I just returned from another year teaching the Funeral Management College at the ICCFA University. I have lost track as to how many years I have been involved with the University, but I can say my work with that organization has proven to be one of the highlights of my career, which is already long and has not been totally uneventful.
Driving home from Mississippi I felt some pangs. I always feel a sense of loss when the week's work comes to an end because for the most part I know that I will never set eyes on most of my students again – that is just the way of it in any educational endeavor. Also, I have to admit that I missed being on the University of Memphis campus, all the college environment and stuff, which I really enjoy. However, the University leadership made some difficult decisions last year, and in the end things went well in Tunica. (Although I ended up in Memphis every evening!)
Many readers know that I spent many years of my life operating mortuary science programs. Too many years, I fear, for when I packed in the mortuary education career, I was disheartened, discouraged and disillusioned. For 20 years, I had watched the caliber of entering student bodies slip notch by notch until it was clear that only a small percentage of the up-and-coming “baby undertakers” had a mission of service embedded in their hearts. So I packed it in.
But this class at the ICCFA University rekindled in this old grumpy undertaker a renewed awareness of youthful dedication and mission in life. The class members - there were seventeen - were focused, excited, attentive, curious and extremely insightful as we trudged through one subject after another.
Certainly this group was basically ten years older on average than my typical freshman class in a mortuary college, but most of the class seemed way beyond their years in maturity and had a sense of real dedication to the mission of care-giving to the bereaved and care-taking of the dead. Almost the whole class (there were a few cranky folks, but only a few) embraced the concepts of quality service to humanity with freshness and openness that sparked my heart and made me feel 25 years younger.
Over a 35-year career of speaking, writing and teaching, I have had more than a few moments of feeling despair and wondering the frightening thought, “Does anybody listen?” But when I got into my automobile for the seven-hour drive back to my world after University, I felt like I was walking on a cloud. Such was the effect this class of 2009 had on this man who has loved funeral service his entire life.
I don’t know how many of the class members will read what I have written, but Todd Van Beck wants to say in writing and on this public forum a warm and sincere "THANK YOU" to the funeral management class of 2009. It was my privilege and honor to journey with each of you through the mire of funeral service/cemetery issues.