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The Dodge Sunshine Seminars – The Very Definition of Progressive Quality

      
Todd Van Beck's picture
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I recently marked my 23rd year of presenting at the Dodge Sunshine Seminars.  It has been a long and eventual relationship, and one that I am honored to write about today.

My first seminar for Dodge was held at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu.  I was scared to death.  In fact I was so nervous that I blurted out the name of an embalming chemical in the middle of my talk that was manufactured by a chemical company other than Dodge.  The minute I blurted out the name of the “competing” embalming chemical I thought to myself “Well Todd, you dunce, you have done it again, so kiss off another invitation from Dodge.”  My fears, at the time, were only strengthened when Jake Dodge said absolutely nothing to me concerning my seminar presentation after it was over.  Jake said nothing, not one word.  I remember getting on the plane and thinking “Todd your family has been right all along, you are the ‘black sheep’ no question about it.”

One year later Jake Dodge called me and invited me back, and the rest, as they say, has been history, and what a marvelous history is has turned out to be. (I had to learn that not saying much was one of Jake Dodge’s character hallmarks.)

Over the past three decades it has been my experience, my fortunate experience, to have worked closely and at times at a far distance, with most every funeral/cemetery connected organization out in this big wide world.  The truth is that I have enjoyed almost all of my associations.   Of course not all of them have been a “love fest,” for some of the experiences have been a labor, in fact it would be better described as a “ill fated labor” which ended in hurt feelings, damaged egos, and the taking of the firm TVB oath that “I will never cross their paths again.”  Yes, this stuff has happened, but after giving seminars for over 35 years, to over tens of thousands of funeral professionals, clergy, hospice workers, cemeterians, mortuary science students, well this list goes on and on I have concluded that I just can’t be all things to all people, and people in turn can’t be all things to me.  You win some, you lose some, it is just the way of it – don’t you agree?

However, the truth is these unfortunate experiences that I have just described are far and away in the minority of my experiences.  Without question, the last 35 years have been filled with rich and meaningful work and associations, with countless people in our grand profession who really are great, decent and just kindhearted human beings, and nowhere in my myriad of speaking experiences have I found this to be more true and self-evident than when I work with a Dodge Seminar.

I would like to share some observations concerning the substance and literal panache of a Dodge meeting.  First and foremost, in my humble opinion, is that the history of the Dodge Company, both past and present, is a continuum of a genuine, literal, in-depth love of the funeral service profession.  I always felt that the generations of the Dodges since 1893, when the company was founded, well, they just seem to grasp the DNA of embalming and hence funeral service.

I found also that the Dodges were quiet people who have and had keen insights and were able in turn to discern the quality and content of the presentations that were given at the Sunshine and other seminars.  No formal evaluations were made, but most often it was clear enough which speakers hit the home run and which speakers flopped, simply based on whether you ever saw this or that speaker ever again.  Nothing was ever said, but the message was clear as a ringing bell and it depended upon the return invitation.

I remember very well one particular speaker – giving the location of the seminar is too risky, but here is what happened.  This person had presented themselves as a “grief expert.”  I have only known a couple of people who truly ranked in the realm of deserving the title “grief expert” and this speaker quickly taught the group that they were NOT a member of this exclusive club.  As my memory serves, this particular seminar started out in good order, but then the speaker shifted gears and started talking about taking care of a family who had experienced the tragic death of a loved one and the deceased had been severely mutilated in an industrial accident.  In a word, the dead body was literally in pieces.  This “grief expert” strongly suggested that in order for the bereaved family to “establish the reality of death” that the funeral director lay out a water proof canvas on the floor of a room in the funeral home, then set out the various pieces of the deceased person, and then have the family come in and look at the scene.  The “grief expert” in conclusion suggested that funeral professionals have the bereaved family “sit down Indian style so when they faint they won’t have so far to fall.”  I damned near fainted as well!

I was sitting in the back of the room when this happened.  The crowd was stunned into silence.  It is the only time I saw Jake Dodge’s expression change.  We never ever saw the “grief expert” ever again, anywhere.  The message was as clear as a ringing bell.

The Dodges have been risk-takers to be sure, but they have also been very savvy and insightful to be careful, prudent and cautious about what is put in print, what is said in their Sunshine and other seminars.  It appears clear to me after all these years that they just have the funeral knack, they always have had it, and it is clear to me that they still possess that greatly appreciated skill.

A couple of weeks ago I made another presentation in Maui at the 2011 Dodge Sunshine Seminar.  Of course over the passing of two decades the audience has changed.  Some of the old-time regulars are simply not with us anymore, and thankfully an entirely new group is attending which adds a fresh dimension to all of the proceedings.

The group in Maui once again reaffirmed my belief in and love for our great profession.  For the first time I moved from my historic ancient caveman approach and I actually used a PowerPoint presentation which I have to finally admit is much easier to maneuver than my old ancient Kodak slide trays which I lugged around on planes, trains and automobiles for a hundred years.

In this 2011 seminar I spoke of several themes.  They included a definition of success, an examination into a fascinating arena of thought which is called “Acres of Diamonds,” and of all things I included Newton’s physical laws of nature into the session.  It seemed things went well, and I finished up with sharing my new service concept which is called “Create Don’t Compete.”

While I was presenting I really was thinking and then publicly I shared in this 2011 seminar that the Dodge Company was a stellar example of just what I was talking about.  Their rich history is, in reality, in my humble opinion, a history of not competing, but is instead a history of creativity, which in the end is always much more influential and long-lasting.

As my sainted grandmother always used to say, “The proof is in the pudding.”  I actually never had any idea, and never understood, and still don’t really know what possible proof of anything can be discovered by looking into pudding, but it is of no matter, because everybody, I think, understands what that strange phrase really means: Just look at the results, and no question the results of the Dodge Company have been mighty impressive.

The Dodge Sunshine Seminars have been one of the fortunate experiences in my career.  In fact I knew that the Sunshine Seminars were of high quality many years before I was honored to be invited to be a part of them.  I knew this reality while reading about them in the old De-Ce-Co magazine while I was washing cars, delivering folding chairs and sweeping up the parking lot at the old Heafey & Heafey Mortuary on Farnam Street in Omaha.  Even a young funeral director wannabe could see the “proof in the pudding.”

Anyway that is one old undertaker’s opinion.
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