2009 Alumni Leader Awardee Les Venella
Brings Compassion to Funeral Services


WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- Childhood experiences and memories often influence our career choices. For Les Venella, whose mother died when he was just nine years old, the compassion and help that a funeral director gave to his family made a lasting impression. When Venella had the opportunity to work as a teen during the summer for a nearby funeral home, he was happy to do so.

When it came time to make a decision about college funeral service programs, Venella said it was Mercer's required on-the-job internship training two days per week that sold him on the program. "The last thing you want is for somebody to spend three years in college and then start to work in the field and realize it's not for them," he said. Mercer's Funeral Service program was in its infancy, and Venella graduated from the program's first class in 1976. He immediately began his career at Saul Funeral Homes, where today he serves as president.

Alumnus Les Venella

Venella is a booster of MCCC in a variety of ways. Saul Funeral Homes, with four area locations in Hamilton Square, Trenton, Cranbury and Hightstown, has continuously employed Mercer students and graduates over the years. Right now, eight of the company's 10 funeral directors are Mercer graduates, and two students are trainees. "Mercer grads have worked out great," he says.

Venella serves on MCCC's Funeral Service Advisory Board, helping to ensure its relevance to the field. He counts Funeral Service Program Coordinator Rob Smith as a colleague and friend. "Rob has done an outstanding job with the program, keeping it at the highest level of academics. When compared with other funeral service schools in the country, Mercer is always near the top. That is specifically a credit to Rob's leadership."

Deb Tolboom, a Funeral Service faculty member, is also well known to Venella, having worked at Saul Funeral Homes when she was a student at Mercer in the 1990s. "I actually pictured Deb teaching," Venella said. "Teaching was in her blood. She is extremely gifted and does an awesome job."

Very active in professional and community service, Venella is treasurer of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, and is past president. He has served on the National Funeral Directors Association Advisory Board. He is a member of the Hamilton Township Rotary Club, the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, and the Mercer County Networking Group. Over the past five years he has participated in the Hamilton Township Meals on Wheels program. "You have to get involved and give back to the community that gives to you," he said.

Being selected for Mercer's "Alumni Leader Award" came as a surprise to Venella. "I was taken aback," he said. "I am very honored."

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