Business

Family funeral home still alive

The Cook family includes (L-R) Sophia, Jordan, Sidney, Dave, Chloe, Doreen and Ashton.  - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
The Cook family includes (L-R) Sophia, Jordan, Sidney, Dave, Chloe, Doreen and Ashton.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Dave Cook defies the industry trend toward consolidation, corporate ownership.

The natural first question to any mortician is: Why?

For Dave Cook, an ostensibly grim career choice came early.

He was just 10 years old when he lost several close relatives, and the care the local funeral director showed to his family made a lasting impression.

Yes, there are the technical aspects of handling the deceased. But, what with handling arrangements and personalizing a service that celebrates the life of the deceased, a funeral director really spends more time working with the living than the dead.

Cook likes that.

“There’s a saying, ‘grief shared is grief diminished,’” he said, adding, “When you help people when they’ve lost a loved one, that’s a bond that lasts for years.”

The native Iowan is the new owner of the island’s Wyatt Way mortuary, now-known as Kass & Cook Family Funeral Home.

He and his family – wife and Pullman, Wash., native Doreen, and children Ashton, Jordan, Sidney, Chloe and Sophia – have settled into a neighborhood at the edge of Winslow, having just relocated from Sacramento, Calif.

After 15 years in the trade, Cook was looking for the opportunity to purchase his own funeral home.

He got his chance when Kent and Tess Kass decided to sell the business they’ve run since 1995 and pursue other ventures out of state.

“We had never heard of Bainbridge Island before, but we took it on faith,” Cook said, and a visit to downtown Winslow sealed the deal.

“Everybody was so friendly, compared to what we were used to in the busy pace of California,” he said. “The ability to connect and know each other in a small town like this, that’s what I wanted.”

Cook, 42, graduated from the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science, then earned a degree in mass communications at the University of Utah. He has worked in all corners of the funerary arts, all the while watching the industry change around him.

While they have traditionally been local, family-owned operations, several decades of consolidation have made funeral homes “big business” in every sense of the term.

Most hometown operations have been subsumed by larger, publicly traded corporations.

Because such outfits often retain the original name of the business, families can have no idea who they’re dealing with. Meanwhile, the average funeral cost nationwide has risen to $6,500 – not counting cemetery costs – depending on what accoutrements a family chooses.

Cook believes that all adds up to a less-than-personal industry – not the right environment for someone who was inspired to the calling by the “hometown” funeral director.

“I tired quickly of Wall Street being the bottom line, not the family,” Cook said.

The Kasses had quietly marketed their business since last fall, and their operation came to Cook’s attention in February.

They made contact through brokers, and then put the middlemen aside and discussed a deal directly.

“We felt honored that we were the ones they chose to take over the firm,” Cook said. “You could get a good feel for the type of business they ran, and that was the kind of business I was looking to take over.”

Cook plans to get involved in community affairs, having served as a planning commissioner in Sacramento. He also plays classical piano and sings at weddings and, yes, funerals.

He hopes to develop the business to the point that he’s working with families around Kitsap County as well as on the island, and will strive for what he described as a “no walk” policy.”

“Every familly who comes in, no matter what their means are, I want to serve them,” he said. “If there’s a family that can’t afford things, I don’t want to turn them away.”

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