Camino del Sol Funeral Chapel and Cremation Center is located in sunny Sun City West, Arizona, but has humble midwestern roots that span over four generations in the funeral industry. Their legacy has been built on generations of hard work, heart, and providing quality service.
“I was pretty much born into the funeral industry,” begins Karen Darby-Ritz, Advance Planning Manager and Community Relations with Camino del Sol. “My grandfather got his start in the industry when he began managing a cemetery in Michigan. Eventually my father joined him as well. Because he loved the industry so much, my father was always coming up with new ideas and ways to improve different aspects of his job, but since he didn’t own the cemetery, he was always being told no. After being told no so many times, my dad and grandfather ultimately made the decision to purchase their own cemetery in Danville, Illinois so they had the freedom to call the shots. After many years they grew the family business to two cemeteries, seven funeral homes, and two manufacturing plants that specifically manufacture products for the funeral industry,” she continues.
After growing the business in Illinois, the Darbys decided to bring their way of doing business to Sun City West in 1989. Then in 1996, Camino del Sol Funeral Chapel and Cremation Center became the first and only licensed endowed care cemetery in Sun City West.
“My dad’s dream was to have all five of his children work in the industry right by his side. However, I – the oldest of five children his first born – decided I did not want to work in the family business because I wanted to teach,” Karen recalls. “My father always supported me, and it wasn’t until years later that I discovered just how devastated he was that I had chosen another path. After college, the job market for teachers was over saturated in Illinois, so my husband suggested we find a place that needed teachers and we ended up making Arizona our new home,” Karen goes on to say.
After Karen moved to Arizona and gave birth to the first grandchild, visits from her parents became more frequent.
“My dad fell in love with Arizona. He ultimately decided to look for a second house here because they were visiting so frequently. When he was speaking with a realtor to find a vacation home, he kept gushing about his business because he is so proud of what he does. The realtor happened to have the perfect piece of property that would be great for a funeral home and that is how Camino del Sol came to be,” explains Karen.
Since they opened their doors in 1989, they have made every effort to not only meet but exceed the needs of the families they serve. They always honor personal customs and family traditions while providing the highest quality of service at a fair price all while being kind to the environment. Camino del Sol is also home to one of the country’s only cremation only cemeteries.
After teaching in the area for 30 years, Karen eventually retired and finally joined the family business and made her dad’s dream of having all five of his children work alongside of him come true.
“One thing that really makes us stand out is that we are family owned and operated. Just like us, not a lot of people who live in Arizona are actually born in Arizona, most of them come from the Midwest,” laughs Karen. “Because we were born and raised in the Midwest, it really helps us make strong connections out here. People are drawn to our values and they like that we know how to think outside of the box,” she adds.
At Camino del Sol, team members are provided a safe work environment and always treated with respect. A big reason for the funeral home’s success can be attributed to having established clear performance standards and provide ongoing training and education, while at the same time rewarding initiative and creativity, all with a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.
“Thanks to our hardworking staff, we are never a funeral home who has to tell a family, ‘oh I am sorry we can’t do that.’ We have the most hardworking, creative staff and together we are able to give our families anything they need to get through this tough time in their lives. Families will tell us that from the moment they walk through our doors they feel at ease because our staff is so kind and welcoming,” Karen states humbly.
When it comes to the atmosphere of the Sun City West funeral home, they like to keep the decor on trend and never let their space feel outdated. The funeral industry is constantly changing, and Camino del Sol aims to be on the forefront of new ideas. Their goal is to continue to break the mold of what a funeral home is supposed to look like and instead create a space that is evolving with the times and doesn’t get stuck in old-fashioned décor. By investing back into their facilities, it helps put the families they serve at ease and makes them feel more at home.
“In addition to the service we provide to families each day, we also like to connect with our community in as many ways as possible. We open our facilities to events that sometimes have people questioning, ‘where? Isn’t that a funeral home?’ We hold seminars on essential oils, estate planning, and are in the process of getting some local artists in for readings and book signings. We give anything a shot because we want people to be comfortable with our space and we never want families to feel intimated or afraid to come here,” relates Karen. “We live in a community that is rich with talent and it has a lot to give, so we want to be a part in helping to make that known. We are really proud of our community and we want to show it off when we can,” she adds.
By opening their doors to different types of community events, Camino del Sol becomes a less intimidating place for families. It becomes more than a place where they go when a loved one has passed away, but a pillar of the community that people frequent for a variety of reasons. Thus, making the day where they do have to say goodbye to a family member or friend a little more relaxed.
“My siblings and I are the third generation that has worked in the funeral industry and the youngest in the fourth generation has just finished college and all have slowly but surely found their place in the family business as well. And the fifth generation is just being born, but they are coming fast and furiously,” laughs Karen. “I am proud to have been born and raised in this industry and it’s really exciting and humbling to see it continue to happen for the next generations. This isn’t just a job for us, it’s our life and passion,” Karen says emotionally.
With two siblings running things in Arizona and three handling the business back in Illinois, the only thing that really gets in the way is the time difference. According to Karen, its a huge blessing to have the family business spread across the US. It is easy to ask for advice and to borrow ideas from each other and implement them in both places. Both locations stay tuned into trends across the board, get a well- rounded picture of what families will need, and strengthen the business each day.
“Looking forward to the future, we want to continue to stay on top of the trends of the industry. To do so, we spend time sharing our knowledge and constantly looking to learn more. We go to the conventions and standard industry events, but in addition to that we try to attend events that are not specific to the funeral industry, absorb as much as we can, and then come back and figure out how we can apply it to our business to make it better. We are always looking forward to learning something new and finding new ways to improve our business,” states Karen.
Since Camino del Sol first opened its doors, it didn’t take long for the Darby legacy to mean as much in Arizona as it does in Illinois. It comes as no surprise that the funeral home has found success in Sun City West. Armed with their midwestern values, family bonds, passion for learning, heart, and hard work – nothing can get in the way of this family business. The palpable passion puts families at ease and Camino del Sol on the map. So, grab your sunglasses because the legacy of this Arizona funeral home is going to continue to be bright. FBA