Who are the Funeralwise Wise Guys?

Funeralwise is led by a team of seasoned business pros who have many years of combined experience with funeral home and cemetery operations, as well as in-depth experience in other service industries.

Richard Paskin, Co-Founder and Managing Partner

“The Accidental Funeralwise Guy”

Richard Paskin, Co-Founders and Managing PartnerI’m the co-founder and Managing Partner of Funeralwise. That did not come about as part of a grand career plan on my part, I consider it mostly accidental. I do not have a family or personal connection to funeral services and never envisioned being involved in it in any way. It just never was on my radar. So how did I get here?

Flash back to the 1990’s, Chicago Illinois. Having put in many years of long hours and extensive travel as a Management Consultant / CPA, I needed a change. Badly. Video was a big deal back then, so, on kind of a whim, I partnered up with a guy who was formerly in marketing with HBO, and we started up a video production company.

At the same time my good friend, Larry Anspach, had recently sold his cemetery/funeral home operation and was developing his consulting firm, American Cemetery and Mortuary Consultants. Larry needed office space and we had extra room in our loft office, so he moved his business in with us. My connection to the funeral industry had begun.

On the video production front, my partner and I stumbled upon a flamboyant Chicago Police Detective who was giving a dynamic personal safety talk and thus began our venture into crime prevention programming. Over the next few years, we produced a series of programs featuring the detective, including PBS Television Specials and a nationally syndicated TV show called Tough Target.

We now had a truly unusual shared office space, with the producers of crime prevention TV programs and consultants to the funeral industry. Yep, on one side of the office we were dealing with violent crime and on the other side cemeteries. Lots of dark humor there, the jokes pretty much wrote themselves.

Larry needed help with his growing business and just across the office there I was with my background as a management consultant and CPA. It may have taken some arm-twisting on his part, but I began working with him part time. Soon I developed an expertise in the funeral industry, all quite by accident as far as I’m concerned.

When our television programs had run their course, we decided to close up shop and it was time for me to move on to other things. Coincidentally, Larry came across an opportunity to acquire a spin-off of 18 funeral homes from a large funeral service corporation. He put together the acquisition and I came on board to help run the business. Another case of availability and happenstance. We later sold the funeral homes and it was once again time for me to look for something new. Enter the dot com era.

As a management consultant I had been involved in many systems development projects and enjoyed working with technology. The internet was fascinating to me, so why not jump in? I scratched out an initial site design on paper and Larry and I founded Funeralwise. Those were the early days of the web – AOL and dial-up connections were the state-of-the-art back then. We developed the first version of Funeralwise, but it was way ahead of its time and after a few struggling years we decided to put the site on hold.

I worked a variety of consulting projects the next several years, most of them for cemetery businesses. During that time the internet was maturing rapidly. Funeralwise was dead but not forgotten. The timing seemed right so we decided to resurrect it. Since web technology had evolved we had to rebuild the site. It took lots of hard work and we brought Funeralwise back from the grave. (I know, stupid puns. What did you expect?)

That’s the short version of how I got here. To me it was a series of “accidents” of timing and availability. I’m proud that we have built something truly beneficial at Funeralwise — a free resource that helps people navigate some of life’s most difficult circumstances. But I believe that we have just scratched the surface of what’s possible. No longer accidental, we have a clear plan to continue developing best-in-class information and tools to help people Prepare, Celebrate and Remember.

Larry Anspach, Co-Founder

I have spent my entire career (over 40 years and counting) in the “death care” industry. As a co-founder of Funeralwise, I provide Board-level direction to the company. My day job is being the President and Owner of ACMC (American Cemetery/Mortuary Consultants, Inc.). At ACMC we provide consulting, valuation, and brokerage services to cemeteries and funeral homes. As a broker, we are proud to have been involved in over half a billion dollars in mergers and acquisitions.

It all started right out of college when I went to work for Cedar Park Cemetery in the Chicago metropolitan area. Being in the cemetery business took some getting used to. I was telling people that I worked in real estate and we were selling it by the square inch. I always looked for creative ways to make our cemetery a welcoming and comfortable place to visit. We had Easter Egg hunts, cemetery photo contests and a Heaven Can Wait run. Our innovative approach was once featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. We eventually added a funeral home to our operation becoming the first cemetery-funeral home combination in Illinois.

Over the years I have been very active in funeral industry organizations, often serving on a Board of Directors. In recent years I have been serving on the Government and Legal Affairs Committee of the ICCFA (International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association). We have walked the halls of Congress meeting with members of the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss matters facing our industry and to ensure that we are able to bring the best service possible to the public.

I have always believed that this industry needed to be more progressive, more willing to change. That’s why the idea of Funeralwise was so appealing to me. The web brings funeral planning right to your home, even to your mobile phone. That does not diminish the role of funeral directors and cemeterians, It helps them personalize funeral services and memorialization for their customers.

I look forward to bringing change through Funeralwise in the years to come and helping create even more meaningful funeral experiences for everyone.

Jennifer Lane, Director of Operations

I’d love to have an astonishing story to tell about how I came to be a Wise Guy. You know, like some grand evolutionary journey from Barista to Puppy Trainer to Chef at a 5-star Mexican restaurant, then voila! Funeralwise Wise Guy! Yeah, not exactly…it really all started when I was still in high school.

