How Cincy Works: What is the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science?

For our June 2015 issue, we explore (and try to explain) the ins and outs of the Queen City.

If you’re one of the more than 100,000 people who die in Ohio each year—or a friend or family member of one of those people—chances are you will come into contact with a Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science alumnus. Established in 1882, it’s the oldest such institution in the country, dating back to a time when embalming was cutting edge technology thanks to the Civil War. As so many men died so far away from home, there was a need to preserve the bodies that were sent back to their ultimate resting place. “There was heightened interest [in learning this skill] at that time,” says Teresa Dutko, the school’s academic chair. Cofounder and casket-salesman Joseph Henry Clarke set up a six-day course for seven students, and a college was born. Today, CCMS offers both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and a curriculum that adds business management (law, accounting, merchandising) and social sciences (psychology of grief, care of the bereaved) to what Dutko calls the “clinical” side (embalming, anatomy, restorative arts).

To be licensed as a funeral director in most states, including Indiana and Kentucky, you’ll need an associate’s degree in mortuary science, an apprenticeship in a funeral home, and a passing grade on a state test. Ohio and Minnesota, however, require the apprenticeship, the test, and a bachelor’s degree. And CCMS’s enrollment? Most preconceived notions regarding “typical” students are often D.O.A. “The age range is from 19 to 60,” says Dutko. “Almost two-thirds are women. And we have a fair number of change-of-career students.” The majority of those come from related fields, including the clergy—which makes sense. As Dutko puts it, “Most of our students describe it as a calling, absolutely.”


Better Know A Funeral Director

Matt Rost, Licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer, Gilligan Funeral Homes

On the Inspiration:
[Laughing] I was at my grandfather’s funeral. My grandfather looked horrible and it really upset me.

On the Job: I do all of the embalming, as well as all of the makeup and all of the restorations for the people who have suffered trauma. I don’t want to be morbid or anything, but I like challenges. It’s a shame that my job is dependent on the suffering of others, but if you do not know the family or the deceased, you can remain emotionally detached and focus on the job at hand. My specialty is in restoration. So, if we have a trauma case, that’s what I live for.

On Protocol: I’m not a Gilligan by name, so I work mostly the back of the house. That’s typical. If your name is on the sign out front, chances are you are seeing the families.

On Trends: More toward cremation. When I started 25 years ago, we were doing 13 percent. Now we are doing 35–40 percent cremation.

On the Challenge: You get one chance to get it right. You can’t just give the family their money back if something goes wrong. You can’t re-do a funeral. —as told to Kevin Schultz

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