PUNXSUTAWNEY — Bill Deeley and Alex Park have shared a remarkably similar career path.
Both graduated from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.
Neither of them entered the funeral business through a family member, and both worked for other funeral homes before purchasing them.
And as of Jan. 1, the path of Park, 24, a graduate of Brookville Junior-Senior High School, has caught up with Deeley’s, as he is the new owner of the Deeley Funeral Home, Hillcrest Drive.
“It’s just a 40-year cycle,” said Deeley, who turns 62 in a few weeks, an age he had been eyeing for his retirement. “When I worked for (Clifford Schenkemeyer), I was broke, and he took me in as a partner.
Now he (Park), is in the same boat as I was 40 years ago. I had an opportunity, and we’re trying to make sure Alex gets the break in life that he needs to get going.”
Deeley said in 2007, he and his wife, Jean, and friends were returning from Ellicottville, N.Y., and they stopped at Buff’s Ice Cream in Brookville. There, Deeley ran into Park’s parents, who told him that their son was attending mortuary school.
Deeley suggested that he come see him, and when Park was traveling to Punxsutawney to renew his driver’s license, he did just that.
“He came in, and we hit it off,” Deeley said.
Park took classes at Clarion University Monday, Wednesday and half of Friday, and worked at the funeral home Tuesday, Thursday and the other half of Friday.
Park said he became interested in mortuary science after he wrote a research paper about it for his senior project in high school.
“I just happened to become interested in it,” he said, adding that his friends and parents were supportive of his decision.
“They were there for me for whatever I wanted to do,” he said of his parents, Mona and Carl Park.
After Deeley purchased the funeral home after Clifford Schenkemeyer’s death in 1976, his father, Chuck Deeley, worked for him from 1977 until his death in 2008. Deeley’s brother, Douglas, also joined the business in 1978 and will continue to work with Park at the funeral home.
Deeley said he will continue to work with the funeral home — just not seven days a week, 24 hours a day, as has mostly been the case over the last 40 years.
“If there’s a funeral, I’ll help,” he said. “As part of my job, I would not only make arrangements, but I’d make sure the cars were clean.
Someone still has to do that. But if it’s not busy, I won’t be here.”
Deeley said he had been talking about retirement for much of last year, and approached Park about his plans.
“I said, ‘If you’re interested, I’ll go no further than you,’” he said.
“How could I pass up the opportunity?” Park added.
Park said he’s slowly realizing that he is now the man in charge at the Deeley Funeral Home, and acknowledged, “It’s stressful, when you look at a kid my age. It’s a big expense, but without Bill’s support, I never could have done anything like this.”
He said he’s not planning any major changes at the funeral home, but in time, could add a third staff member for times when Deeley isn’t available. He also would like to hire someone to learn the work of the preparation rooms before Douglas Deeley retires.
“I was trained in the prep room by Doug, and I’d like to have someone here before he retires,” Park said.
Deeley also noted that his wife, Jean, performed some secretarial work was was “the glue that held everything together.”
He also noted that, despite some speculation in town, he has no intention of leaving Punxsutawney, except for the occasional vacation.
Operating the Deeley Funeral Home as its new owner isn’t the only important event in Park’s life this year. He and his fiancée, Katie Simpson, plan to marry Oct. 6.