Communication is key to success Kobers overcome challenges of their silent world to meet customersâ�?�? needs By David Lias
Plain Talk People who have grown to depend on the reliable service offered by Alton and Marilyn Siecke can count on the same level of service from Tom and Lori Kober. The Kobers have taken over full ownership of the two funeral homes that have been operated for years by the Sieckes in Vermillion and Elk Point. And like the Sieckes, this husband and wife team is excited to be a part of the Vermillion business community. The Kobers are an ideal fit in this venture â�?�? Lori is professionally trained as a mortician, and Tom brings a rich business background to the operation of the two funeral homes. What makes the mix of these two unique individuals all the more fascinating is the one thing that hasnâ�?�?t slowed them down in the least. They are both deaf. Lori was born deaf, and her parents discovered when she was 18 months old that she couldnâ�?�?t hear. â�?�?They didnâ�?�?t quite know what to do because we lived on a farm, so they sent me to St. Johnâ�?�?s School for the deaf in Milwaukee, WI,â�? Lori said through an interpreter. She later transferred to and graduated from the Milwaukee School for the Deaf. â�?�?While I was there â�?�? when I was in eighth grade â�?�? I thought that I might like to work for a funeral home,â�? Lori said. No one in Loriâ�?�?s family had ever sought a career as a mortician. But that didnâ�?�?t stop Loriâ�?�?s parents from fully supporting her efforts to follow her dreams. After graduating from high school, Lori attended Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. During the summer months, she returned home in Saint Anna, WI to help her parents operate their farm. â�?�?Mom helped me out â�?�? she helped me look for a local funeral home that would hire me in the summertime to see if I liked it before I actually went to mortician school,â�? she said. â�?�?We actually did find a funeral home that hired me; I worked their during the summer, and I discovered that I liked it.â�? After graduating from Gallaudet University, Lori enrolled in the University of the District of Columbia and studied mortuary science. â�?�?The students there were all hearing, and I had an interpreter for all my classes,â�? Lori said. â�?�?That was a big challenge for me.â�? During her second year at the University of the District of Columbia, she decided to find a job at a funeral home. She was soon employed at a funeral home in Maryland, where she would work for over two years. She graduated with distinction â�?�? among the top three in her class â�?�? from the University of the District of Columbia in 1994. â�?�?And then my husband, Tom, found a job in Sioux Falls, so we had to move,â�? Lori said. â�?�?We moved in November, 1995, and at that time, I was teaching sign language at Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls.â�? She was hired by the Sieckes in June 1996, and the business relationship thatâ�?�?s lasted over 12 years now is stronger than ever. The Kobers may be full owners of the Vermillion and Elk Point funeral homes, but as they make the transition from employees to operators, their businesses will be known as the Kober-Iverson-Siecke funeral homes. In the first few years of her employment here, Lori did what she describes as â�?�?behind the scenes workâ�? â�?�? including embalming. â�?�?But in the last few years before I bought the business, I actually started meeting with families,â�? she said. â�?�?When we would get a death call, we would set up a time for the family to come in, and I would contact an interpreter to come here and help me out, and they would be here while I met with the family and helped make the arrangements.â�? Interpreters were usually also called when funeral services and prayer services were held at the local mortuary. â�?�?I donâ�?�?t need an interpreter here all of the time, because I do read lips and I do speak, so one-on-one, I do fine,â�? Lori said. â�?�?But when it comes to a big crowd, I get lost (without an interpreter).â�? â�?�?Families endorse her,â�? Alton Siecke said. â�?�?They have never had a problem working with Lori and having an interpreter present. â�?�?She works very well with families. I know she gets more hugs than I do,â�? he said, laughing. Alton said that during Loriâ�?�?s 12 years of work in Vermillion, â�?�?she touched the lives of almost everybody in this community and in Elk Point where we serve, so they know that, despite her disability, she has compensated for it, and what she brings to her career is compassion.â�? Lori said when she began working in Vermillion, people were hesitant, at first, to try to converse with her. As they got to know her, â�?�?people started coming up to me and chatted with me and asked, â�?�?how are you today?â�?�? It was really nice,â�? she said. â�?�?I got to talk to people more as the years went on.â�? The Kobers plan to keep the traditions of their craft alive as they help family and friends in the Vermillion area deal with what no one can escape â�?�? the eventual death, remembrance and funeral of a loved one. They are also embracing new technology to help them communicate with the hearing world, and to also offer special ways to offer tributes to the deceased. â�?�?Technology changes daily,â�? Lori said. â�?�?Now our industry has video tributes, and more and more people are enjoying that personal memorial touch, so weâ�?�?re going to offer those video tributes for Vermillion and Elk Point.â�? Tom added that both he and Lori will be able to offer video conferencing to communicate with family members a distance away from Vermillion who wish to make funeral arrangements for a friend or relative. â�?�?There may be family members who live very far away in another state,â�? he said, â�?�?and maybe they canâ�?�?t make it to Vermillion to help make funeral arrangements. We can provide video conferencing, and that way, some of the family can be here, and the family thatâ�?�?s far away can join us through that technology. We look forward to that.â�? Alton Siecke said he knew he had met someone special when Lori applied to work at the Iverson-Siecke Funeral Home 12 years ago. Her credentials speak for themselves. She is the first deaf woman licensed in the United States as a mortician. â�?�?And now I own it, and I am the first deaf woman owner of a funeral home,â�? Lori said.