Once upon a time…
My grandparents, Raymond and Mary (Doyle) Marnocha decided to jump into the deep end of the pool and start their own business, a funeral home, in Pulaski, in 1933. Grandpa had worked for another firm for a time and my grandmother was a teacher. I suppose that, like a lot of us, grandpa wanted to start and provide for a family. His first funeral home was an old building, located near the site of Pulaski’s American Legion building. In the late 1930’s, my grandparents moved to a different location, adjacent to our current facility. As the business grew and became the community’s only funeral home, there was a need for a new “modern” building. That new facility, our current funeral home, was completed in 1947.
Ray Marnocha died in 1952, at the age of 44. My grandmother, Mary, was granted a funeral director’s license by the state at that time; however, she was not a licensed embalmer. Bill Blaney and Gordon Malcore came from Green Bay and helped her with that part of the work until my dad, J. Michael Marnocha, finished his studies at the Wisconsin Institute of Mortuary Science in Milwaukee, and received his license. There were good people in the community who came forward and helped Mary with the funeral work that did not require a license. That list included (and is not limited to) John Wendzikowski, Mort Reyment, Bernard “Chopper” Reyment, Phil Doyle, Jack Olszewski, and Alvin Bodart.
Mike graduated from WIMS and joined the business in1956. My grandmother, Mary, died in 1966, at the age of 55. I was granted an apprentice license in 1975, completed my college studies in Funeral Service and apprenticeship in 1977, passed my state board exams, and was granted a license to practice by the state of Wisconsin on January 4, 1978. My dad and I worked together until his retirement. On October 4, 1994, I purchased the business from my dad and have been President of the corporation since that time.
At one time or another, each of us actively served as officers in our local, regional, and state funeral directors associations. Mike also served on the Board of Directors of National Selected Morticians, (now Selected Independent Funeral Homes), and Pam was appointed to the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Examining Board by then Governor Tommy Thompson, serving in the capacity of Vice-Chair and also as the Board’s Impaired Professionals Liaison.
As with anything else in life, there have been many changes in funeral service over the past 85 years. With the advances in computer technology, personalization is much more easily incorporated. With the explosion of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) it is also easier to instantly communicate with friends and family across the globe. A greater variety of choice in prayer cards, candles, jewelry, slideshows and DVD’s, and other keepsakes are easily created. Visitations and funerals are highly tailored to meet the spiritual and community needs of the families.
Other changes have taken place through the years. The automobiles we’ve used ranged from what was then a top-of-the-line Packard hearse to Cadillac hearses. There have also been plenty of station wagons and vans over the years. Gatherings for visitations and funerals have gone from three-day events to two days, and sometimes only one. Every family’s needs are similar, but unique. Form does, indeed, follow function. Through all of these changes the care extended to each family has been every bit as genuine and skilled as it was way back in 1933.
People will often ask what I consider to be the hardest part of my job. The connection to the people in this community is woven deeply into who I am. It is an awesome responsibility and privilege to walk with people in their time of need, but it is very painful to witness the depths of people’s sorrow. At the same time, I know that we funeral directors have the skills and resources to help a grieving family ‘do something’ so that they don’t get stuck in that time of devastating loss.
A funeral director serves an important role in the community. It is not enough to put on a suit, look nice and be a kind person. Our work is to care for people, in a skilled, respectful, and professional manner. I would compare my role as a funeral director to that of a person giving CPR for a broken heart. I also believe that it takes a village to make a ‘good’ funeral. Metaphorically speaking, when a person experiences the loss of a loved one, it is as if they can’t catch their breath. Neighbors, extended family, co-workers, members of the person’s church family, friends… basically the entire community… are invited to participate in the process that helps the family breathe again. We share our stories, we weep and touch our pain, we tiptoe into the newness of being changed, and find comfort in recognizing that we are loved.
Since 1933 there have been more than 7,000 times that someone dialed ‘100’ or Valley 2-3221, or 2-3221, or 920 822-3221 and asked for help. I would like to believe that the first family who called, the 1000th, and the last were all cared for with our best efforts.
On April 1, 2021, I made the difficult decision to retire and sold the funeral home to another family. Jeffrey Ruediger and his wife, Nikki, and their two sons, Brooks and Miles, are a wonderful addition to the tradition of families serving families in Pulaski and the surrounding communities.
Once upon a time, my family acted on our desire to help you tell your family’s once upon a time stories. I humbly speak for my grandparents and my parents, for the new owners, the Ruedigers, and for every single person who has helped us help you, when I say that it is a privilege to live and serve in this community, and to be a part of your once upon a time…
Pam (Marnocha) Janssen