By Sue Moore
A year ago, Steve McCowen and partner Tim Secord and their families purchased Vicksburg and Portage funeral homes from Marilyn Durham and her family. In mid-March, the partners made another big move, purchasing the Avink Funeral Home & Cremation Society in Schoolcraft.
“We plan to be very active in the Schoolcraft community,” McCowen said. “We want to give families a funeral home with full-service capabilities. John and Liz Avink were pioneers in adopting the Cremation Society and we will continue that as well as providing options to meet the needs of any family who comes to us.”
The partners also own the Marshall & Gren Chapel in Plainwell. “For many folks, Avink’s means fair and affordable, and for that reason we plan to keep the name of the business the same. People will say they don’t want anything, and our job is to find out what that means to them,” said McCowen. “People have services all the time without it being at the funeral home.
“It’s about honoring the life and meeting the needs of the family. We can provide both right here in this building at 129 S. Grand Street in Schoolcraft or find the right location to meet their needs and size of the event. We have many partners in the community to help with larger events.
“For years the funeral home was the family home of the Avinks and really didn’t have business hours where you know you could stop and visit with someone about your wishes. Now it will be open and staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. where we can meet to make plans with family members. We will write the obituaries with help from the family, take care of the many details such as pre-planning, social security and veterans’ benefits.”
Cremation has been the most used option for a family using Avink’s services in the past. At the other three locations run by McCowen and Secord, cremation is utilized about 50 percent of the time, Secord said. “When most people come in for a visitation they are rather guarded,” McCowen said. “They are truly out of their comfort zone. We tell them that just being there is what matters. The majority who attend don’t know the deceased very well, they come for the relatives. For us, it’s part of being a small-town funeral director and serving your community and their needs.”
Secord began his career in the funeral business after stints as a firefighter, minister, author and speaker. He lives in Otsego with his wife, who is a schoolteacher. They have two children. His mother lived at Barton Lake near Vicksburg and his sister Terri Secord teaches at Vicksburg High School. His real calling in life has turned out to be serving people in the time of their greatest loss, he said.
McCowen became part of a blended family when he married Jenny McKillop last year. Together they have five children and live in Schoolcraft. Jenny’s son attends Portage Central and daughter attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Steve’s two sons are at Vicksburg High School, while daughter Mackenzie attends Western Michigan University. Since coming to Vicksburg 16 years ago, McCowen has been very active in the community, participating with the DDA, the Chamber, the School Foundation and sports programs.
Together the partnership employs four full time people and two apprentices working to become funeral directors. They also employ around 20 part-time staff to be used for funeral services. They have purchased a new hearse to be used at any of their four locations.
“We like to have local members of the community be a part of our operation as we believe it’s better when someone is grieving to be comforted by someone they might know. All of our family members help out when needed,” McCowen pointed out.