By Lisa Carolin
Allen Cole was recently recognized by the Michigan Funeral Directors Association for 25 years of service as a licensed funeral director. You could say it’s a career that runs in his blood.
The funeral chapel has been in business since 1898, and the Cole family purchased it in 1977 from Lou Berghardt. Allen Cole purchased the business from his father in 1999.
“I was a teacher for three years before I became a funeral director,” says Cole. “I originally came back as an opportunity to work with my parents in my home town, but I quickly learned how much my father was able to do to help grieving families. He was able to comfort them, walk with them through this difficult time, and really make a difference. I was really drawn in to that ability to help others in their time of grief.”
To become a funeral director, the state of Michigan requires a Bachelor’s degree, a year of apprenticeship under the supervision of a licensed funeral director, and then passing the state boards. Cole had a degree from Michigan State University when he entered the field and went on to take specialized classes including embalming, law, and grief psychology at Wayne State Mortuary School for a year. He did his apprenticeship with his father and then passed the boards.
Cole worked with his parents for his first eight years at the funeral chapel. He’s been working with his wife Wendy, something he very much enjoys.
“We work really well together,” he says. “Owning a family business also allows me more time with my kids. They often eat at the funeral home when I have to work long days. Each of the boys has found ways to help out – Brian uses his expertise to keep our computers and website running; Josh often provided an extra hand in a pinch; and now Nathan is mowing the lawn and helping with snow. That’s a real joy for me.”
Cole says that none of the boys has yet shown an interest in the business, but that he is open to the possibility. He says that being a funeral director offers many rewards such as getting to know people and hearing their stories.
“At the time of a death, I get a lot of satisfaction in being able to help people get through a very difficult time,” says Cole. “It is an honor to be able to listen to the stories about the person that passed away – what made them special and what they meant to their family.”
One of the challenges for Cole is knowing so many people in the area and coping with their deaths and the grief.
“A lot of the people who pass away and their families are personal friends of mine or friends of my parents,” says Cole. “Emotionally, that can get really difficult. I tend to hold it together to do what I have to do to take care of the survivors and then let myself go with my family. My parents and wife offer me a lot of support when I need it.”
He says that he can care for people in a way that a stranger can’t.
“I can be genuinely caring because I have been connected with these people before the death,” says Cole. “It is a great help to know the family dynamics before you even begin to offer support.”
Cole says that he doesn’t worry about the business end too much.
“I try to make sure we take care of each family that calls us to the best of our ability, and we offer them choices to let them decide what they need to help them with their grief,” says Cole. “I think the most important role I have is finding the right staff and making sure they can do their job really well. Everyone here (Cole Funeral Chapel) really cares about the people that come to us for help. I think if we are caring and competent, the business will take care of itself. I have a strong Christian faith, and I try to be sure that what I do will be pleasing to God.”