Funeral home marks a century in business
Next week, a cornerstone of the Tonganoxie businesses will be honored for a century of work.
Calvin Quisenberry, owner of Quisenberry Funeral Home, will accept the award given by the Kansas Funeral Directors Association in Wichita.
The Tonganoxie funeral home has been in business for at least 100 years, Quisenberry said.
And during this time, the industry has changed. Today there are only four funeral homes in the county. Three of those are in Leavenworth and only two, including Quisenberry's, is family-owned.
Despite the business's obvious connection with death, it is the relationship with people that makes the work rewarding.
"A lot of the time I spend as much time talking to the families as I do in actually making the arrangements," Quisenberry said. "A lot of times, they need to talk about their loss."
Susan Quisenberry, who has worked with her husband at the funeral chapel and who for five years has owned and operated Village Floral, said Quisenberry's empathy seems to help in his communication with people.
"He has a lot of sympathy and understanding of what they're going through," she said.
"Sometimes when people are going through grief, it's hard for them to talk. He has kind of a calming effect on people. He's there to help them through it. He shows them the different directions they can take, but he likes for the people to make their own decisions."
Indeed, it's this communication that Quisenberry ranks high when he talks about what's important in the funeral business.
"It's paying attention to the details, listening to people, and determining what people want in a service and providing that for them," Quisenberry said.
"A funeral is for the living, for those who are left behind. My job is to find out what they want and make this a meaningful service."
What they want can vary. For instance, there's music.
"We've played Ava Maria, Daddy's Hands and even Free Bird, by Leonard Skinner," Quisenberry said.
"You're talking about a pretty wide spectrum of things that are meaningful to people."
Each funeral service is different, Quisenberry said.
Perhaps one of the most unusual was last summer when long-time farmer Buck Knipp made his last journey to the cemetery in a hay wagon pulled by a tractor.
As strange as it may seem in today's world of ambulances staffed by emergency medical crews, it wasn't that long ago that Quisenberry, like many small-town funeral directors, provided the area's ambulance service. Quisenberry said the funeral chapel discontinued the ambulance service in 1976.
A growing trend today is that people are planning their own funerals and paying for them, or buying insurance policies to pay for them, before they die.
It used to be that the more elderly people tended to do this. But the trend, is, he said, that a growing number of middle-agers are also planning their funerals.
Overall, Quisenberry reiterated, his is a people business.
"You're dealing with people all the time," he said. "You're talking to them and hearing their stories."
It is a time when families often learn more about the person who has died.
"After the visitation when families leave here they know their loved ones better than they did before because every person who visits has a different story to tell about that person," he said.
Having grown up in Tonganoxie and worked in the funeral business, Quisenberry knows the community well.
"A small town's like a family," he said. "Almost everyone has have little things they're angry about or jealous about. At the visitation, you hear the stories and you hear these things come up and you realize how intertwined all our lives are."