Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 22, 2002

Lady funeral directors working in Winsted

By Julie Yurek

Though small in physical nature, Janet Daniels and Tiffani Haag have a big job to do.

The two young women are becoming funeral directors.

Both are working for Kevin Chilson, who owns Chilson Funeral Home in Winsted and Peterson Chapel in Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville.

The women report to Peterson Chapel in Buffalo every day, and then they go to whichever chapel they are needed at.

Daniels, 21, who finished her practicum for the University of Minnesota Wednesday, will begin a year-long internship this week with the three funeral homes, which will count towards her license, she said.

Daniels has worked in other funeral homes in the Twin Cities area.

Haag, who turns 20 July 23, is using the summer as an opportunity to get experience in the field of mortuary science. She will not be able to count the three months towards her license; she is doing it to make sure she is in the right occupation.

"It's been a great experience," Haag said.

"Tiffani will do well in this profession," Daniels said.

"Janet has been a really good role model," Haag said.

Haag and Daniels are looking forward to a program aimed at helping children prepare for a funeral. The STAR program, which stands for "a Special Time to Always Remember," educates children on what happens at funerals," Haag said.

"The kids see pictures of a hearse and casket, and they can make a picture frame and picture, which goes in the casket," Daniels said. "It's not therapy."

The program is just beginning to get marketed in the nation, Haag said.

Every day is different, Haag said. She has done a lot of observation, because she is not allowed to do some parts of the job because she is not licensed, she said. She makes calls, types death certificates, and assists in any way she is allowed to at the funeral home, she said.

This is her first experience working in a funeral home, she said

Though both women had different ways of becoming interested in this profession, they agree that this field is for them.

"I've just known since I was about 12 or 13-years-old that this is what I want to do," Haag said. "I haven't had anyone real close to me die or anything."

Daniels has experienced family deaths, she said. "I was exposed to death at an early age."

Her grandfather, two cousins, and a high school classmate have all died, she said. One of her sisters also died, before she was born.

Besides experiencing death and funerals at a young age, Daniels also wanted to incorporate many subjects into her career choice.

"I always wanted to do a lot of things in high school, like I wanted to be an accountant or I wanted to go into chemistry," Daniels said. "My mom is the one who actually suggested being a mortician."

"Then I looked into it more and it ties in a lot of my interests. There is the business aspect, art, cosmetics, religion, science, and psychology for grief counseling," she said.

Many may not know this, but a bachelor degree in mortuary science is necessary to become a licensed funeral director in Minnesota, Daniels said.

"People ask jokingly what we had to do to become a mortician," Daniels said. "Some don't know that we actually go to school for it."

Daniels graduated from the University of Minnesota, and Haag is transferring there in the the fall. Haag was enrolled at Moorhead for her first two years of college.

There are only 52 mortuary schools in the nation, with only about five of those being four-year degrees, Daniels said. The University of Minnesota is the only school in Minnesota that has a mortuary science program, she said. "The program is a division of the medical school."

The classes at the university are mixed, Daniels said. "There are quite a few who are returning to college for their second degrees. Ages range from 18 to 55."

Women funeral directors are becoming more of the norm. "There is a higher percentage rate of women in mortuary schools now," Daniels said.

Winsted is familiar with a female funeral director. Mary Lamothe and her husband, Benjamin, owned and operated Wolter Funeral Home for about 25 years.

"My dad was sure one of my five brothers would take over the business," she said. However, all the brothers were taken into the service and her father asked her if she was interested in the business, she said. "So after a lot of thought, that's what I did."

To become a mortician, Lamothe had schooling and field experiences. She had one year of college before she did one year at the University of Minnesota, and then she had an internship for one year, she said.

She never received discrimination for being a woman funeral director, she said. As advice to Daniels and Haag, "make the best of everything and do what you can," Lamothe said.

Some residents from the community have met Daniels and Haag. At the lunch after a funeral, many women introduced themselves to the young women and welcomed them to Winsted, Chilson said.

The women are from different areas of Minnesota. Daniels is from Arco in southwest Minnesota, and Haag is from Paynesville.

Haag commutes from home, and Daniels is moving soon to Buffalo from Rockford.

Both of the women's families are very supportive of their career choice.

"My mom is a social worker in a nursing home, so she knows some of the things I do," Daniels said.

"My family has been great, especially my boyfriend, Jeff," Haag said. "They understand when I tell them I can't go to something because I have a funeral."

"My grandmas can't believe I'm in this profession. They say, 'You're too pretty to do that,' " Haag said. "But they have some friends in the Buffalo area, so when their friends see me at a funeral they let my grandmas know. Then they're proud," Haag said with a smile.

Haag is the oldest in her family. She has a brother, Jordan, 16, and a sister Taylor, 10. Her parents are Connie and Dan.

Daniels is the youngest in her family. Her parents are Tom and Beth, and she has two siblings, Dawn, 27, and Jill, 22. She also has a niece, 2-year-old Leah, daughter of Dawn and husband, Scott.

"This job brings a person down to earth. It helps me to not take my family for granted," Daniels said. "I like making a difference."

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