Now, I do love a great cup of coffee, puppies of all ages (yes, even my 16-year-old Pomeranian was still a puppy to me), and tacos are my favorite food group. But none of that led me to Funeralwise, so why am I here?

I worked for a large family-owned cemetery while I was a senior in high school. After work, I would walk around the perimeter of the park. I was careful to be respectful of anyone visiting a gravesite, so I would walk by quietly with my head down. I passed the same elderly gentleman every day for weeks. It was clear to me that he had lost his wife of many years and just did not seem to know what to do without her. One day, he looked in my direction and smiled a weak smile. From then on, I got to know Eddie and heard all about his beloved wife of 60 years, Mildred. I saw for the first time what life and love and loss were all about.

After that, I served in various capacities including working for funeral homes and a corporation that owns many of them. I handled many things but I was always in view of the families who came through the funeral home doors. I once had a gentleman who would come in every month to pay on his wife’s funeral bill with chicken eggs. He wasn’t being silly. He raised chickens for a living and it was an honest effort to meet his obligations. I saw for the first time that funerals can sneak up on you and leave you unprepared for the huge expense.

Then I was on the other side of the desk when my precious dad died. I was with my mom during the meeting to arrange his funeral. When the funeral director handed us a price list, it was rather daunting – even to me. Despite being grief-stricken myself, I went into “advisor” mode to help my mom make wise decisions she wouldn’t regret in a week and wouldn’t spend more than she needed to. Not sure what she would have planned on her own as at this point, she was also dazed from the loss of my dad at the young age of 63. It was here that I truly saw firsthand that funerals should be pre-planned because decision making at the worst time of your life is definitely the worst time to do it.

So here I am. I’ve been with Funeralwise for several years now. I like that we take the mystery out of funerals with in-depth information to help you learn all about it. After all, we are here for the living.

Molly Gorny, Senior Content Developer

The best thing about being a writer is that you never stop learning. Each new assignment opens up a whole new world. And believe me; as a freelance writer I’ve explored all sorts of topics. So landing on an opportunity to dig in and look deep into all aspects of a subject was a very lucky break. That’s what happened when I crossed paths with Funeralwise in 2010.

Becoming part of the Funeralwise team has given me the chance to look beyond the surface of the funeral business. Even better, I now get to craft words that can make a difference in people’s lives.

But what made me qualified to be a Wiseguy in the first place? I cut my teeth in the engineering and construction industry—first as a sales database programmer, then as a marketing strategy consultant. Armed with an English degree and an MBA, I learned the fine art of gathering and organizing data, figuring out what it meant, and then putting the analysis in a format clients could understand. That meant analyzing and writing, and lots of it.

As fate would have it, in 2004, I was in a position to hang out my shingle as a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Funeralwise came along a bit later and the rest is history.

So, when you think about it, nothing has changed much. I’m still plying my trade gathering, analyzing, and presenting information. And I still get to use the research and technical skills I picked up along the way. It’s just that now I’m looking at issues related to the funeral industry. I learn new things each and every day, and create content that may help someone who is going through the most difficult time of their life. Best of all, I work with great people who are on a mission to help others prepare for end-of-life. What more could you want?

Justin Nobel, Journalist and Digital Dying Writer

Justin is a journalist and our primary author of a unique blog that explores how we celebrate, remember and are inspired by lives that have passed. Digital Dying is produced by a team of writers who provide a variety of voices and perspectives on the issues that are important to our readers. Leading the team is Justin who has been writing for the blog for over 7 years. Justin also writes about science and culture for various magazines. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, Audubon, and Gourmet.com. Recent articles include A Toxic Tour Through Underground Ohio and What Happens When a Superstorm Hits D.C.?

Some of Justin’s earlier work includes “Last Inuit of Quebec” published in Best American Travel Writing 2011 and his article about fire ants invading the American South was published in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014.  For updates, follow Justin on Twitter @JustinNobel, or his website at www.justinnobel.com.

Jenny Mertes, Social Media Editor

What is a freelance editor/writer doing on a website devoted to helping you plan and understand funerals? I’m fascinated by the culture surrounding our American way of death—taboos, practices, beliefs, myths, regulations—and I want to help others understand by getting them engaged. Through our website, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, Funeralwise does just that, and I’m privileged to be a part of the team.

I enjoy dreaming up interesting, unusual, and obscure Facebook posts that may or may not be funeral related. I’ve also written a bit of the website content for Funeralwise; one of my favorites is “10 Natural Ways to Die in Yellowstone.”

On a personal note, I’ve had one of those horribly intimate “engagements” with a sudden, unexpected death when my husband passed on his way home from work. Neither of us had talked about or prepared for our funerals, and aside from writing wills, you might think we expected to live forever. So when I got that call from the ER telling me they couldn’t restart my husband’s heart, I had no idea where to turn. Funeralwise wasn’t around back then; if it had been, I would’ve found tremendous resources to help research what came next, to plan my husband’s memorial service, to understand how to respond to the wonderful people who surrounded me with love and concern. With the help of Funeralwise, I’m a much-improved comforter when friends are bereaved. I’m also better prepared for my own demise now (and remarried)—I’ve completed a burial plan so my loved ones know how I’d like to be remembered. Encouraging others to do the same is one of our aims at Funeralwise. Have you? If not, do it today.

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