Funeral Business Advisor sat down with Stephanie Strawbridge, a funeral director at Strawbridge Memorial Chapel in Cleveland, Ohio to learn more about her career and experience in the funeral industry.
Did you always want to be a funeral director?
No, I did not. However, my grandparents had their own business and ever since I was young I knew that I wanted to own my own business as well. I went to college for Business Management, but never really thought that I would go into the funeral business.
On my breaks in college, starting when I was around 18, I would go home to help my granddad and mom at The House of Wills in Cleveland where they worked. That’s how I was introduced to the funeral business.
When did you decide to become a funeral director?
While working in the insurance business after college, I decided to start my apprenticeship at a funeral home in 1998. During this apprenticeship, I had a really bad experience. One of my uncles, who I was really close with, passed away. I was back in the morgue with my other uncle who was the embalmer at the time and I became very overwhelmed. The whole situation was too much and I became really emotional.
I chose to stop my apprenticeship and head back to the insurance business. I did however do other things in the funeral business at that time as well. I got into doing memorial programs, headstones, and everything except actually being a funeral director. Then one day The House of Wills Funeral Home called me and asked if I could come back in part time because they were dealing with the death of their own son who was killed and they were dealing with a trial. That is how I finally got back into the business. While I was there, I got my directors license.
As time went on, my mom, grandmother and I were laid off in 2008 and that pushed me to finally open up my own funeral home, Strawbridge Memorial Chapel, in 2009. I always wanted my own business, I just never knew it would be in the funeral industry. But as it turns out, it is where I am meant to be.
What makes Strawbridge Memorial Chapel unique?
After we opened, I found out that I was actually the first African American woman in Cleveland to open my own funeral home. Many current female owned firms had been passed down from generation to generation, but I was the first to open my own.
I get really connected with the families we serve. I often cry with them and so does the rest of my family. People have told us that when they come to the funeral home, the way we help them through the process makes it easier than they thought it could be and a lot of the time they don’t feel like they are even in a funeral home. Where other places in the area might be strictly business, at our funeral home we put a lot of heart into everything we do.
Are you a member of any community groups or organizations?
I sit on the Cleveland African American Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association (CAAFDEA) board. I am also a board member for the Mount Pleasant Development Corporation here in Cleveland. I am a member of the Order of Eastern Stars (Bethel Chapter #58) and I am also a member of El Hasa Court No. 47 (female Shriners). Each year a new organization head is elected as Illustrious Commandress; this year I was elected into that position.
What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
I am most proud of the way we help our community and the people in it. Every year we do a toy drive for a few weeks and then the week before Christmas we do a toy give away for some of the families that we serve and those in our community that are less fortunate. Being able to give back to my community is something that I am truly proud of. It also helps kids, who sometimes don’t understand death and associate the funeral home with something sad, to see that something good and happy can happen in a funeral home.
What does excellent customer service mean to you?
“Excellent customer service is making the entire experience painless for the family. They should be able to grieve and not have to think about the business side of the process.
Do you have any advice that you would share with other funeral directors, especially the ones that are just entering the profession?
Expect the unexpected. Any crazy thing you can imagine is probably going to happen at some point. Just be prepared for everything.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about and what are you concerned about?
We are currently in the process of trying to relocate. I’m excited about this growth, but it also scares me at the same time. Change is always a little bit intimidating, but we are ready for it.
Something that really makes me excited about the future is my nephew, who is only 3, but is already interested in the business. I work in a family funeral home, but I don’t have any kids of my own, so seeing him happy to be here makes me really happy too. FBA