women in funeral service is steadily increasing – more serving as Funeral Directors and enrolling in mortuary science courses. What would you attribute that trend to?

It has been said that women are becoming the new face in funeral service. As an instructor, I see firsthand the steady increase of women enrolling in school and becoming funeral directors. Women possess traits that are considered ideal for our profession which is moving more towards a client-centered approach – building relationships and meeting the needs of the family. Women are known to be nurturing by nature, compassionate, understanding, patient, caring and understand the tremendous importance of details. As a result, more women are attracted to our profession because it reflects the strong caregiving component to funeral planning.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about entering the funeral services profession?

Funeral Service is not your typical 9-5 job. Death does not care about vacations, dinners, get-togethers with your family and friends and other plans; therefore, make time for yourself and your family whenever you have the opportunity. Learn time management skills and make your mental/physical health a priority.

 

Marika McMeans

 

McMeans

Marika McMeans
Miller Funeral and Cremation Services, Inc. 

When I was 13 years old, I saw an interview on television of a high powered woman in a great suit, speaking about her job as a Medical Examiner. I decided right then, that was my goal. I wanted a life of community, science, and suits. I wanted to be a successful woman in a male dominated field. At age 15, I utilized a school project to get me a day shadowing a local (Colorado) Funeral Director. That day sealed my fate and ignited my lifelong passion. I saw how the Director was a beloved pillar of our small town, how he was able to truly support and care for people on the worst day of their lives. He allowed me to stay on as a volunteer, then as a part time employee doing office work and assisting the Directors when able. I worked there through college and then went across the street to manage the other local Funeral Home, before picking up and starting over my career in New York.

Until my move to NY, I didn’t personally know any female Funeral Directors. I knew they existed. I went to school with a few. The college program director was a woman….but that was it. It was me, alone in a community of men all substantially older than me. I was genuinely concerned as I worked my way through school that I would never find a full time Directors position as a woman. Applying for jobs throughout rural Colorado, made that more clear but I got lucky with mentors who saw my potential. I did have to learn a lot on my own, without female mentorship; how to move bodies in a way that utilized my strength and small stature, how to dress professionally as a woman, how to be heard and respected as a young woman in a male environment… the list goes on. When I first started managing my firm at the grand age of 22, I would walk into a home with my 60 year old male associate for a transfer and the family would completely ignore me, directing all of their questions to him. Fortunately he was always great about correcting them and introducing me as the “one in charge” but that usually lead to an awkward few moments while the family adjusted their perception. A woman Funeral Director was a strange concept to people then, and even sometimes now. Just yesterday, I was asked by a family I was serving “why on earth would a nice girl like you do this job?” Well, sir, how could I not?

I am proud to say, that with the mentorship and support of male and female directors alike, I have smashed my way through the glass ceiling. I am the President of the Rochester Genesee Valley Funeral Directors Association. For the first time ever, I work alongside another licensed female funeral director (WHICH IS AWESOME!!). My goal, is to be a support and mentor for other women working their way into the field. I am absolutely thrilled that there are so many and am excited to see the changes that they are already making in the industry. It’s a whole knew age of Funeral Directing, where 15 year old girls with big dreams don’t have to be scared of never getting a job because of their gender. We totally got this.

Margaret M. Leslie and Mary E. Sparks

 

Margaret

Margaret M. Leslie
Sieck, Mast & Leslie Funeral Home, Nightengale Funeral Home & Buffalo Niagara Cremation Service

mary

Mary E. Sparks
Sieck, Mast & Leslie Funeral Home, Nightengale Funeral Home & Buffalo Niagara Cremation Service

My father is a first generation funeral director who owns and operates two funeral homes and a cremation service here in New York State, and he was never blessed with any sons, just two daughters! The funeral business always mesmerized me, from a young age I would watch everything my father did in amazement. When I was 16, I told him this is what I wanted to do and he replied with, “Are you sure?!” His main goal was to never pressure me in any way, and to make sure this was my choice and not his. I graduated from AAMI in 2016 and am currently licensed and working alongside him.

My sister and I are ten years apart, and she already has a very successful career as a medical assistant, but we are a small family owned firm and decided we could use the extra help, she recently graduated AAMI in 2018 and is now licensed and working with our father and I part time while she still holds down her full time job as a medical assistant!

We have never experienced any discrimination for being women in this business. We are capable of doing everything that the men in our field can, if not more!

I will close with one of my favorite quotes which seems to ring true: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Brittany DeMarco Furman

BDF

Brittany DeMarco Furman
Glenville Funeral Home

How long have I been a licensed funeral director: 1 year

Why did you choose a career in funeral service?
I am the daughter of a funeral director, and grew up behind our family’s funeral firm. Being brought up in this business, however, does not define my reasoning in becoming a funeral director. I ran away from the family business as fast as I could at age 18—not too many 18 year olds know enough about life, let alone about death. In my mid 20s, I was looking for a new job. In the midst of my search, I worked at my family’s firm to keep busy and helped create their new website. My Father asked if I could start an at-need conversation with a “walk in” family as he returned from an earlier funeral. Not knowing what I was doing, I decided to just be myself and listen to the family. I distinctly remember the widow, his love and loss was so heavy and impactful. He talked about how he met his wife, what song she always played when she was happy, and how much she loved white orchids. Gathering this information before my Father made the actual arrangements, I asked to be on the funeral. For the services, I surprised the family with a white orchid plant and played the wife’s favorite song as her casket was being closed. The importance I created in those moments compare to no other job out there, and the appreciation I received from the widow forever changed my life. I never went to those other job interviews, and enrolled in Mortuary Science School.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment – what are you most proud of as a Funeral Director?

I never knew how much public speaking would be apart of this career! I used to get all clammy and uncomfortable standing in front of people and speaking, so I was unsure if I could do this. Today, I am not only comfortable standing in front of strangers during their most difficult time, but confidently help my families who have no church affiliation or chosen officiant in cultivating and commencing unique celebration of life services.

What has been a professional challenge for you, and how have you overcome it?

Becoming attached. It’s hard to switch off the emotions and be “the professional” in the building. And it’s not a women thing. If you are a man in this business, you would be kidding yourself if say you don’t get choked up from time to time. We face the biggest challenge everyday, death. How to overcome it is to learn from it and have it be the reality jolt you need in our own life.

The number of women in funeral service is steadily increasing – more serving as Funeral Directors and enrolling in mortuary science courses. What would you attribute that trend to?

Just like any industry, there are pioneers who led the way for change and my generation of female funeral professionals are lucky enough to be welcomed with open arms (for the most part) to a male dominated profession. Today, a funeral director is not seen as only a man’s job.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about entering the funeral services profession?

Do not fear what you do not know! There is so much more that goes into being a funeral professional than what you think you know. Reach out to your local funeral home or connect with me! As long as we don’t have a family to tend to, many funeral professionals are in dire need of the next generation to step up and enter the field, therefore we are more than happy to educate the future! And finally, word of advice ladies….. PLEASE DO NOT WEAR STILETTOS TO THE CEMETERY….rest in peace my favorite heels! haha!