By Jeff Bollier
Scott Baeten grew up a few blocks from Ryan Funeral Home and Crematory on the city’s west side.
Baeten, now a partner in the business, said everyone knew the business as a cornerstone of the community since it opened in the 1920s.
“Ryan’s has always been known for its community and family focus,” Baeten said. “We’ve had such a tradition handed to us. It’s an honor to carry it forward.”
There’s also a responsibility that comes with helping families and friends grieve when loved ones die. When that business is about to turn 90, that much history only adds to the weight they carry, the company’s president, Joe Schinkten, said.
“It’s almost a stewardship,” Schinkten said. “There’s a responsibility to steering the ship.”
Robert A. Ryan, a Rockland dairy farmer, founded the business in August 1926 and opened its first location at the corner of Reid and Second streets in downtown De Pere in 1927. Jim Dillon took over the business when Ryan died in 1941, running it until Ryan’s son, Robert B. Ryan, joined the business in 1950.
The business sold its downtown De Pere location in 1963 and moved into a new building on 10th Street that it still occupies today.
Schinkten, who joined the funeral home in 1978, said it was Robert B. Ryan who taught him that a business has a responsibility to the community and the families it serves. It’s a lesson he has passed on to Baeten and the next generation of directors at Ryan, such as Jim Wolfe and Joe Vanden Avond.
“All of us are active in the community,” Schinkten said. “You really need to be actively involved and giving back.”
To that end, Schinkten has decided to celebrate Ryan Funeral Home’s anniversary with a free picnic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in the business’ parking lot at 305 N. 10th St. The picnic will include free food and drinks, live music and a display of the funeral home’s antique hearses.
In his 38 years at Ryan Funeral Home, Schinkten has seen the funeral business change dramatically.
A one- or two-night visitation followed by a funeral service the next day used to be the standard. Now, it’s about 30 percent of the company’s business. Cremation services, which were nonexistent in the 1970s, now account for about 40 percent of Ryan’s business.
What has not changed in that time, Schinkten said, is the staff’s commitment to help families in their toughest times.
“It’s hard to find guys like Joe (Vanden Avond) who genuinely care about people,” Schinkten said. “We can train people to be good funeral directors, but we can’t teach them to care about others.”
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