Interview With A Funeral Service Educator

Mt. Hood Community College 2017 Funeral Service Graduating Class

I sat down one rainy morning with Doug Ferrin, head of the Funeral Service Education program at Mt. Hood Community College, to learn more about the program. He apologized upfront for any interruptions that might happen, since his students were taking the National Board Examination that day and were notifying him of their status.

MHCC’s Funeral Service Education program is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE). Doug Ferrin has been teaching at Mt. Hood Community College since 1998. He worked in the field from 1993 – 1997 as a Funeral Director and Embalmer, after which he taught part time in Colorado, where he grew up. He has a background in science and art. His art days involved sculpture in clay and wood, which led to an interest in restorations and eventually, the embalming process. The combination of business, psychology, and science were appealing to him. He says one of the challenging aspects of the job is corralling students. Sixteen students graduated this year, with the largest class having graduated was 31. Most have jobs when they graduate. The National Board exam is applicable to all states, but each state has individually governing laws regarding funeral services.

One of the processes he teaches, together with part-time instructor, Terri Makinson, is alkaline hydrolysis – a new “biocremation” method. Though it is still not legal in some states, it is in Oregon. He says apprenticeships are the best way to learn about the industry and to eventually land a full-time job, so students are required to intern at funeral homes and cemeteries to learn more about the practical aspects of the profession. Internship placements are all over the Northwest with Eugene being the farthest placement so far. I asked if he had any recommended reading for prospective students. He said that the best thing to do is get experience in the field, but as far as insightful writings, he recommended “The Whole Death Catalog” by Harold Schechter. He said that while some details are not necessarily accurate, overall it is very good. “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach is also an enlightening read.

His favorite cemetery in Oregon? He is very fond of Forest Lawn, Lone Fir and a little cemetery by the gas station near the college.

June 2017, Anna Mehrer

Vendor Profile: Premier Memorial

Sean Chase is Regional Sales Manager for Premier Memorial, a wholesale manufacturer for funeral homes and cemeteries since 1896, and Branch Manager for Oregon Granite Monument and Memorial, the distribution center for all wholesale customers from Eugene to San Francisco. Sean has been in the industry for five years bringing with him a career in sales,
though previously for mid-life activities, such as motor homes and copiers.


Premier Memorial offers many memorial options: bronze, granite, “MonuGlass” (Tiffany glass inlaid in stone), as well as columbaria and mausolea. “Have granite, will travel!” and, “If someone
wants to put a monument on the moon, we’ll do it!”, says Sean enthusiastically. Premier
Memorial’s granite is sourced from all over the world, so where the memorial material is from depends on what someone would like; for example, blue pearl only comes from Norway. They cut and polish stones and perform all the operations and installation.


Sean says that the best part of his job is helping people with closure, in that people get to remember all that is good. He notes that with the rise of interest in ancestry research, he sees people looking to be more connected with where they came from. He believes families have
experienced more of a disconnection in the latest generations; families seemed to be closer-knit 30+ years ago. He cites an example of how families used to go to cemeteries for picnics, and while some ethnic groups still do that, you don’t see it very often today.

premier-memorial-mills-monument premier-memorial-vw-van-memorial

Sean loves his work also because he helps families build their stories and put those life stories in stone. He guides the decision-making process with families by helping them distill what symbols could be incorporated into the memorial – be it a brand for a rancher or even a business logo, because anyone who knows the people would recognize what represents
their life. He says it’s exciting because you can have fun and be creative. He says that the process can be challenging because sometimes, families come to him when they are still processing their grief. The best advice he received was from Jim Westerfield:

“Don’t take things personally, because people are
emotional. You’re the only one left to vent on. Let it
ride. Sometimes it’s difficult because no one wants to
be attached. They are hurting and lashing out, and
sometimes that’s to you, the person who is nearest.”

Having compassion is a key component of the job, something he exercises as a volunteer at the Gospel Mission. He continues by saying that it feels good knowing you’re helping people. Letters of appreciation soften any of the negative side effects. He shared the

“Dear Sean,

When I first contacted your company, I was overwhelmed with grief. It was procrastination on my part, which I just didn’t want to get down to the business of ordering a headstone. It seemed so final. You had the knowledge and the compassion to put me at ease from the very beginning. You asked me questions that brought forth what I wanted…thank you.

You went to work describing my jungle of thoughts back to me in concert ideas. It takes a very special type of person to be able to do that. You listened closely to a person who was in all the stages of grief. You never once were overpowering or condescending…thank you.

