By Thomas A. Parmalee

If you had to select the most iconic beard in funeral service – one that rivals Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top or even Santa Claus himself, there really is only one person who can lay claim to the title.

The Tukios guy, of course.

But there is much more to Kevin Young than just his beard.

A licensed funeral director in California, he has been working in funeral service since the early 1980s and could not see himself doing anything else.

“The loss part is what really got me into it,” he said. “I witnessed my brother’s death. It was a death by drowning, and I could not save him.”

His brother, Danny, was 16 at the time. Young was two years younger.

The tragedy unfolded at a reservoir in Ogden, Utah, during a Fourth of July campout, Young said.

“He and I were swimming in a beach area, and our mom and dad were out fishing,” he said. “I swam out to these buoys that were out there.”

That’s when Danny tried to follow him and “went down,” Young said.

His body was found about four hours later, and the family was absolutely crushed.

“All these years later … it is still vivid in my mind,” said Young, now 65. “My mom never recovered from his death.”

The topic of death and grief, however, were always with the family. Even before his brother died, they had dealt with tragedy, as Young had a sister who died at 10 days old.

As a teenager, he found himself working as a teller in a bank, where he’d often see George Larkin, the owner of Larkin Mortuary, which was eventually purchased by Lindquist Mortuaries & Cemeteries.

He was impressed by how Larkin dressed and carried himself, and also knew that the funeral home had served his family well in times of crisis. He had heard the business provided free rent to removal staff.

Although the funeral home had generally hired married couples for that job, it made an exception and gave Young the job, giving him his start in funeral service.

“I worked for him a couple of years and decided that was the path I wanted to take,” Young said. “The whole thing fascinated me – working with Mr. Larkin and having the opportunity to see the embalming process. They were very much into the presentation of the deceased and how they looked. I learned a lot from him … it intrigued me and sucked me in.”

He’s thankful that Larkin is the one who gave him a chance.

“This was back in the day when people were very committed to a mortuary – and that is where your family went,” he said. “It seems like that kind of loyalty does not exist anymore, but back then it did, especially in Ogden.”

An Ambitious Young Man Treks Further West

After getting married, Young attended Cypress College in Cypress, California, where he earned his degree in mortuary science, so he could pursue his passion as a bona fide career.

In the 1980s, he worked at Westminster Memorial Park and Mortuary in Westminster, California, which was purchased by Service Corporation International.

“I started off as their night guy, working every third night and I was going to school, so I slept there,” he said. “Once I graduated, my wife and I returned to Utah, but it really didn’t work out for me, so we returned to California, and I got my old job back at Westminster, where I was hired as a funeral director and embalmer. We were doing 1,200 calls back in the 1980s, so I worked funerals and embalmed and then moved into the role of making arrangements and selling preneed. It was an all-inclusive place, where I could learn a lot about funeral service.”

After that, Young worked for the Loewen Group, managing a firm in central California from 1991 to 1996 that served a farming community. “We had a high suicide rate for a small town,” he said, reflecting on that experience. “I worked there for five years, and then took an assignment in Nebraska, where I worked from 1996 to 1999.”

Each step of the way, his lovely wife, Jody (they dated for three months before getting married and have been a couple for more than 41 years, raising three children along the way), was there helping and keeping him on track, he said.

“She would come over to a funeral home and help lift a casket, or do whatever needed to be done,” he said. “Back in the early days, I could not get a hairdresser, so I asked her for help.”

At first, she was reluctant, and when she first did it, he saw tears running down her face. When he asked her what was wrong, “She said she just felt like this is someone’s mom or grandmom, so why was she so worried about it? And from there, she started helping me out with hair and getting involved with helping out with the day-to-day duties of a secretary.”

Eventually, Loewen found itself in financial trouble: Its stock began to dive, and its entire business began to unravel.

Young knew the gravy train was coming to a screeching halt, so he got off the tracks on his own terms in the late 1990s.

“I had a good friend calling on mortuaries for the Aurora Casket Company,” he explained, adding that he’d heard a job was about to open up in Utah.

“And something my wife and I wanted to do was return to Utah,” he said.

So, he interviewed for the post and was hired. He spent 15 years at the company.

While he enjoyed his time at Aurora, he admits he sorely missed being a funeral director.

“I think the biggest thing I missed was meeting with families,” he said. “I felt like I was wired to help people through one of the most difficult times of their life … and there is a lot to the embalming process I missed.” He added, “I did not miss having to work nights or weekends or getting up at 3 a.m. and working a Saturday funeral, and everything in between, but the love of funeral service is what I missed.”

He had numerous mentors to learn from at Aurora, however, including Bob Jenkins and the great Roger Coomer. One area he delved into was how to ask good open-ended questions, he said. He also had the privilege of learning from Chip Ray, who seemed to know everyone. “It is hard to find someone who doesn’t like Chip Ray,” he said. “It was really awesome to be able to travel with him and learn from him. And Bob Jenkins was really customer centric.”

He also singled out David Bowman, who he called “a classic gentleman” who was respected by everyone.

When Aurora was acquired by a private equity firm before transitioning over to Matthews and becoming Matthews Aurora, things started to change, however, Young said.

Meanwhile, offshore products were starting to flood the market, which was becoming much more of a factor as Young sought to build his territory. Crafty competitors started painting offshore caskets or putting new interiors or head panels into them, so you could hardly tell the difference from a higher-end option, he said.

