Funeral Service Program's 30th Anniversary
Draws Alumni


Owners and managers of funeral homes throughout the region who graduated from Mercer's Funeral Service program returned to campus in November to help celebrate the program's 30th anniversary.

The alumni came with fond memories of their time at Mercer. After meeting with fellow classmates and enjoying a luncheon, they were escorted by current students on a tour of updated facilities. In recent years Mercer has renovated its classrooms and three-station embalming lab, and recently added a "selection room," which displays caskets and urns.

According to Robert Smith, Funeral Service Program director, about a third of today's students come from a family tradition in the business, and many are career changers. Approximately 25 to 30% of the program's students are over the age of 25, and about 25% enter the program with bachelor's degrees. State licensure requires two years of college.

Ted Ricci of Spotswood, NJ, entered the field after serving as a police officer for 25 years. "I knew I wanted to own my own business, and this fell into place. I have always worked with people." A 2000 Mercer graduate, he now owns two funeral homes. "I enjoyed the program at Mercer. The professors were great," he said.

Alumni Timothy Reeg, Mark Wade, Jeff Callahan, David Chiacchio and Albert Opacity.
Funeral Service Program Director Robert Smith talks with alumnae Liz Carroll and Patrice Juliani.

After a series of career changes, Deb Tolboom, a 1996 graduate, now teaches at Mercer. She began the Funeral Service program after working as a registered nurse and a music director, and began teaching part-time while she worked at a local funeral home. She was surprised to learn how much she enjoyed it. "The teaching really caught me by surprise," she said. "I really enjoy interacting with the students."

Mercer has been attracting students interested in this specialized field from a wide geographical region - Bergen County to Cape May to Eastern Pennsylvania, since 1975. One of only 57 of its kind in the country, and the only one in New Jersey, the program is also one of the most successful. Over the years, graduates taking the national licensing exam for the first time have consistently achieved a pass rate of 90%. Only five schools nationwide show a higher pass rate, according to 2004 statistics.

Students in Mercer's program study a wide range of topics. In addition to classes specific to the field, such as embalming, pathology, restorative art, counseling, microbiology and funeral service, students take classes in business management, marketing and accounting, psychology, chemistry and anatomy. The program accepts body donations for teaching purposes.

In addition to providing students with excellent preparation for the field, Mercer offers a pleasant learning environment. According to Patrice Juliani, a career-changer from the nursing profession who graduated in 2002, "Mercer is the most user-friendly college I have ever been to -- everybody from the people in the kitchen to the library." Juliani, who now works per diem for a funeral home in Philadelphia, plans to switch to full-time after she "retires" from nursing in three years. "I loved being here at Mercer. This was the best."

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