Saturday, February 21, 2009

Paul Olson: Undertaker and citizen of the year

I have had the honor to work with one of the great undertakers, Paul Olson of the Olson-Holzhuter-Cress Funeral Home in Stoughton, WI. This past Tuesday evening, Paul Olson was awarded Citizen of the Year by the Stoughton Masonic Lodge, Kegonsa Lodge No. 73. He has been an undertaker for 57 years, and a well loved fixture of the Stoughton community for many more. He is as deserving of this award as anyone, though, as humble as he is, he suggested 5 or 6 others that he thought should have been named instead.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Olson recalled discussing his calling with his father as a young man. The elder Olson wasn't sure that Paul should become an undertaker, but Paul noted that his father, as a farmer, was a servant to the soil, finding his calling in working the earth, and in turn, Paul would become a servant to people, helping them through their difficult times. In fact, Paul has been an exceptional undertaker, and has brought great comfort to his neighbors over the years through his service.

I have learned many things from working with Paul Olson. Here are just a few:

  • Treat every one with respect and care, no matter what their station in life. Be just as gracious to them on the street as you are in the funeral home. People, especially small town people, can tell if you are genuine.

  • The quality of the service you provide is more important than anything else you can offer. In an era when funeral homes compete to offer new services and products, what people really want and need is a friend who listens and gently guides them through a difficult time.

  • Be modest and speak plainly. People are impressed by your ability to connect with them and understand them, not by an air of self-importance or a fancy car.

  • All the steeples point in the same direction (this is a quote from Paul's father); we must respect the beliefs and traditions of others, whether we share them or not.

Though Paul is semi-retired, he still comes in to the funeral home every day and has a watchful eye on preparations and services. Many families still request him, though these days he only rarely meets with families to make funeral arrangements. Why do they still ask for him, when there are other directors with newer skills, who offer personalized folders, video tributes, dove releases, thumb print charms and glass balls blown with cremated remains and swirled colors?

They trust Paul. For 57 years he has been the same gracious, caring man who has guided, served, and befriended their family through the generations. They know him and he knows them.

"All the steeples point in the same direction"


Bill said...

Excellent post Pat, very well written. That is all true about Paul, he is exactly as you describe.

The Undertaker said...

You have learned some wonderful qualities, sounds like a wonderful passionate true funeral director. I am sure you have heard "it takes a special person to work in this profession" Both you and Paul are "special". Thank you for sharing with the internet community.

with care,

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