After you sent the first sketch, you took my ideas and went with them. When I received the final, I truly kept it closed on my computer for a few days, didn’t have the courage to look at it.
When I opened up the email the sketch was perfect in every way. Then I got nervous about it being delivered in time for the service. I called you and you once more had to reassure me that everything would be on time. It was…thank you.

People at the memorial (over 150) could not stop remarking on what a wonderful job that was done on the headstone. They said the “Pink Panther” was a work of art; the granite color went so well with the design. I am sure that L____ smiled down on this; he had such a sense of humor. Some people did not know that he was such a strong member of AA, but there is now a lasting
stone that will let others know of his commitment…thank you.

The kindness you offered, the craftsmanship displayed will always be remembered. You have found your calling and you do make a difference for families who are in grief, by creating a lasting memorial to their loved ones…thank you.


Premier Memorial // 302 N. Front St., Medford, OR 97501
Tel.: 541-772-2214

Vendor Profile: OM Stone

Touring a monument manufacturing facility might seem as though it’s just another industrial landscape: heavy machinery, infinite supply shelving, warehouse vastness, unusual smells, and loud sounds. The OM Stone facility in Hillsboro, Oregon contains all these elements, but the difference is that they are busy creating memorials for families’ loved ones and internationally-recognized monuments. Now run by the second-generation Bronleewe Family, Oregon Memorials was purchased in 1947 by Gordon Bronleewe, who at one time owned Hillsboro’s Fir Lawn Memorial Park. His son, now Vice President, Sam Bronleewe, was a Funeral Director and has made his career carrying on the tradition of Oregon Memorials, having led the re-branding to its current status, OM Stone. (The letters “o” and “m” are pronounced individually, lest a yoga practice inform you otherwise.)

OM Stone’s global presence is unassuming to the everyday citizen. With operations in Italy, some supply from India and China, and steadfast connections to the granite capital, Elberton, GA, this small company in Oregon has honed their offerings and adapted to technological changes in the monument industry without sacrificing quality, service and sensitivity to the reason why they are in business – to tend to the needs of grieving families. Offering a variety of memorialization options such as columbaria, headstones, civic art projects, and Glass Art ™, OM Stone’s custom memorial solutions are found not only in Oregon, Washington, and California, but worldwide, as well.

They employ artists, designers, customer service administrators, sales, and manufacturing/production staff. In the office, designer Tamara showed the computer design process, transfer to vinyl stencil, and stencil creation which is affixed to the granite and used in sandblasting the granite. Their sandblasting process uses pulverized repurposed ceramic ingots.

One of the commissions currently under production is the memorial for Earle Chiles. Sam demonstrated a hand-chiseling technique using tools he had acquired from a German sculptor. After the lettering is complete, an artist who has worked for OM Stone for 30 years, continues by finishing it with fine gold leaf. Such attention to detail and personal involvement in the monument production factor into the success of OM Stone maintaining its reputation of excellence in the monument industry.

Other examples of OM Stone’s work include the Humberston Mausoleum at Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Portland), Portland’s Central Library steps, New York’s Penn Station, California’s Museum of Science and Industry, and the IRS Building in Washington, DC, to name a few. If you are interested in learning more about how to partner with OM Stone for your wholesale supply needs, you may contact them here. Or, connect with them at our conference in Lincoln City, October 28-29, 2016. In fact, Sam said one of the most impressive cemeteries he’s seen is Taft Cemetery, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from where we’ll be. Better yet, join us for Sam’s headstone cleaning demonstration on Friday, October 28th at Eureka Cemetery in Newport.


Oakwood Cemetery Spartanburg South Carolina

South Carolina Cemetery Tour

CAO’s Association Outreach and Organization Manager, Anna Mehrer, visited Spartanburg, South Carolina in April and was naturally compelled to get a taste of the local culture – especially, cemetery culture. Oakwood Cemetery and Greenwood Cemetery were at the top of the list. Accompanied by a professor from Wofford College, they made their way through these historic gems.

Oakwood Cemetery is a large, grassy knoll and home to over 5,000 burials. While the cemetery was chartered in 1885, it was most likely originally a family cemetery, with its first burials between 1828 and 1872. Many historically significant members of the community are buried at Oakwood: Confederate Col. Joseph Walker, Simpson Bobo (responsible for signing the secession ordinance prior to the Civil War), Converse College founder, Dexter Converse, local politicians, and wealthy textile mill owners (Spartanburg had a burgeoning textile industry in the 1800s), among others. It is the first cemetery in the region to have a Jewish section. Several gravesites are decorated with iron crosses indicating service in the Civil War (pictured). Marked “CSA” with the Confederate flag, these are an unusual sight for those accustomed to seeing memorials in the Northwest. In 1914, some graves were moved to Oakwood Cemetery from Magnolia Cemetery to make room for a railroad.

