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It has been 100 years since Rollie H. Peterseim and wife Barbara opened the Peterseim Funeral Home. Things have changed a great deal in the profession since 1917.
A story on the funeral home’s 100th anniversary quotes son, the late H.E. (Short) Peterseim, on how it was in the old days.
“Back then everything was done at home,” he related in 1992. “My father had to take all of his equipment with him.” This was all packed in a suitcase and transported by car to the homes. Short added that in the early years of the 20th Century, good roads were uncommon and his father often became stuck on roads, needing a “county caterpillar” to pull him free.
“My mother was very important to the business,” Short was also quoted in the story, “She went with my father, helping with arrangements and often cooking meals for the family of the deceased.”
Two years after starting the Peterseim Funeral Home, Rollie purchased the only other Kalona funeral home in 1917 from U.S. Grant Snider. Snider had until then been the only undertaker in Kalona.
Short’s wife and now co-owner of the business, Jan Peterseim, said the family funeral business moved in 1917 to a space above the Chicago Store, which was located in the middle of B Avenue. A fire in 1920 destroyed the entire block and Peterseim moved the funeral home into his house – where it still remains today.
Short was also born in that house in 1924. He graduated from the St. Louis Mortuary School following his service with the U.S. Marines. He died in 2008. Short and Jan bought the funeral home from Rollie in 1963, the same year a chapel was added on to the home. The facility was enlarged again in 1971, with a full-scale addition added in 1992. That year also saw the addition of a third-generation to the family business. Meg Peterseim, the daughter of Short and Jan, had just graduated from the same Illinois school as her grandfather – the Worsham College of Mortuary Science.
The profession has also changed since Jan joined the family business. During the 1960s most rural community funeral homes also provided the ambulance service. Though the Peterseims had a separate vehicle for emergencies, some funeral homes actually used their hearses.
It was demanding enough to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for normal mortuary services, Jan recalls, without also dealing with medical emergencies.
And how death is addressed has also changed. Jan said when she began, many people did not want to deal with the inevitable end to their lives and would not plan ahead for their own funerals. Prearranged funerals are now the norm.
Expressing grief is now more open, she added. Informal and heartfelt eulogies from friends and family are now common, more so than even 20 years ago. Children were also often excluded from the process, says Jan, but are now encouraged to become involved.
The early records were destroyed in the 1920 fire, but the ones they do have show 2,831 familes have trusted the local funeral home to take care of their loved ones.
“We strive to provide a comfortable, atmosphere for all our families and guests,” said Jan. “Our home is their home in time of need.”