By Jen Bakken
DELANO Though they are on call 24 hours a day, Jim and Tim Iten of Iten’s Funeral Home in Delano wouldn’t have it any other way.
For them, helping families through the loss of a loved one is a difficult, yet rewarding part of their lives.
Jim grew up in Browerville with his six siblings, and his father owned a couple of funeral homes, a furniture and hardware store, and even an ambulance service.
After high school, Jim attended the University of Minnesota to become a mortician.
“I did some work for Tony and Gladys Boyce (former owners of what is now Iten Funeral Home),” said Jim. “And when Tony had a heart attack, I ran the place for a year, and just kind of jumped right into it.”
Jim hoped one day to purchase the funeral home from the Boyces, but without the funds, or ability to qualify for a loan, he figured this was just a pipe dream.
While running the business, Jim became friends with the former owners of the local Town Club, Sham and Lou Jaunich, and little did he know that this would lead to his dream coming true.
“Sham called me one morning,” he remembered. “Back then, we had those open phone lines and he was afraid someone would hear, so he asked me to meet him at the bar.”
With the idea that he was about to meet a potential financial backer, Jim put on a suit and anxiously waited for this person to walk through the Town Club doors.
“I told him (Sham) that I guess the guy wasn’t going to show,” he said. “And here, all along, it was Sham and Lou who were going to help me, but Sham didn’t want to say anything until he checked with Lou first.”
His loan was presented to him in a paper grocery bag. When he went to the bank with a bag full of $20,000 in ten-and twenty-dollar bills, a few eye-brows were raised and the FBI even came to check into it.
“I was really surprised that Sham and Lou did this for me,” he said, “but I guess ‘Fatty’ Reider, who owned the meat market, had helped them get started and they wanted to return the favor.”
As the story goes, in 1962, Jim purchased the funeral home with a paper bag down payment and a contract for deed.
“My wife Char cried for a week about the whole thing,” he laughed. “She was a librarian in Hopkins and was worried about moving here, money, and taking on a business.”
The Itens had no idea that over the years, not only would Delano become home, but the community would become a second family to them.
They also became very involved in the Delano community, serving on the school board, city council, Great River Regional Library board, Crow River Women’s Club, General Federated Women’s Club, Helping Hands Food Shelf, Boy Scouts, chamber of commerce, Delano Housing Authority, the Knights of Columbus, and more.
It seems amazing that they have found time to be extensively involved in committees and volunteerism with a business leaving them on call 24 hours a day.
“Back when operators used to transfer area calls,” Jim laughed, “they’d transfer calls to a neighbor’s house if I was there playing cards or something. They’d even screen calls and only transfer emergencies, and at Christmas, I’d give them a bottle of booze for helping.”
Later, Jim had a phone with a long cord on a reel which enabled him to go a certain distance and still take calls.
Fishing was, and remains, a favorite pastime for father and son. Years ago, they’d be on the lake, in mid-cast, and hear Char honk her car horn from shore to let them know a grieving family needed them.
The Itens’ only son, Tim, purchased the family business in 2000, and Char lost her battle with cancer four years ago. Jim remains involved, but now says fishing and grandchildren are what he is enjoying these days.
“I fish a lot,” Jim said. “But my favorite part of the day is being the grandpa bus when I pick the grandkids up at school.”
Tim lives in Watertown with his wife, Cindy, and their five sons. He has been involved with the Watertown Lions and the Watertown Fire Department for 13 years. Both Tim and Jim are on the board for Crow River State Bank, as well.
The family has also owned the Iten Funeral Home in Watertown for over 25 years. Since 1962, the Itens have arranged more than 4,500 funerals.
“Ones that stand out are the youth that die and the grieving parents,” said Jim. “It’s not an easy job.”
For Tim, his job is all about personal connection. “If I do my job well,” he said, “they will remember me and thank me. It’s very rewarding.”