Grave Matters: Helping families in need

The three have similar criteria when finding a career – a desire to help people when they need it the most.

Matthew Kennedy, Alyssa Morris and Sean McCurdy have chosen to devote their lives to the funeral home business. They are in the middle of their apprenticeship periods at local funeral homes.

To start an apprenticeship in Ohio, 90 hours of general education is required before entering the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science (CCMS). A four-quarter program results in an associate’s degree. A five-quarter program results in a bachelor’s degree.

In West Virginia, an applicant must earn an associate’s degree from an accredited college or university or have successfully completed not fewer than 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of academic work in an accredited college or university toward a baccalaureate degree.

Morris, 25, is a Parkersburg native and 2006 Parkersburg High School graduate.

“I always wanted to do this when I was little,” Morris said. “When someone is in a time of need, I have a passion to help people.”

Morris said she took the backward route to her current position as an apprentice at Leavitt Funeral Home in Parkersburg. She earned a two-year associate’s degree in funeral service at John A. Gupton College in Nashville, Tenn. She was to start her online bachelor’s degree Thursday with the State University of New York-Canton.

“The work in preparing the bodies interests me … to be able to do that for the families to have closure,” Morris said.

She said she loves her job, but she is bothered when she has to participate in the burial of a baby or the victim of an accident.

“It’s hard,” she said. “I have kids myself. Having to bury a child is not the way it is supposed to be.”

Matthew Kennedy, 22, originally from Byesville, who has served as an apprentice since January at Hadley Funeral Home, would agree with Morris on one of the drawbacks to the business.

“When we get young people, that’s not something you want to handle,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he has known since the ninth grade he wanted to be in the funeral business because he attended the funerals of five family members that year.

Once he graduated from CCMS, he contacted Bill Peoples, of Cawley & Peoples Funeral Home in Marietta, because he is on the college’s board and spoke to him about an apprenticeship. Peoples directed Kennedy to Hadley Funeral Home, where he has become part of the family.

He said his favorite part of the job is the science part of it – the embalming. In fact, he said he participates in almost all the embalmings at Hadley and maybe 20 percent of the funerals.

Another favorite aspect of his job is how much the Hadleys allow him to do at the funeral home.

“They let me do just about everything here instead of washing cars, which is what some apprentices are probably doing,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy is a 2009 graduate of Meadowbrook High School. He attended Ohio University at Zanesville, where he earned 94 credit hours in September 2011. He then transferred to the Cincinnati mortuary college.

“I plan to say here as long as things are going good,” Kennedy said. “They told me as long as I want to work here, I have a job. I like Marietta. There’s a lot more to do here (than in Byesville).”

In Beverly, McCurdy spent a few years traveling around and doing construction work after he graduated from Fort Frye High School in 2004. It was an easy choice to come back to work for the family business -McCurdy Funeral Home.

“I get to work with my dad, Mike, and uncle, Joe,” Sean said. “I like the opportunity to be here for a while. I’ll be the fourth generation in this business.”

He said it takes a people person to be able to talk to families at one of the most difficult times of their lives.

McCurdy said he completed a two-year degree from the University of Phoenix in 2010 and started at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science in 2011. He graduated from the school in March and has been apprenticing at McCurdy Funeral Home since then.

“It was cool going to school and seeing their pictures (great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncle,” Sean said.