Cedar Memorial is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and consists of 2 funeral homes, a memorial park cemetery, 2 cremation centers, a chapel, and a mausoleum. Their comprehensive model gives a family the ability to choose from natural, traditional, or historic settings, and is like no other in the area. Their cemetery park provides the convenience of a funeral home, chapel, family center, mausoleum, cremation center, and flower shop – all in a natural setting.
Cedar Memorial is led by C. John Linge, a 3rd generation cemeterian and licensed funeral director, who is also the Chairman of the Board. John has a passion for innovative, meaningful death care services, that follow a legacy of leadership and innovation from his grandfather, Carl K. Linge, founder of the cemetery, and his father, David E. Linge, founder of the funeral home.
It all began in 1929 when John’s grandfather, Carl Linge, purchased a farm near Cedar Rapids. The purchase was made with the intent to start a cemetery that would be unique and unlike anything in the area at the time. “Our roots began in the cemetery, offering a new healing option for the community.,” says Brad Kurtz, Director of Sales and Marketing with Cedar Memorial. “With the cemetery in mind, we are drawn to the perpetual nature of our business and how we care for generations of our community.”
Later in the 1960’s, Carl’s son, David Linge, formed Cedar Memorial Park Funeral Home. “David continued the legacy of innovation by creating a funeral home and cemetery that offered all options at one beautiful and serene location” commented Brad. “David led the cemetery and funeral homes to many years of progress and success, while continuing to focus on the needs of the community. He was also involved with the Iowa Legislature to improve preneed for Iowa’s consumers, which we continue to take an active role in today.”
Cedar Memorial’s operations today may look different than they did in 1929, but their mission to serve families with genuine care and personal service. Over all brands, Cedar Memorial is honored to assist almost 2000 families per year. John Linge, son of David and grandson of Carl, has continued to lead and grow the business in an exceptional way. John has continued to execute a full-service strategy by adding additional features, such as their Family Center and Library, Iowa Cremation, and most recently forming Companions for Life, which focuses on professional and dignified cremation for companion animals. “The uniqueness of our business today evolves from the innovation the Linge Family has brought to our community by being on the forefront of changes and customer needs,” says Brad. “One of the ways we are unique in the industry is our outstanding Associates who focus on each family’s specific needs, one family at a time.”
Cedar Memorial focuses on the customer by using what they call the ‘Cedar Commitments’, a list of service commitments that each employee adheres to. “We have focused on changing the way that Associates look at their jobs and how they serve our families,” explains Brad. “As an example, many of our front-line Associates are titled ‘Hospitality Associates’, and their main focus is to make sure that every family or guest that arrives has a special experience each and every time.”
Customer service is a priority at Cedar Memorial. “Good customer service means that each family we serve feels like they are the only one we are serving at that moment,” says Michelle Behnke, CEO of Cedar Memorial. “We strive always to ensure that we do our best to make it as perfect experience as possible. Our AfterCare Coordinator visits with each family we serve to ensure we provide the very best service and offer healing grief resources through our Grief Library and available community resources.”
Contributing to their success is their willingness to always evolve to the changing needs of their families. “We constantly strive to find new and better ways for our operations— but most importantly finding that healing experience for our families.” says Michelle. “I believe we do a really good job of hiring and our Associates are like a family and they have a passion for how they each contribute to serving.”
Communicating with the community on the benefits of preplanning also contributes to their success. “We consistently strive to inform our community about the importance of preplanning one’s final wishes.” Brad stated. “Being a Funeral Director, I know firsthand what a gift that preplanning is to survivors. We make the preplanning process simple and affordable and it provides a great deal of peace of mind for those that preplan.”
Cedar Memorial’s Associates are all committed to high levels of exceptional service. From the moment they receive a call to the moment they walk out the door and beyond, each Associate has a unified purpose. “John Linge always talks about our circle of service,” says Michelle. “Each person is touching every family in some way at the center of that circle, and we all work together to make sure that they are served properly. Our Associates are passionate about their jobs and care about the families they serve. Every Associate is empowered to make a difference in the lives of the families that we serve.”
Community involvement and outreach is also a focal point of Cedar Memorial business model. Holiday’s are of particular importance, especially Memorial Day, which draws a lot of attention to their cemetery.
But they participate in many events, both physical and virtual now that COVID-19 is a concern. “One of our events is called ‘Coping with the Holiday’s’ where we have a gathering for those that have lost someone and are struggling through the holidays,” says Brad. “We also have a yearly event called ‘Hospite’, a continuing education and networking event for hospice workers. It’s been a great program for us to connect with the hospice community and help them understand who we are, and how we work hand in hand with them to try and serve the same families.”
As with most businesses, COVID-19 has impacted Cedar Memorial and forced them to make changes to their operations. One of the newest services they offer is live streaming, which they utilize Tribucast for this service. “On average we have 5-10 families per week utilizing live streaming as part of our services,” comments Brad. “Tribucast played an integral part of our ability to offer this service. They helped us ramp up very quickly.”
In the beginning, keeping up with the new regulations around COVID-19 created a time of accelerated decision making. “There was a period early on where we had to make many decisions about how we served the community in a very short period of time,” Brad commented. “With our Associates all focused on serving, we were quickly able to respond and continue to provide memorable and healing services while maintaining regulatory compliance.”
The season brought by COVID-19 has been active with changes for Cedar Memorial, but 2020 had other challenges as well. “We were impacted by a severe Derecho, a straight-line storm that came through with winds more than 140 miles per hour for over 30 minutes. This event took out over 300 trees within our cemetery,” explained Brad. “On top of COVID-19, our team has been navigating the challenges from a weather event that was declared a major federal disaster.”
But with all the challenges they faced, the Associates at Cedar Memorial rose to the occasion. “It has been quite remarkable to see our staff jump the hurdles that we have this year to make sure our families were well served,” Brad said proudly. “We were able to find new and different ways and continue to provide the same high level of service.”
While COVID-19 has caused a changing demand in certain services, surprisingly that has not been the case with Cedar Memorial. “We are actually seeing an increase in traditional services and families selecting cemetery options, where many parts of the country are seeing decreases in these areas,” says Michelle. “Maybe it is a function of being in the Midwest, but this trend has been encouraging considering all the challenges we have faced this year.”
Cedar Memorial has come a long way. Starting initially as a cemetery over 90 years ago to being a full-service firm offering the full spectrum of memorial services. “We are excited about the future,” and confident Michelle says. “With all the challenges this year, what 2020 and COVID-19 has done is to provide an increased awareness of how important gathering and commemorating has become. I believe there is a new energy to bring people together to grieve together and support each other.”
Michelle continues, “And the same goes for preplanning. With the current events of today, I believe people are looking more favorably at preplanning. I believe this shows the continued need in our society for the healing services we provide and the important role we serve in our community.” FBA