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Sensitivity aids Western Pennsylvania women in funeral business

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, November 2, 2014 9:00 p.m
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Sarah Collins | Point Park News Service
Danielle Andy Belusko (left) and her team of funeral directors work in front of a display of casket options at Cremation & Funeral Care by Danielle Andy Belusko in McMurray
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Sarah Collins | Point Park News Service
Danielle Andy Belusko explains the interior fabric color options of caskets.

Sue Striffler realized at 16 that she wanted to follow her father into the funeral business. She eventually expanded their family company into a seven-home chain in the Mon Valley.

She is one of many women transforming the funeral business, which is undergoing a gender change, experts say.

Joe Marsaglia, dean of students at Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, says 60 percent of mortuary graduates nationwide are female. At his institute, which is regarded as one of the best in the country, he sees many women too.

“Women generally have a more caring side in sensitive situations,” he says. “This comes across to their advantage in this profession.”

Striffler, a funeral director from McKeesport who became licensed in 1981, was one of the area’s first female funeral directors. She chose the trade because she wanted to spend more time with her dad, the funeral home’s owner. Striffler says she remembers being the only woman in her graduating class.

“That is how it was then,” she says. “We had just 13 grads in our group. I believe it was the smallest class to ever graduate (from the Pittsburgh Institute).”

When William Young, the patriarch of a five-generation funeral home business, died, he left behind a female-dominated staff of family members to further his legacy. Jodi Brennan, 37, says that joining the current generation of funeral directors at Young Funeral Home in Butler was an easy decision. She completed the Pittsburgh Institute’s two-year online program to obtain her funeral-director license.

“I thought, this is where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “I have this stable future here for me to potentially take over one day. It was a no-brainer to become licensed.”

Newly licensed mortician Emily Bock, of Bock Funeral Home in Glenshaw, grew up in and around the business of death and dying. She someday hopes to run the business started by her great-grandfather, which is now operated by her dad. She says her family at first discouraged her from entering into their fourth-generation business.

“There’s just not as much revenue involved anymore,” she says. “Cremation is definitely becoming more popular. It’s kind of funny, but it is somewhat of a dying business in that aspect.”

Danielle Andy Belusko says her funeral home, Cremation & Funeral Care by Danielle Andy Belusko in McMurray, is the Pittsburgh region’s only all-female funeral home. Belusko has more than 20 years of experience in the field but did not grow up in it.

“I’m a firm believer that you have to choose your profession and love your career path,” she says. “Just because your father was a funeral director,doesn’t necessarily mean you will be, too, just because you were born into it.”

Julia Kramer is a reporter for Point Park News Service.

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