Our COO, Josh Blake, was one of four profiles in Stan Goldstein’s “Younger Voices Make an Impact” article in the June issue of America Funeral Director magazine.
Younger Voices Make an Impact
By Stan Goldstein
Some have followed in the footsteps of their parents. Others see it as a calling. For millennials working in funeral service, it’s a profession they find extremely fulfilling and rewarding with a chance to make a difference. Here are [one of] four stories from the younger generation.
Josh Blake started in 2014 as a part-time funeral service assistant and preneed counselor at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home in Waco, Texas. Just a few years later, Blake became the funeral home’s chief operating officer.
It was Hatch Bailey, the president and funeral director in charge, a longtime friend of Blake’s and his family, who encouraged him to make this a career.
“Hatch and his family are like a second family to me. I grew up with them. I knew their funeral home growing up. After working four years as a case worker for the local mental health authority, I decided I didn’t want to do that line of work,” Blake said. “I went to Hatch and asked him about working at the funeral home. He said, ‘I’m glad you finally asked. I have been waiting for you to ask.’
“Hatch had been waiting for me to approach him first. He really believes it’s a calling and you shouldn’t do it unless you feel that way.”
Bailey continues to inspire Blake. In a recent Facebook post, Bailey, a fourth-generation funeral director who began his career in 1979, wrote: “Once in a while someone will ask if I have any plans to retire or sell out and it just makes me laugh that people would even think that, but it happened again just a few minutes ago, so it got me to thinking that maybe others wonder the same thing, so I’ll just put this out there… NO plans to retire, period. NO plans to sell out, period. Just this week, my son (who’s served at the funeral home a decade already) and I went to a nursing home to pick up the deceased body of a veteran, and friends … to me, that is sacred work and I ain’t giving that up! Since the age of 17, I have been (and still am) confident that my purpose in life is to love and help people in grief, and I plan to continue doing just that as best I can. So ... yes, we remain ‘A Family Serving Families.’
Blake’s response to this on Facebook was: “94 years and still family owned. Thankful to work with people that are like family.”
Blake, 35, grew up in Waco and graduated from Waco High School. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baylor University, he moved to Thailand for a year where he taught English as a second language before moving back to Texas.
When he started at the funeral home five years ago, Blake right away knew he had found his calling.
“I loved preneed. I loved meeting with families and getting to visit with them and learn all about them,” Blake said. “I loved at the end, how when they did plan ahead, they were happy and relieved to have done it. It was really fulfilling.”
He then attended school for mortuary science and completed his degree from Amarillo College in 2015. In September 2017, Bailey offered Blake the position as chief operating officer. “It was a surprise as well as an honor and so exciting,” Blake said.
“Josh was most capable of handling the tough and delicate job, and he understood our family and our vision for funeral service and cremations going into the future,” Bailey said. “Josh is the ideal extension of our family to represent our family. To top it off, I was and remain convinced that Josh was called to this. It’s like a divine appointment. Finally, I trust him.”
Blake has run into some resistance from the older guard, but he says there are a lot of positive ideas all around from the 22 employees.
“Before I came here, there were great ideas – and it really was about someone coming in here and running with those ideas and seeing them through,” Blake said. “There’s some operating stuff and our website is one of the major things I tackled. It just wasn’t about changing the company that did it for us. I wanted to update the content with words, images and video and we have been able to do all that.
“Before getting the new site, we weren’t able to control as many things. Now we can update things when we want to. With a third-party operation, we couldn’t do the changes. Now we can do them when we need to. Plus, we have revamped our Facebook and Google pages. Google today is like how the Yellow Pages were years ago. We make sure our page is up to date and that the phone number, owners and hours are all accurate.”
Blake gives a lot of credit to the Selected Independent Funeral Homes’ NextGen community in helping and prepping him for his job.
“That group has been around. Hatch was one of the first ones to be in it. He has made a lot of long-term friends who have helped him over the years, and he wanted me to have the same experience and make the same type of connections. When I came on board, he asked me to join the group as well. I’ve been involved in it for four years,” Blake said. “We have conferences several times a year.”
He attended Selected’s Leadership Academy, and at his 2018 graduation, he gave a presentation on change. “I based it on a book ‘Leading Change’ by John Kotter. I would highly recommend it,” he said.
Through that community and at those conferences, Blake has found new and innovative things to bring to funeral service and to provide for a different generation.
“The families we are arranging with are younger and not as swayed by traditional ways. It does help when someone is younger and is assisting with the arrangements and helping with the creative process,” Blake said. “Also, the way you communicate with the public and the family, it’s changing.
“Some families would rather email back and forth than talking over the phone. Many families are out of town, and I’ve been working on improving our virtual arrangements,” Blake added. “I’ve been using join.me and doing virtual meetings. That’s been helpful for families who are out of town and can’t come in to do arrangements. Also, on our website, we have an option where people can chat with us instead of calling.”
Being involved in the Waco community is important to Blake. He serves on the board of directors for the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is involved in the Greater Waco Chamber’s Young Professionals program.
Blake encourages younger people to become involved in funeral service. Baylor University offers a class on death and dying and those students take tours of the funeral home each semester.
“It’s a great job for millennials. It’s what research says they are looking for in a job. It’s fulfilling. You are truly helping and no family is the same and you are never bored,” Blake said. Technology is a big part of a millennial’s life, and it’s a pivotal time for technology at funeral homes. It’s a great time to be a part of it and your ideas can really come to fruition. We’re helping to shape the future.”