Once again, Young felt as though it was time for a change, although he treasures the time he spent at Aurora. “It was a very good job, and it gave me the opportunity to meet lots of funeral directors, he said” – particularly in Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

Kevin Young and his wife of more than 41 years, Jody.
The Next Chapter

For a short while, Young landed a job as a salesperson for, the company launched by Dave McComb, John Heald and founder Jeff Taylor. was eventually acquired by

It was then that he began running into Curtis Funk, the founder of Tukios, on a regular basis. He’d actually met him years earlier, however, when Funk was in high school and had launched

Invariably, he’d end up going to the same meetings and conventions as Funk as they both tried to sell their wares to funeral directors. More often than not, he found that Funk would outdo him when it came to getting customers to say “yes.”

“But the blessing of it is that it gave me my first real introduction to Curtis,” he said. “I felt like they took something from FuneralOne and put it on steroids – it was amazing to see.”

He ended up having some deep discussions with Funk about salesmanship and gradually came to respect him and Tukios more and more.

When his job at ended, he worked at Coldspring for a stretch, but it was not the right fit.

It was a rough time for Young … nothing was working out.

“I could not see at the time that when a window closes, a door opens,” he said. “It was so devastating for me to lose that job at Coldspring.”

Amid the turmoil, however, he made a smart decision: He picked up the phone and called Curtis Funk.

After making that phone call, he was told he could start at Tukios on Monday – and he’d have six months to reach a certain goal.

And if he did so, he’d be taken off a probationary status of sorts and made a full-time employee, with benefits and all the rewards that go along with being a true member of the team.

“Curtis has kept every promise made to me,” Young said, noting that he hit his target and Funk proved to be a man of his word. “He has never been interested in what he can take from me when I grow a territory but rather with what he can reward me with for growing a territory.”

That’s been a welcome change from what he’s seen from some past employers, who always seemed to want to take as much money away as they could from the little guy to add to their own coffers, Young said.

“There is a lot about Curtis that makes me loyal to him and loyal to the company,” Young said. “Curtis is the best boss I have ever worked for.” He added, “For a person his age to have the kind of influence he does in the funeral space, with the contacts he has … and growing Tukios to be the largest tribute video player is a testament to the type of people he cultivates and to Curtis himself.”

As to what he enjoys most about working at Tukios, Young noted that it’s not the same company it was eight years ago – for one, Pamplona Capital Management, the same company that owns a majority stake in, bought a majority stake in Tukios in 2020. Today, Tukios has about three times as many employees as it did when he joined.

“But the culture has not changed,” he said. “Curtis has not changed. And while the number of employees has grown, the same core group is here. The fact that it is led by Curtis is the reason.”

As long as Funk is at the helm, Young, who once again calls Utah home, said he doesn’t plan to go anywhere and will keep his head down and continue focus on growing Tukios’s business in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Wyoming, British Columbia – and anywhere else his hard work is required as a senior account executive with the company.

Of course, it helps that Funk allows him to have that glorious beard.

“I have always had some form of facial hair,” Young said. “When I first worked at a mortuary, they did not allow a beard of any type, but I had a mustache for several years.” He continued, “At one point the Loewen Group decided it was OK to have a beard, but it had to be neat and short and groomed, and I started a beard then.”

One day, he approached Funk and mentioned that he wanted to grow his beard out … really out. And Funk said he didn’t have a problem with it as long as he kept it groomed.

“That is one of the things I really like about Curtis – he allows people to be themselves,” he said. “We’ve had a few people with long hair, and Curtis had a mullet for a hot minute, although he probably does not want to admit it.”

Young’s beard has brought him a certain amount of notoriety, and it often helps break the ice in conversations with customers. The reactions his beard generates makes him smile while living everyday life as well.

“In fact, I went to a ZZ Top concert last year, and someone asked if they could take their picture with me,” he said. “I said, ‘You know I’m not in the band, right?’ And they still wanted my picture.”

He has even found himself being the model for a company that sells beard products, which Young still finds unbelievable. On top of that, he won “best all-around beard” in a beard competition.

And of course, he’s taken up playing Santa Clause at various events, even selling his wife on the idea of playing Mrs. Clause.

“My wife is not the person to be on show and hates it, but it is well received,” he said of playing Mr. and Mrs. Clause.

Kevin Young and his wife playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

When he goes to various conventions, some people aren’t shy about asking if they can touch his beard, which his co-workers find hilarious, he said.

“There was a lady from China, and she could not leave it alone,” he said of one convention. “She wanted to braid it … it has turned into this cult thing.”

The beard, he said, has paved the way for him to have conversations he would have never otherwise had, and has helped him become a better salesperson – all because he was given the chance to be his authentic self.

As for other beards in the profession he admires, Young singled out David Nixon, president and CEO of Nixon Consulting; and John Feher, senior director of business development at Precoa, as two individuals with stellar beards that deserve the utmost respect.

Moving forward, Young aims to help Tukios continue breaking barriers.

“I am really proud of what we have put together,” he said. “We are working on a lead generation tool to drive business to funeral homes, and I am excited to see that come out pretty soon. We are also working on an AI tool for image enhancements … I am excited about the growth we have ahead of us.”

Kevin Young has embraced his role playing Santa and putting smiles on the faces of children.

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