Illinois mortuary science school draws varied students

Sunday, October 22, 2006

GALESBURG, Ill. -- The backgrounds of students in the Mortuary Science program at Carl Sandburg College are as diverse as the curriculum. On any given day, displaced factory workers from Iowa, an Iraq war veteran from Manito or a recent Knoxville High School graduate might be studying the finishes of caskets, the psychology of grief or the science of embalming.

Jill Jackson of Peoria studied geology at the University of Wyoming before enrolling in the Mortuary Science program at CSC.

She said attending the funerals of family members from different cultural backgrounds led her to study mortuary science.

"It's interesting to just watch how other cultures react to grief and death," said Jackson.

But other students are looking for meaningful, secure careers after their manufacturing jobs were outsourced to other countries.

"Many of the students are on their second or third careers," said Matt Kendall, a licensed funeral director who has taught in the program for four years.

Tim Krause, also a licensed funeral director, has served as program coordinator since the program began 11 years ago and also serves as president of the American Board of Funeral Service Directors.

Founded in 1995, the CSC program offers a challenging curriculum that includes numerous business, science, mortuary law and history courses, as well as clinical instruction in embalming and restorative arts.

Each student also completes an eight-week practicum in an area funeral home, which is not a requirement in many programs, Krause said.

During the practicum, students assist in embalming, working visitations and funerals and in daily funeral home operations.

They also get a taste of what the business is really like.

"It is a 24-hour-a-day obligation, just like a physician or a pastor," said Krause, who believes students need to have a sense of humor and a caring personality to be successful in the field.

"It is a lifestyle, not a job," Kendall said.

The CSC program is one of 57 accredited programs in the nation, one of four in Illinois and the only program in the state between the Chicago area and Carbondale.

Kendall said the vast majority of students do not come from the immediate area.

Some commute from up to 80 miles away and others, such as Dan Eades of the Champaign-Urbana area, move to Galesburg to complete the program as full-time students.

The state-of-the art preparatory room is fully OSHA-compliant, with a seamless floor, an advanced ventilation system and surgical cameras that feed live images to the classroom.

The new facilities also include two classrooms, a restorative art laboratory, a casket selection room, faculty offices, a student lounge area and a funeral coach, which was donated by an alum of the program.

"Everything in this facility we have, they will see in the funeral home," Krause said.

Krause said the new facilities allow students to interact more with each other and give students access to the offices and resources on the main campus.

"We're all together here," said second-year student Deb Heater from Burlington, Iowa. "The program makes more sense here."

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