This year was the 20th year that the funeral management college has been operational within the structure of the ICCFA University, and what a 20 year run it has been.
It has been my good fortune, (and trust me, friends, my life and career has not been a planned event nor was it ever by design), to have been associated with this small funeral service management college contribution to the all voluntary University experience from the funeral college’s inception. Much credit needs to be given to Patrick Downey, who was the first person on earth to see this vision, and took the calculated risk of approaching me to head up the pioneering efforts, and the rest, they say, is history.
This blog however is not about the funeral management college, although I have had many a wonderful experience year after year with each group. Not one group was ever the same, not one! They were all in the end wonderful people who showed up because they simply wanted to, there was and is not any government bureaucracy looming over anyone’s heads at the ICCFA University saying with dire consequences “get those CEUs or you are going to be in big trouble with the state or province.” That type of stuff does not happen. People come to Memphis because they want to, and what a refreshing concept that is.
I have been connected with ICCFA for many years and of course my association with this organization has not been without detractors. However I have had detractors my entire life, which is already long and has not been totally uneventful. I concluded many years ago that detractors were just a part of the grand adventure and in the end I would never be asked to give an account of them, only myself – so off I went, and part of this grand adventure involved quite by accident ICCFA.
My connection with ICCFA was not by design or plan I just stumbled into the ICCFA world be a series of unforeseen events. Looking back at my life I have to confess that most of the richest blessings I have experienced have actually been under the lurking category of the unforeseen events, and the truth is most everything I have planned for, designed intentionally to be successful has in actuality failed. But not the unforeseen events, they have been successful and just seem to have come from God knows where. ICCFA was a totally unforeseen event, but what a blessing it has been.
The University is but a microcosm of the entire overview of the organization. And I have found, for me anyway, that one phrase, a three word phrase, can very aptly encompass the attraction for me of the ICCFA world and that phrase is “unity in diversity.”
All my life I have been attracted to that phrase and the deep idea that it communicates and in fact as I have aged this idea of unity in diversity has become even more attractive and powerful in how I personally view and cope with the real world, which sometimes is not pleasant, and sometime can be mighty cold.
This last week I spent once again four and one half days teaching at the funeral management college and I can happily report that the idea of unity in diversity was once again alive and well in the halls and classrooms of the Fogelman Executive Center on the campus of the impressive University of Memphis. The experience warmed my heart, the University was not cold, it was not unpleasant and the difference between my feeling warm or cold revolved around the innocent idea of unity in diversity.
Mention any job connected within the ranks our great and grand profession and I will bet you that they were somewhere within the ICCFA University world. Just name anybody. Gravediggers you ask, were any in Memphis? Yes they were there, and I learned quite a bit from one particular gentleman whose mission in life was to dig graves, it was not a job, and it was his mission. He was a man of dignity and felt strongly that the profession of digging graves was indeed a worthy ideal, and I agreed with him totally, but privately felt ashamed that 35 years ago I looked my nose down on gravediggers in Omaha and felt that time in life anyway that I was superior to them. Of course those are the years that I have dubbed the chapter title in my autobiography as “The Years before Todd Became a Human Being.”
Landscape artists who talked about the worthy ideal of flowers and bushes were there; preneed counselors were there who talked about the worthy ideal of planning ahead; operational managers were there who talked about the worthy ideal of making sure everything ran smoothly; funeral professionals were there who talked about the worthy ideal of funerals; attorneys were there who talked about the worthy ideal of staying out of trouble; grief people were there who talked about the worthy ideal of helping the bereaved; visionaries were there who talked about the worthy ideal of preparing for the future. It was, and always is quite a group.
I personally don’t know of an event where such an eclectic group of people are gathered for such a period of time. Certainly it is not exclusively a love fest; there are the grumpy, cranky, fussy people who show up, but not many. Most are open, sharing, caring and most of all are focused on their own personal worthy ideal and seem clearly to me to be progressively realizing that worthy ideal whatever it might be – even if it is to dig the best damned grave on earth. ICCFA and the University offer an experience of good times, good experience, good learning, and for me, personally, living the noble ideal of unity in diversity.
Anyway that’s once again is one old undertaker’s opinion. TVB
Todd Van Beck and some students in the College of Funeral Home Management.
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