After 30 years of service as a licensed funeral director and embalmer, Marlon Wombold, of Ponoka and Bashaw Funeral Homes received a prestigious Honorary Life Member award from the Alberta Funeral Service Association (AFSA).
In the 90 years of the AFSA there have only been five other members honoured with the award. Wombold is the sixth.
He received his 30-year award plus the lifetime award at the association’s annual conference recently. The latter was a complete surprise. “When they announced it my heart almost stopped,” said Wombold.
“I remember the breath going out of me,” he added.
The path to becoming a funeral director and embalmer occurred relatively naturally because growing up Wombold’s family were close with another funeral director. It was the stories he told the family that got Wombold interested in the service.
“It also translated into what better service to people could there be than to help them when they’re going through that time…It seemed to be very much about relationships as opposed to business,” said Wombold.
The preparation of a deceased person is another area of the work that he feels is an art. It’s about preparing the body in a respectful way and about building a strong relationship with family members.
“If you don’t build a relationship then it’s just a job. For us, and the culture here, it’s about relationships,” said Wombold.
“You’re in a community where everyone knows what you do, and appreciates that you’re there but hopes they never have to be involved,” he added.
In a small community like Ponoka, Wombold says he and staff end up grieving with family members. A focus for everyone is to approach every person who walks in the door with what Wombold calls a servant’s heart.
It’s not an easy job but Wombold says staff have a strong network of support for each other during challenging times and, “We have a community that supports us and is connected to us.”
“That’s the fuel that keeps us going,” said Wombold.
Something he appreciates is the care and upkeep of the Forest Home Cemetery in Ponoka. It shows that Ponoka cares for its history and its residents.
“You can tell a lot about our community by the way our cemetery is kept,” said Wombold.
He suggests ceremony, especially in the area of remembering those who died, is a vital part of a community. “As a society we tend to push things away and minimize…(but) our community is very strong in ceremony and tradition.”
“We see ourselves very much as the keeper of that,” he added.
There are other sacrifices that come from the work. Wombold is grateful to family members who understand that tragedy can strike at any time. They have seen him have to leave home countless times to deal with a family event. “Something that can’t be overstated is the support of our family.”
For now Wombold intends to continue on with a strong spirit of service to the community, adding his gratitude at the award.
The process to be given the award takes several steps, which includes vetting of potential candidates by past-president Sheila Bartsch. If a candidate meets eligibility then the board must approve the nomination. After the approval the AFSA's membership must vote by a two-thirds majority in favour, which ratifies the nomination.
This story has been corrected to clarify the nomination process and the process in which a member is considered for the award.