By Thomas A. Parmalee

Selected Independent Funeral Homes will share best practices on how to serve more families and boost business operations at its Annual Meeting, Oct. 10-13, at the JW Marriott Chicago – and you can bet Amy Hunt, the association’s director of meetings and education, will be working tirelessly to make sure the event is a success.

Funeral professionals expect nothing less of Hunt, who has risen up the ranks of the association. She recently celebrated her twentieth-year anniversary at Selected – and her boundless energy and passion for funeral service somehow seem to grow each year.

FuneralVision recently caught up with Hunt to learn how she made her way into funeral service, how her role at Selected has changed over the years, her favorite meeting destination spots and more. Edited excerpts follow.

Amy Hunt

Before working at Selected, you worked with Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation and the American Farm Bureau Federation … how did you end up in funeral service?

I was excited to move to the Chicago area to work for Farm Bureau at the national level. About a year later, AFBF decided to consolidate its two national headquarters to their office in Washington, DC. In order to stay with Farm Bureau, I would have had to move to D.C. Personal circumstances led me to ultimately choose not to make that move, so I began looking for other opportunities.

That’s when I found the job posting at Selected for the manager of Selected Resources, Inc., which at the time was a for-profit subsidiary of the association.  While I had no previous funeral service experience, my nonprofit experience and communications skills aligned.

I also realized that my background as a farm girl offered some interesting parallels to funeral service. Farms are often multigenerational, family businesses. Farming is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year commitment. In running their business, farmers are impacted by forces beyond their control like weather, markets andregulations. It’s a profession many don’t fully understand or appreciate. Successful farmers have an exceptional work ethic. Farming isn’t “just a job,” many feel it is a sense of calling. These are aspects of farming that I’ve found to also ring true for many in funeral service. Being able to personally identify with these traits has given me a deeper appreciation for and understanding of our members.

How many executive directors have you worked for at Selected … and what has stuck out to you about each one?

I have worked for two: George Clarke hired me, and Rob Paterkiewicz took over the role in 2007. Having worked as a funeral director, George was very patient in helping me learn about the profession. As a seasoned association professional, Rob has brought valuable perspective to the role. I appreciate how both encouraged me to embrace lifelong learning.

Twenty years at one place is a long time … have you ever thought about working somewhere else? What has kept you at Selected?

From the very beginning, I was amazed by our members and all they do to serve their client families and communities. Their integrity, work ethic and desire for continual improvement was and remains exceptionally inspiring to me. On a personal level, I have lost both my parents, a brother and brother-in-law in the last four years. The insight I have gained from our members over the years has helped me navigate my own grief journey, and the kindness I’ve received from our members has had such a profound impact. It reinforces why I’m here.

How has your role and your duties at Selected changed over time?

In my role as manager of Selected Resources, I facilitated the Resources Board, developed a variety of products – including literature and marketing materials for members – and created relationships with vendors/consultants. I also participated in almost all meetings, so I became very familiar with the process.

When my predecessor, Dr. Jim Fruehling, announced his retirement in 2008, Rob took a chance and offered me the opportunity to step into the director of meetings and education position. It’s been interesting to learn about the many logistics involved in meeting planning and execution, but of course the best part is interacting with our members. Selected’s tagline is Connecting Leaders. Transforming Care. I take that seriously and strive to make our meetings meaningful and filled with opportunities for our members to connect.

What has been your favorite location where you’ve held a meeting – and why?

This is difficult because I’ve been blessed to get to travel to so many interesting locations. I have countless treasured memories; most are because of the people I was with and experiences we had in those locations … not necessarily the locations themselves. However, a few of my favorite locations include Salem, Massachusetts; Denver, Colorado; Washington, D.C.; Savannah, Georgia; and Walt Disney World. I’ve loved the Canadian locations I’ve gotten to see, including Niagara on the Lake, Montreal and Victoria. And, of course, any of the locations for the NextGen Seminar have been gorgeous.

What are you looking forward to most at your next Annual Meeting?

This is easy: connecting with our members and trusted Preferred Partners. I’m excited for our sessions, speakers, Selected traditions, special events, etc., but it’s being with our members that I look forward to the most!

What do you see as the primary challenges ahead for Selected Independent Funeral Homes?

It’s no secret that as firm owners grapple with their succession, some have not remained independent. As our name implies, independence is a key aspect of our association. Selected strives to help our members not only remain independent businesses but thrive. However, we understand it is a challenge.

Who have been one or two of your mentors in the profession, and what have you learned from each?

Since I had no prior experience in funeral service, I truly have learned something from every member I’ve interacted with during my tenure. Whether conversation over a meal, traveling, emails, Zoom meetings, articles, etc., I appreciate and learn from everyone’s perspectives.

There are two members who stand out: Dick Bibber and Tom Broussard. During my first year with Selected, I participated in what was then known as “Group Meetings.” This involved traveling to about eight different locations to present the same meeting agenda. Dick was Selected’s president at the time, so he and his wife, Patty, participated in each meeting, and Tom was a featured speaker on the agenda. We spent a lot of time together! Starting at those Group Meetings and continuing over the years, they taught me so much about Selected and funeral service in general and were just exceptionally kind and patient. I was blessed to know them and learn from them. Sadly, Dick and Tom have both passed now, and I know they are greatly missed by many.

In addition to your annual meeting, you also have the NextGen Seminar and the Selected Leadership Academy Conference. What is special about each of those programs – and how can funeral professionals get involved?

It’s a joy to facilitate both of these programs!

The NextGen Seminar gives us a chance to highlight and pour into up-and-coming leaders and those new to the profession. It’s a uniquely designed meeting based on feedback from our NextGen members and planning the meeting heavily involves our NextGen Advisory Group, which consists of volunteer Selected members. The meeting includes continuing education sessions that are open to any funeral professional.

The Selected Leadership Academy is a two-year program exclusively for any Selected member, no matter their position or title, who is interested in becoming a better leader. I was the fortunate headquarters staff member who was asked to lead the creation of this program from scratch and was blessed that Marguerite Ham saw the vision and agreed to join us. Marguerite serves as our academy dean and brings the magic through her engaging presentations and powerful coaching. In addition to Zoom conference calls and coaching sessions throughout the year, the curriculum includes the Leadership Conference that is held in person each spring. It’s a special few days, as we hold orientation for our new class, hear the Capstone presentations and hold a graduation ceremony for our graduating class and engage in compelling and fun activities for all classes.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working at Selected?

I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my family and friends. Our dog, Gizmo, also brings a lot of joy to our home. In addition, I enjoy reading, movies and travel.

What is the last book you read – and would you recommend it and why?

For pleasure — “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Deila Owens, which was recommended by both my daughter and a sister. I also recommend it because it’s an interesting deep dive into one person’s story that shows how every person is shaped and formed by our circumstances.

For professional development — “The Art of Gathering – How We Meet and Why It Matters” by Priya Parker. I recommend this book because it not only gave me interesting ideas and insight as a meeting planner, I feel it also is very applicable to funeral service.

Do you have any other thoughts to share?

Haven’t I said enough? Seriously, though, as an “outsider” to funeral service when I started at Selected in 2003, I am truly grateful to all my colleagues at Selected headquarters, our members (present and past), our Preferred Partners and everyone I’ve interacted with along the way for allowing me to share the journey. I truly respect and appreciate funeral professionals. It’s not an easy career. I am humbled and honored to serve Selected members and hope I’ve made a positive impact in some way!

Join your peers and Selected leadership at its Annual Meeting in Chicago in October. Learn more.

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