Magnolia is a much smaller cemetery, situated across from what is now the coroner’s office. The earliest death dates in the cemetery are from 1810, with perhaps the most notable resident being William “Singin’ Billy” Walker (1809-1875), who composed the tunebook, “The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion”. As you can see from the photos, Magnolia’s gravesites have many different styles. One mausoleum has a unique appearance reminiscent of an indigenous hut, but the view from the front presents a more traditional aesthetic. Other graves are arranged piles of brick.

As with most cemeteries, Magnolia and Oakwood have had a history of popular places to party among the locals, often incurring vandalism and extensive, expensive damage. Magnolia appears to have received some level of love in years past, but there is evidence that finding resources for upkeep may be a challenge. Through the preservation of history in these beautiful resting places, there is hope for a legacy of learning and discovery for future generations.

We hope you enjoy a pictorial tour of these cemeteries.

Oakwood Cemetery

Magnolia Cemetery


Interview with Coldspring

I sat down with Eric Romppanen of Coldspring recently on an overcast Portland morning at a quaint donut shop. Based in Seattle, Eric was already quite familiar with the city. His background in the aluminum business grounded him in the value of earth’s resources and how sometimes these products are taken for granted (or granite!). He noted that many downtown Portland curbs and building fascia are granite, the primary material Coldspring quarries.

Coldspring is a North American memorial company with quarries in the United States and Canada, the dominant provider of US-sourced granite that is sold to monument dealers, funeral homes, and cemeteries. As the burial industry has evolved, so have Coldspring’s product offerings. They offer glass-front niches for cremations, “Expressions in Bronze” and other bronze castings, and memorial spaces — for example, an 826-crypt mausoleum in Book Park, Ohio.

As I became acquainted with what Coldspring offers, Eric mentioned marble is not the best option for headstones. Marble can stain easily and erode with weather – important to note due to our wet and mossy Pacific Northwest environment, hence, the prominence of granite in newer cemetery installations. Granite can also be laser or water etched, something we have seen become more popular lately. Here are examples of how different types of etching on certain types of granite can produce dramatically different results.

coldspring granite etching

This style has grown in popularity due to the more realistic depiction of the deceased and/or a scene representing their hobbies or interests. It made me wonder what the future of memorials will be – video presentations on outdoor flat screens with live video broadcasting via Google Streetview? Holograms of the deceased telling their own story?

A trend Eric is seeing is an increase in the need for housing cremains, since people are not taking home the cremains like they used to. Cemeteries are challenged with memorialization in this way, so Coldspring offers an attractive display system called, “Glass-Front Niches”. These display cases are housed in a memorial building where there could be seating for visiting families and grievers. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for this funeral home in Colorado?

Another form of memorialization is Coldspring’s “Expressions in Bronze”, where the sand-cast bronze image is painted in black, then sanded down to reveal the realistic two-tone image. (Pictured: Eric holding an example) Bronze and granite stand the test of time and the elements, so this type of memorialization is a practical solution for preserving one’s legacy.

One of the myths Eric would like to dispel is that foreign-sourced granite memorials are less expensive. Domestically-sourced granite offers more advantages than people think in terms of turnaround time, flexibility, and customization. While people think bronze is expensive, it’s important to remember you get what you pay for. If you’d like something unique, like Expressions in Bronze, there will be no other thing like it. Many Veterans request US-made memorials. Cemeteries will guarantee families receive US-quarried memorials and bronze cast in the US. The standard lead time is 45 days, once the order is received and approved by the family. That is a service that can’t be matched by sourcing overseas. While overseas quarries are less expensive, they don’t have environmental standards. Therefore, when a person is looking to buy a granite memorial, it is recommended to request a domestic source.

Some of Coldspring’s crowning achievements include memorials for Jimi Hendrix, Bud Adams (Tennessee Titans owner), Tara Lipinski (she’s planning ahead!), and the blue pearl granite fountain at the Kennedy Space Center. To learn more about Coldspring, you may visit their website.

Please comment below with your challenges and achievements regarding memorialization!