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Funeral Director Johnnie Palmer Traces Career Success to Thorough MCCC Education


West Windsor, N.J. – After working in the funeral service field for 23 years, alumnus Johnnie L. Palmer Sr., ’95 (A.S., Funeral Service) says he still gets tremendous satisfaction from his work.

“I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve families and to hear the kind words they say after I have helped them during their time of loss,” he explains.

Palmer says he was drawn to the field as an adult student because he thought it would provide a steady living.  “In my community, the funeral director was one of the most successful people.  As I became entrenched in funeral service, however, I discovered that money was a by-product. I developed a love for the field.”

Palmer chose Mercer because it offered the only accredited program in the state, a distinction it has to the present day.  He earned his Associate of Science degree in Funeral Service Prep and a Certificate of Proficiency in Funeral Service.

Funeral Director Johnnie Palmer '95

At the time, the program was directed by Robert Smith, who retired in December, 2013.  Palmer says his education was comprehensive, relevant and enriching.  During his final year he was elected class president.

“Professor Smith and the other faculty members made sure we were prepared for our certification exams, including the national board exam and the state licensing exam. After graduating, I was one of the first in my class to become a licensed practitioner of mortuary science.”

According to Palmer, an invaluable component of his education was the practical experience he gained through a required internship at a local funeral home. “Students spent Tuesdays and Thursdays in the funeral home.  Because I was an adult learner, I worked at the funeral home full-time. I was able to schedule my classes around my work schedule. I was fortunate because my employer was very supportive and she made concessions for my education,” he recalls.

Palmer entered the funeral business as a director’s assistant and has since served as the director for independent funeral homes and in management at corporate funeral homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He recently relocated to Baltimore to work for Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Services, where he is responsible for meeting with families to arrange ceremonies for client families’ deceased loved ones and to direct their services. He now holds licenses to practice mortuary science in all three states.

While Palmer says his MCCC education – a combination of theory, technical training and a hands-on internship – was the foundation for his career success, he has not given up the pursuit of knowledge and is on the brink of completing his second master’s degree.

“My wife calls me a full-time student,” he says, noting that he enrolled in college in 1983 and then interrupted his education to work full-time. But since enrolling at Mercer, Palmer has barely stopped being a student, even as he has continued to grow in his career.

“My heart’s desire was to complete what I had started,” he says.

In December 2000, Palmer enrolled in Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Bible and Christian leadership. He continued his education at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, completing his Master of Arts in Theology. Shortly, he will be complete an M.B.A. from Strayer University.

Palmer says his schooling has helped tremendously. “My bachelor’s degree in Christian leadership helped to expand my leadership skills as a funeral director. For many years in funeral service, I relied on my faith, and I viewed the work that I was doing as a ministry. The sharing of my faith at a time of loss has helped me provide a more caring and sensitive approach to funeral service.”

Palmer says that as he continued up the management ladder, his business training has enhanced his understanding of the funeral business, along with the demands of management. Most recently, he finished a course that provided a greater understanding of the manager's “emotional IQ,” noting that “as a manager, you must have skills to control your emotions and influence others in a positive way.  It is a continual challenge.”

Palmer advises current students to think hard about their career direction. “Take some time for a reality check, especially if you are in funeral service education. The work of the funeral director is not for everyone,” he observes.

He also advises patience and persistence. “It takes time to reach your goal, but the struggle will pay off. You will not complete the program today and become an instant success. You must pay your dues. One of my mantras over the years is ‘persistence overcomes resistance.’ If you are willing to put the time in and make the investment, you will see a positive return.”

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