Member Spotlight: Hoffen Funeral Home – Millstadt, Illinois

Elle Heiligenstein is the owner of OGR member Hoffen Funeral Home, LLC in Millstadt, Illinois, and also serves as funeral director and embalmer. She shared her experiences with running a successful funeral home for the past six years.

How did you get started in the funeral industry?

I was a hair stylist and over time counseled many clients experiencing a loss. I felt a sense of satisfaction at helping these people and wanted to do more. I had always found the art and science of embalming interesting, so I decided to pursue my formal education in funeral service at the age of 40.

Elle Heiligenstein - Meals on WheelsWhat makes your funeral home unique?

My funeral home is woman-owned and both of my apprentice funeral directors are women. We are heavily focused on community outreach. We deliver meals-on-wheels to area seniors twice per week. We are a reasonably priced funeral home with premium level services. Locally, we are known as the house of Tiffany, due to the 19 Tiffany chandeliers that I installed in the funeral home last year.

I began my career in funeral service at an OGR firm in St. Louis, Missouri. The owner was a mentor of mine and I saw how he followed the tenets of OGR on a daily basis. His motto was “Loving people and serving them, kindness always” and this really impacted me. I learned early on how being in an organization such as OGR was valuable as a guiding tool for the staff and also made the families feel at ease, knowing that an OGR firm was held to a higher standard. I thought then that if I ever had my own funeral home, I would try to become a member. Applying for OGR membership was the second thing I did after filling out the loan paperwork when I was buying my funeral home. The day Nancy Weil called to tell me I was approved was one of the best days of my career!

What is the most rewarding part of your occupation?

When families tell me that they could not have gotten through the funeral service without our care and compassion, this is what makes all the  sacrifices and hard work worth it. I am often told I make the process easy. I have never quite figured out what people mean by that, but it seems to me that they expect the arrangements and services to be stressful and complicated for them and are pleasantly surprised when we make things as seamless as possible.

Is there a specific moment or experience in your career that encapsulates your passion for what you do?

Yes, I once had a cancer patient in my care that had lost a significant amount of weight and did not look anything like herself when she died. I asked the family for permission to restore her to an appearance prior to her illness and they were kind enough to trust me. I was able to make her appear healthy and beautiful for her visitation. The family was ecstatic at how well she looked. She had been a glamorous lady in life and loved having her hair and make-up done, so this was extra special considering she hadn’t been looking like herself for months. The family befriended me after the funeral and we now regularly see each other as good friends.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired daily by the holy spirit and the works of St. Vincent DePaul. My funeral home is one of the few, if not the only one in the area that regularly cares for the poor without hesitation. We do a lot of charity work in the community as well.

What are some important/notable trends that you have noticed in the funeral industry?

The influx of women in funeral service is very inspiring for me. I am also seeing a tremendous amount of broadcast services across the internet since the pandemic began. My funeral home recently began professional webcasting of our services with great reception. Cremation is definitely on the rise and many families are choosing it for simplicity rather than cost. Many times I will have families come in and request a direct cremation but still purchase quite a lot of memorial merchandise, so we are offering more retail items than ever before.

Hoffen Funeral Home - OGR marqueeHow long have you been a member of OGR?

About two years.

How has being an OGR member impacted your experience in the funeral industry?

My membership in OGR has enabled me to live and work by the 11 tenets of OGR. I am reminded daily to care for others as I would want to be cared for. Being a new owner and not from the community where my funeral home is located, my membership has lent me some additional credibility among the people who live here. I regularly market my funeral home as a member of OGR.

What has been your favorite moment with OGR?

Finding out we were approved for membership! I was so honored!

How do you spend your time outside of work? Is there anything in particular you enjoy doing?

I am an avid reader and I also enjoy cooking, and exercising on my treadmill. I am a devoted pet parent and care for my dogs and cats. I enjoy traveling when I can, especially to Cannon Beach, Oregon, our second home.

OGR tries to ‘follow the Golden Rule.’ What other words do you try to live by?

It is better to give than to receive. God will take care of you if you do His will. If you can dream it, you can do it! Thoughts create things! God is good all the time!

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of The Independent. Click here to read the entire issue.

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