Business & Development, Springfield

”Young Blood” in the Funeral Industry

SPRINGFIELD – Young people are on the rise in the funeral industry, and staff at Major Family Funeral Home on A Street is a prime example.
With death being a part of their daily lives, owners Todd and Joy Slack have raised their three children in the funeral industry. ”I’ve just been around this my whole life, I understand (death) is a natural thing,” said Connor Slack, 19, the youngest member of the team.
A student at Lane Community College, he is open to the possibility of becoming a paramedic, nurse, medical examiner assistant or mortician, he said. He works in transport services at the funeral home, in which they drive Chrysler vans – not hearses – to make their pick ups.
Another trend, Todd said, is that ”more women are now funeral directing, outnumbering men,” such as Kelsie Drake, 21.
Drake is an apprentice at Major Family to become a funeral director and embalmer. She works with Conner on the transport team and both Connor and Drake are working towards two years of hands-on experience in the field.
To become an embalmer requires a two year degree in mortuary sciences as well as the two years of apprenticeship. Drake is attending mortuary school online so she can qualify for her embalming license and is close to the end of her studies.
She just got back from taking her finals in Houston, Texas, where she spent a week demonstrating the hands on skills she has developed in restorative arts and embalming. The classes are a blend of specialized classes in chemistry, biology, psychology, business, art and law.
To pass her finals, she had to embalm 10 bodies and reconstruct a face made from wax on a plastic skull. As her model, she chose the face of John Travolta.

A calling, a ‘gift’
Drake said her in-laws asked, ”Why would you ever want to do that?’
”The whole concept is kind of a taboo subject,” Drake said. ”It is really not as scary as (people) think it is. It has been kind of cool to give people insight into what we do, ”she said, noting she often likes to educate people on the subject.
She got into the profession on a whim, and ”once I started being able to connect to more families, it didn’t seem as scary as you would think it would be,” Drake said. ”I gave it a try and ended up falling in love with it. I decided this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
Some people can handle it and some people can’t, Drake said, and ”I found out it is something I could handle and kind of compartmentalize,” though dealing with death on a daily basis has changed how they perceive the world.
Funeral director Michelle Carrillo said she is quicker to forgive and to not put things off in relationships. Todd said it gave him the perspective of life’s fragility early in life. Both Connor and Drake intend to write books about their experiences.
The Major team agree that they have been ”gifted” to be in this line of work.
”It is definitely a gift,” Todd said, noting that the previous owner prayed the night before that someone would come and buy it so he could retire. The next day, Todd walked in to put an offer on the business.
It’s a wonderful ability to be able to connect with people at one of the worst times in their lives, Drake said. ”It is not as much as ‘oh that’s scary’ but ‘it’s ‘I am helping this person out.’ It is being able to give them that final respect that they deserve.”
It is the nature of the business, Connor said, ”being able to assist (people) when they can’t assist themselves any more.”



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