Hogenkamp Funeral Homes celebrate 150 years


COLDWATER — Hogenkamp Funeral Homes is celebrating 150 years in business this year. Founded in 1874 in Minster, the family-owned company now has four locations in Mercer, Auglaize and Shelby Counties.

At its founding, the company was both a furniture and undertaking business, a combination that wasn’t uncommon at the time. Bernard J. Hogenkamp, who came to the U.S. from Holland and settled in Minster, first partnered with Mr. Kohner (first name unknown) and then Joseph Knostman to run the business. By 1903, the company was amicably split into two. Knostman took over the furniture business, and B.J. took over the undertaking business. Now, over a century and six generations later, the funeral home is still owned and operated by direct descendants of B.J. Hogenkamp. It has passed from father to son in a continuous line, with each generation putting its own stamp on the business.

For the first several decades, the company operated solely in Minster. Then, the 1950s and 1960s ushered in an era of expansion when then-owner Nicholas P. Hogenkamp was joined by sons Nicholas A. Hogenkamp and Bernard “Jay” Hogenkamp. Under the leadership of the three men, the company grew from one location to three with the addition of funeral homes in St. Henry and Coldwater. It would eventually expand to include a fourth location in Russia, added in 2009.

In the 80s and 90s, Nicholas A.’s son Nicholas C. Hogenkamp and Jay’s sons Brian Hogenkamp and Scott Hogenkamp came on board. In 2019, they welcomed the sixth generation of Hogenkamp funeral directors with Michael Hogenkamp, Brian’s son, who now manages the Coldwater location. Scott’s son Carter Hogenkamp has also joined the company while completing his mortuary degree. Brian’s daughter Melissa Wendel serves as the office manager.

While generations of Hogenkamps have decided to work as funeral directors, they view the job as more of a vocation than a career. It’s a business that becomes a way of life.

“You’re never completely done with work when you’re a funeral director,” Jay said. “Growing up in it, you got used to that.”

Jay recalls staying home from school to drive the hearse and being roused from his bed by his father to perform transport services. It was simply the reality of life in a funeral home, where the family lived and worked.

Similarly, Jay’s sons Brian and Scott remember getting exposed to the business side of the funeral home from an early age. To them, it was simply the norm.

“We didn’t realize there was anything different about growing up in a funeral home. It was just regular, though of course a lot of other kids thought it wasn’t,” Brian said.

“When we were 12 or 13, we started answering the phones. We’d need to know all my parents’ friends’ numbers so we could get ahold of our parents if they weren’t home when a call came in,” Scott recalled.

Although the funeral home has been passed down from generation to generation, none of the current members remember feeling forced to join the business. Rather, they decided on this vocation after discovering the satisfaction of helping people through difficult times.

“It’s not quite a ministry, but it’s pretty darn close to it. It becomes your lifestyle. You’re a funeral director everywhere you go,” Scott said. “We all have stories of people coming up to thank you for helping their families. You don’t realize how much that means.”

While being a funeral director can be a rewarding profession, there are, of course, challenges that come with work that deals with so much grief. Tragedies like multiple fatality accidents and untimely deaths weigh particularly heavily on the funeral directors, but it’s part of their job to take it in stride.

“It can be challenging. You put yourself in the loved ones’ shoes, and it’s brutal. You have to compartmentalize. We put our business in that box so we can keep our emotions under control,” Scott explained.

“Everybody—friends, acquaintances—they think our job is about the deceased. Of course that’s a part of it, but it’s more about helping the family,” Brian added. “In those situations, you realize they need someone to guide them through this traumatic time they’re going through.”

Guiding families through the grieving process has meant different things over the years. As with anything, trends and tastes come and go. With a career spanning from the 1950s to present day, Jay in particular has seen many changes in the industry, as well as local preferences.

“Cremation is a fairly recent trend,” he observed. He also saw the start of a now common practice: funeral home viewings. “We used to go to the farms to have the viewings. People would die, we’d take the casket and the deceased out to the farm, and they’d have the viewing in the home. That pretty well stopped by the 1960s.”

Technology has changed the landscape of the funeral home industry the same as any other. Different pieces of manual equipment, such as lifts, were introduced to help alleviate some of the physical strain of the job. Computers led to the rise of online obituaries and websites, and a subsequent shrinking of product display rooms. Where before families had to view selections of things such as caskets and urns in person, now a wide array of options can be viewed online and delivered within a day.

One thing hasn’t changed in 150 years—the Hogenkamps’ approach to customer service.

“My philosophy was always simple,” Jay said. “Be the best you can be.”

“We believe in treating people like they’re our own family,” Brian said. “Every person who’s entrusted to our care is treated the way you’d want your mother or father treated.”

While the company has been run by Hogenkamps since its inception, several other staff members have played vital roles over the years. Larry Heitkamp, a well-liked and well-respected funeral director, managed the St. Henry location from 1966 until his death in 2017. The St. Henry funeral home is now managed by Bill Prenger, a St. Henry native.

Another vital component of the business’s success are the generations of funeral director spouses who have performed crucial support roles. Lois Hogenkamp, Jay’s wife, remembers never being able to leave the phone unless someone was able to answer it in her absence, just in case someone might call in need of the funeral director—or, more critically, the ambulance driver, as the business used to provide ambulance services before towns had squads of their own.

“It was stressful. People would call all excited and you’d be trying to get all the right information,” she said. “I answered the phone, cleaned the funeral home, got death reports—you name it.”

Now, as the company prepares for the sixth generation to take the reins, the older generations have a chance to reflect.

“I never pressured my sons to come home and work for me, but I felt proud that Scott and Brian made that decision,” Jay said. “When Michael and Carter made the same decision, I was happy and proud that they would consider that.”

Scott agreed, saying that he was excited when his son Carter decided that he wanted to join the company. “I tell people who ask, I’m glad I have a retirement plan,” he joked.

“It makes me proud to see how they’ve grown into their roles,” Brian said. “We all work well together, and I know they see how rewarding it can be. We know most of the families we serve. We see them around town and in church, and it’s all about helping those families when they need us.”

About Hogenkamp Funeral Homes

Hogenkamp Funeral Homes has served the local community since 1874. With locations in Coldwater, St. Henry, Minster and Russia, the company is family-owned and locally operated. Hogenkamp Funeral Homes provides respectful, dignified service and an array of options designed to create fitting tributes.

No posts to display