40 Years of Progress A Vision to the Future

Date Published: 
Original Author: 
Joe Cockrill
President-General Manager, Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, California
Original Publication: 
NAC Sales Management Binder - Speeches

We have heard the expression, "The past is prologue", and the down-to-earth translation thereof, "You ain't seen nothing yet."  We, meaning the National Association of Cemeteries, may be 40 years old, and have filled those 40 years with public service that has helped the country at large and ourselves as well, but no matter how old we are, "we ain't seen nothing yet." There lies before us a heavy responsibility which is underscored in our program here---Education and Vision and Progress.

Forty years in the life of anyone of us is a long stretch. It is so long that if someone mentions what impressed us, or for that matter what bothered us in the 1930's or 1940's, we could honestly say we have forgotten. This creature called man remembers, anyway, only what he wants to remember. The same is true of a group of men. And so it applies to the National Association of Cemeteries as we come to our fortieth birthday.

I don't know why, except that it is quoted so often that it must be true; no one reaches forty without being warned about entering the "dangerous forties." It seems to be an age when a man starts looking back -- and some men start looking around -- but whichever it is, our group is forty. As such it has to be accepted by us with whatever of the past we examine and with whatever pitfalls the 40's, by their nature, seem to hold.

People may let down as the years pile up, but an organization of our type cannot afford to.  It had to be folks in general and not the NAC that the writer, Robert Lowell, was thinking of when he said: “There are the tranquilized fifties, but I am only forty.”  No, at forty we must not stop, nor even let up.

When we consider our policy of education alone, the remark was well made almost one hundred years ago: "Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do. And, it continues, “How to educate is strangely enough the last lesson that any person learns thoroughly”.  I have long felt that what we learn through formal education is not as important as how we develop and grow through the years. May I quote from a book by Antony Jay, entitled “Management and Machiavelli”? “Men grow to the stature to which they are stretched when they are young, and the ones who are not stretched will fail to grow. Some will actually be diminished”.

Possibly a highpoint in the educational emphasis of the NAC is the Cemetery Executive Management Seminar which will be a cooperative venture between the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis and ourselves. We will have the privilege of using the Bromwoods center for Continuing Education at the University, when this special gathering for a limited audience of thirty persons convenes in early December. This will be one of the major accomplishments of Prank Karnes' administration. While the seminar is a major achievement, there have been many others over the years.

When you look at it head-on practically everything that we do, is educational. The free flow of information on any subject probably is the most outstanding benefit of the NAC. "Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely", said Thomas B. Macaulay. Information is education. That we have a free flow of one, and likewise a free flow of the other is an accepted fact. Believe me, if we had stood still and not set up a process of self-help education and turned it into an education of the public, our twentieth birthday candles would have been blown out and we would never have come to the age of the "dangerous forties".

Look for a minute at the volumes of material that our officers, committees, and headquarters staff make available to every member.  Right there you cannot but find the answer to your problems. As to maintenance, there is never a reason for it to be less than the best. Our Maintenance School, our Bulletins and our Washington Newsletter are aimed at keeping maintenance at top level. With the growth of pre-need, the NAC has set up a program to give it the strength it must have. After these forty years, pre-need is one of our super-salesmen. All manner of things enforce pre-need. You know them. In particular you have felt the great effect of the Sales Management Seminar, the Sales Bulletins, and the Schools for Counselors. Also, there are many bulletins on various aspects of management. Take along look at the program unfolding before us here in Atlanta. What an educational presentation in all phases of management, maintenance and sales.

Another point of emphasis, and I would not be surprised if this is to most of you the one with the greatest results, is Vision.  It is as if the founders of the National Association of Cemeteries had read and put into instant action what a sacred writer of olden days inscribed: “Write the vision”, he said, “And make the tablet so that he who reads it may run with it.” We have certainly been a group of visionaries.

I particularly urge the newer members, if they do not already know, to find out who our leaders have been during the period of our dramatic growth. No amount of money could pay for the services rendered to our association and to the cemetery field. This is public service and that is the purpose of NAC. I shudder to think where we would be without the very effective efforts of these people through the past forty years.

The emergence of the Memorial Park has gathered so much force that there is hardly a town without at least one. And each of our cities provides a long list of these genuinely park-like surroundings for public selection. Few elements that have to do with the grimness of death have lifted heart and spirit as the Memorial Parks, with their unique feature of beauty and yet their differences in planning and outlay and design. The modern Memorial Park does not appear so much a place of interment as it does a haven of consolation for those who survive.

We are visionaries of care as well. The older cemeteries of America can be as handsome as the park-like ones when their appearance is beyond criticism. In that way whatever is old about them takes on a certain shine and brilliance, for all that the visitor sees there is perfectly kept with a sense of reverence.

We had a long-range vision, as well, when we foresaw the way in which the American public would find an appeal in the mausoleums, large and small, rich or modest in their building that are now after forty years, in daily demand by our American public. The same change is occurring in the free countries of Europe, where the elaborate headstone or sarcophagus or family mausoleum was practically all the tourist saw until about fifteen years age. Then Europe entered the era of mausoleums, such as we build. There, as here, the outdoor crypt is unusually popular. And speaking of Vision, think, for a moment, of what is being done today with the lawn crypt concept, with multiple depth Westminster crypts, and a Mortuary in the cemetery.

In this trend we must include cremation, for several decades almost unheard of or at least shunned in many parts of the United States; and right now growing to a really general acceptance. What people accept they want, so it is that the call for cremation has grown to a point we might not have dreamed of. At least, in most quarters, we have proved ourselves ready for this change in the sort of final tribute people desire. The National Association of Cemeteries has had enough vision to be set for whatever its clientele wished, and oddly enough we reached that vision through the doorway of educating ourselves.

Progress in the National Association of Cemeteries!  Everything that I have covered in this talk has been carefully selected so that the entire picture would spell Progress. Somehow I feel it has, and I hope you agree. Our growth from a handful of members who were NAC in 1929, to the 200 members when Martin Gaudian became Executive Vice President 25 years ago, to the almost 1400 in membership this year puts a crowning touch to a Progress that, from the first year onward has never slowed down and certainly has never stopped. The cemeteries existing in 1929 contrasted to the number in 1969 in these United States, is final evidence of the direction in which we are headed.

The importance of the National Association of Cemeteries is well known to those here in attendance. To be able to attend this conference and participate in this program is certainly worthy any cost involved. The program put together by John Neel would be enough, but in addition each of us has the opportunity to visit with old friends and to make new friends. This is enjoyable, but more important it is profitable through the free exchange of information between one member and another. I know of no other business in fact, I am sure there is none, where there is such willingness to help each other.

I give you a hearty welcome and hope that our days in Atlanta will not only bring together long-time friends but will provide more Education, more Vision, and as always more progress.

From the publication:
“Collected Sales Management Speeches”
Compiled throughout the 1960s and early 1970s