Funeral Business Advisor sat down with Fred Kitchen, the owner and funeral director of Henson & Kitchen Mortuary & Cremation Services in West Virginia to learn more about his career and experiences in the funeral industry.
Did you always want to be a funeral director?
I did not always want to be a funeral director. My father was a pastor, so I come from a service-oriented family. When I was rather young, I lost my aunt and grandmother and I think those events influenced me later in life to pursue a career in funeral service.
How did you become a funeral director and what was the process like for you?
I entered funeral service right out of high school in 1987. I took a job at a family owned funeral home and at that time I would mow grass, wash cars, and manage removals. After a while, I decided to attend college and later go to mortuary school. Once I was enveloped in the field, I knew it was a calling. It was something I knew I was meant to do.
I think the way I was raised really set me up to do well in this profession. When I was a kid, I saw my father and my mother visit people in hospitals and nursing homes and I saw their passion for loving people – it is just something that was in my blood I suppose. Watching what my parents did in their life really guided me in this direction.
What is your favorite part about working in this profession?
The people. My favorite part is meeting families and interacting with them at visitations and funerals. Specifically visitations though, that’s where I feel like I belong. I know a lot of funeral professionals today dislike working visitations because of how time consuming they can be and they take up your evenings and weekends. But for me, that’s where I have built most of my relationships. I invest myself heavily into those hours where I’m directly involved and interacting with the community.
How are you involved with your community?
My wife and I purchased our funeral home in 2010. The funeral home itself has been in existence since 1972. In 2010 when we purchased the funeral home we wanted to do something more so my wife and I aligned ourselves with a charity that was initially established with 9/11 in New York by a school teacher called Hugs Across America. We started a chapter of that here in Huntington called Hugs of Hope.
We started Hugs of Hope because my wife, Amber, my two daughters, Annalise and Arabella and our staff wanted to touch lives. We accept donations and use those donations to purchase teddy bears in bulk. Then we provide teddy bears to schools, police departments, fire departments, hospices and hospitals. These places can then give teddy bears to children who are for example visiting grandpa in the hospital. We also just donated over 50 teddy bears to an elementary school after hearing that two of the students were killed in a house fire. It gives the kids something to hold to and provides a little bit of comfort.
With Hugs of Hope we wanted to influence the lives of children and do something that had a direct impact on our community. Something where we could really make a big impact. Plus, I wanted to show my daughters that it’s about giving and doing things for others.
I am also involved with our church – I serve on the board and I’m a member of city groups in the area such as the Lion’s Club as well.