Funeral Business Advisor sat down with Rich Darby, funeral director with Sunset Funeral Homes to learn more about his career, experience in the funeral industry, and his non-profit Operation Honor Guard.
Did you always want to be a funeral director? How did you get into this industry?
I started out my career as a grave digger. My family owned a cemetery, so when I graduated high school I was certain I was going to work for that cemetery for the rest of my life. My family eventually expanded the business and built a funeral home.
On a particularly cold day in December when it was 25 degrees below zero, a funeral director saw me outside and told me that I should really think about going to mortuary school. I had not done well in high school, because I saw it as a time to be social and didn’t take the education part seriously. The idea of going to school again wasn’t really even on my radar. However, by the end of this bitterly cold day, I decided to look into becoming a funeral director. I quickly figured out what I needed to do and soon enough I was enrolled in mortuary school. Upon graduating, I turned in my gloves and shovel and was finally a funeral director.
What is your favorite thing about working in this industry?
Helping families. Helping families get through the hardest day of their life and doing everything I can to make it easier is something I am truly passionate about. I am proud to serve the families of my community each day.
What makes your funeral home unique and stand apart from others?
We are firm believers in the ‘Celebration of Life’ concept at Sunset Funeral Homes. We have modern facilities that have cafes inside of them and families can bring in catered food. We love going the extra mile for the families we serve. If a loved one was a hunter for example, we will hang mounted deer on the walls. We do anything we can to make the space comfortable and create an atmosphere that sparks conversation for each family.
How do you define excellent customer service?
Exceeding the customer’s needs. Getting to know them and then providing things for them that they didn’t even know they needed.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
I am excited for the age where consumers in entirety embrace technology. Right now, we are in this in between stage where were we have people who still own flip phones and at the same time people who own tablets, computers, and smartphones. I cannot wait for everyone to be on the same page someday so we can really capture and utilize the full power of technology in this industry.
What advice would you share with other funeral directors, specifically those just now entering the profession?
To the young funeral directors just coming into the industry or those still in school, know that this industry is filled with great opportunity. We have more resources available to us than we have ever had before to provide the best possible service to our families. Don’t listen to the negative naysayers in this industry that are saying times are terrible. Be excited to come into this business and make a difference. Times are changing, and although change can be scary, these changes are for the better.
How did you decide to start the non-profit Operation Honor Guard?
In August of 2013, I was at our local cemetery working
a service and I was miserably hot. I was soaking wet with sweat feeling sorry for myself just thinking about getting back to the air conditioning of the funeral home. As I was standing there, I looked to my left and there stood our local Honor Guard, with an average age of 77, they were standing proudly and strongly, and I suddenly felt ashamed. They had been out there much longer than me and I realized I had no reason to complain.
While I was looking at them, I noticed that even though they all had uniforms on, their pants were all a different shade of grey, their blazers were torn and tattered and I knew right then and there I need to help them. I partnered with them and told them how I wanted to help them raise money for new uniforms. It started out as a fundraiser and grew into so much more.
The very first year, we raised $5,000 outside of a local Walmart and on a few street corners in different towns. I quickly knew that we were on to something unique. Shortly after we started, I had a local TV station contact me because they wanted to partner with me and help out as well. Together we hosted a 15-hour telethon and turned that $5,000 to $30,000 in the second year. In 2017 we raised $160,000 for our local Honor Guard.
Additional TV stations have contacted me and are currently helping us grow on a national scale. In 2017, we had expanded to five states and raised $325,000.
How do those interested make donations today?
We have a national day of giving, which is where we drive most donations. This year it will be October 4, 2018. We partner with TV stations and funeral homes to keep a collection open year-round as well. You can also donate from anywhere at any time at www.operationhonorguard.us.
I also just recently had a car dealership here in town donate a portion of all their Memorial Day sales to Operation Honor Guard. They were able to help us raise $10,500 from this one sale – which was incredible. Additionally, I have families requesting donations be made to Operation Honor Guard in obituaries through the year as well. It has really been an amazing process to raise money for the Honor Guard and I am glad so many others have been generous too. FBA