Monique Roberts and Lori Kober, co-owner of the Iverson-Siecke-Kober Funeral Home in Vermillion, have had a professional relationship going back several years.
That relationship has been enhanced as Monique's role at the funeral home has expanded. She serves not only as executive assistant and an interpretor for Lori, the only deaf mortician in South Dakota.
She also plays an integral part of the Iverson-Siecke-Kober Funeral Home staff, working as a licensed pre-needs counselor.
"I'm here part time, two to three days a week. That means that any time people come in to meet with Lori, she's going to have an interpreter," Monique said. "Either I'm going to be here interpreting, or if someone comes in and I'm not here, we do arrange to have another interpreter here."
In situations where families want Monique's presence during funeral planning, there are times when they must call ahead, just to make sure she will be in Vermillion at that time.
"Some people have had a relationship with Al (Siecke), too," Lori said, "so in some situations, Al will come and he helps out, too."
"Lori has interpreters for that need, at times I may not be in Vermillion," Monique said. "Everything has always been covered in that way, and our families have always been really happy."
Lori has the professional training to deal with the many aspects of funeral preparation. "My training is all through her, and she's been a very good teacher," Monique said. "Customer service is my strong point; I had my own business for 10 years before I came here, and customer service was my strong point with my business, too."
Monique noted that Lori is very good at handling all of those details that are needed to keep things on track, and to make sure that families' needs are met.
"She is very good at all of those details," Monique said. "We make a pretty good team."
Lori is the only deaf funeral director in South Dakota. "It's a very unique opportunity for me to get to work for her," Monique said. "The business part and the interpreting are the parts of my job that I really enjoy. I'm pretty good with the customer service, and I can handle the technology and take care of the behind-the-scenes work. I enjoy that, and I'm glad I get to stay in the business community."
Monique first became associated with Lori approximately four years ago through an interpreting agency she once operated. "After that, I came to work with her on staff," she said. "It's really a privilege because Lori is very, very good at what she does, so I really enjoy it."
"We do work really well together," Lori said. "It's like a blessing from heaven that Monique is here with us, to help with the families. It's just been a very good experience."
Monique's role as a licensed pre-needs counselor gives local families the opportunity to get much, if not all, of a loved one's funeral planning completed in advance.
"Any time someone wants to plan their funeral, they can come in, and we can go through everything, and have everything planned before it happens," she said. "That's an ease of mind for their family, because when it happens, the family has a lot to do.
"By planning ahead of time, people get to pick the funeral that they want, and they get to take the burden off of their families," Monique said. "We can go through and pick everything, when there is no stress."
Monique is also an agent with Homesteader's Life Insurance. "The benefit there is people can make payments to pay for their funerals, or they can make one payment. They get extra benefits for signing up with Homesteader's as well. That's something that's very nice to have," she said.
In situations where no prior funeral arrangements have been made, Lori and Monique work together to serve families' needs.
"We actually have our own areas now," Monique said. "Lori will start by meeting with a family, and she'll take her areas of the things that she'll discuss with the family, and I have a couple of areas that I will discuss with the family, so we have a nice team effort.
"I enjoy helping with things like the flower arrangements, and there are other areas of the process that I enjoy," she said, "and she gets to take care of others things that must be done. Together, it's a good team effort."
Monique lives in Sioux Falls, and commutes to Vermillion. "If a family needs to talk to Lori during the night, then there are other interpreters in the area that she can use. And, if she knows members of the family that needs assistance, they often communicate by writing back and forth. Lori is also an excellent lip reader."
"I really enjoy Vermillion; I really enjoy the people," Monique said. "I've been on staff here for about a year-and-a-half, so I'm getting to know people here, and getting on a first-name basis with them."
"One thing about Monique is she is definitely a people person," Lori said. "One thing I've noticed about her is that she is very compassionate, like me. She works very well with people and makes them feel comforted. That's one of the things I like most about her, and it's so rewarding. The families are so thankful, and it's a good feeling at the end of the day to be able to help."