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Intern’s Career Path Took Abrupt Turn

By CAROL SONES SHETLER - | Sep 28, 2020

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Michael Hacker, owner/director of McCarty-Thomas Funeral Home, and Kathy Ramos, newest staff member, shares how she chose a career in Mortuary Science. The twosome are shown with an array of caskets, one of which have personalized end caps which when removed become family keepsakes. Though many options are available, he cap pictured is of a soldier and the American flag.

HUGHESVILLE – “During my first year in nursing school I realized something didn’t click,” said Kathalina “Kathy” Ramos when a student at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem.

Kathy’s career path took an abrupt turn with the sudden death of her grandmother. “I helped my mother and aunt make funeral arrangements. During that experience I thought a career in planning funerals might be for me. I’d always wanted to help people and this seemed like a good way,” Kathy said.

The student applied her credits to the Funeral Service Education Program at the same school graduating in May 2020. She submitted her resume for consideration to the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA) of which local funeral director Michael Hacker is secretary/treasurer. Hacker is owner/director of the McCarty-Thomas Funeral Homes in Hughesville and Dushore.

The PFDA association staff pulled Kathy’s resume suggesting Hacker retain her as an intern. “I could see changes coming as more women were choosing this career where they can better handle certain situations,” Hacker said.

The number of women with these degrees has increased substantially in the past few years. In Hackers 2002 class at the Pittsburgh School of Mortuary Science, women made up about ten percent, while Kathy’s 2020 class numbered seventy-three percent. According to Hacker, “Nationwide the percentage is fifty-fifty.”

Kathy grew up in a suburban area of the state and notes both sites are rural both in Hughesville and the companies second site in Dushore. “I like it here, people are friendly and seem to live a slower paced life,” Kathy said.

The intern has been given a permanent position with her employer seeing in her the same dedication for their work. Kathy is one of two women on staff, currently the only one licensed. “With both establishments combined, we have eighteen on staff either full or part-time. We’re really a family as we spend more time with each other than our real families,” Hacker said.

Kathy, having just arrived in the area, appreciates when during services, people voice the memories of the deceased. “In that way, I fell I know the person,” she said.

Prearranging services is highly recommended by both interviewees. “We pride ourselves in personalizing services to each client. Examples include a farmer’s milk bottle and butter churn display; another was a beach scene complete with sand and treasurer chests. Transportation to the cemetery has been by a tractor pulled hay wagon, there is also an antique fire truck for use if desired. People have voiced their appreciation at such detail as displays are excellent conversation starters,” the director said.

Planning can be a one-stop process for a room holds selections of items including grave markers and caskets. The latter has been cut down to a one-eighth size with a variety of corner decoration available for the choosing. Following services, the decorative corners are removed to become family keepsakes. Also for keeping, cremation ashes can be fashioned into stones. These are a few of the many choices available to keep memories alive.

In one instance, a women had video-taped her personal story used during the service. Kathy said that, “Funerals are really a social function, you can feel love in the room, share hugs and have reunions. It’s a support system that I’m privileged to have a part in planning. I feel I’m on the career path meant for me.”

Fostering talks with one’s family about their life experiences is encouraged. The director referred to the following conversation starters so as to learn more about loved ones.


1. What is something very few people know about you?

2. What does your perfect day look like?

3. Describe the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done.

4. How did you meet your spouse or significant other?

5. Who has been the most influential person in your life?

6. What hobby or activity makes you lose track of time?

7. What is your most treasured memory of your grandparents or other elder family members?

Learn more by Googling talkofalifetime.org.