Worlein receives prestigious award

Published 11:22 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Worlein Funeral Home of Austin has received the 2008 Pursuit of Excellence award from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).

Only 168 funeral homes nationwide and abroad received the prestigious recognition, placing Worlein Funeral Home in an elite group of funeral service professionals.

“What it means,” said Mary Kittelson, “(is) Worlein Funeral Home was recognized for excellent service.

Email newsletter signup

“The National Funeral Directors Association serves 19,500 individual members, who represent more than 10,000 funeral homes within the organization,” she said.

Kittelson is community service director at Worlein Funeral Home and wrote the application to NFDA that earned the Austin funeral home the high honor.

“It was a team effort,” she said. “Everyone had a part in this.”

In order to receive NFDA’s Pursuit of Excellence recognition, funeral homes had to demonstrate proficiency in all facets of funeral home service, according to Kittelson.

The funeral home had to fulfill strict quality service criteria that exemplify commitments to: ethical practices and regulatory compliance; ongoing education and professional development opportunities for staff; outstanding programs and resources to bereaved families; community involvement through participation in volunteer opportunities and sponsorships; professional association participation; and community outreach through a variety of marketing, advertising and public relations programs.

“We had to meet their criteria and to prove to them we had met that criteria through a written application,” she said.

The funeral home learned of the honor in late October from NFDA’s senior executive.

“The Pursuit of Excellence Award Program proves that funeral service excellence is not limited by geographic boundaries,” said NFDA chief executive officer Christine Pepper. “These award-winning firms, no matter their size and location, are dedicated to improving the face of funeral service by going above and beyond the expectations of the families and communities they serve.”

Inside Worlein’s

The attitude of “team effort” permeates Worlein Funeral Home, 1804 Fourth St. N.W.

The team includes Paul Worlein, owner and funeral director, and funeral directors Jim Stough and Mark McGuire; Judy Pryor, office manager; and Sharon Barnes, receptionist.

The ranks of part-time employees includes Duane Dahlback, Stephen DeFor, Neil and Gloria Fedson, Tom Paulson, Bob Weis and Kim Grage.

Kittelson fills an important role as community services director.

She has made grief counseling an “art” with a variety of services to the grieving since arriving at Worlein Funeral Home five years ago.

She has also enhanced the funeral home’s role in the community.

Just recently, all freshmen health class students in the Austin Public School District heard from Kittelson about death and dying.

Then, the students received a tour of the funeral home.

Talk about community outreach, this is an example of it.

The funeral home has also sponsored a grief seminar, “Being Prepared.”

As Kittelson ticks off examples of how the funeral home met the award program’s criteria, one thing is obvious: This funeral home has removed all barriers of all kinds.

Or, as she said, developed “a way for more people to feel more comfortable walking into the funeral home.”

Another focus of the outreach programming is to help people “look at us as a resource,” Kittelson said. “If they have a question about what are their options or what are the costs or what other things are involved, we can answer all those questions.”

Naturally, the funeral home’s continuing care program is a large part of the success enjoyed. Worlein’s assistance doesn’t end with the funeral service — it continues.


Worlein Funeral Home opened its doors in Austin in 1946 with owner Ward Worlein and his wife, Margaret (both deceased).

The funeral home has been located at its present site since 1993.

It’s former downtown site is now “Peace Plaza,” a public park donated by the Worlein family to the city of Austin in 1999.

John and Paul Worlein followed in their father’s footsteps in the funeral home business. Today, it is Paul who speaks for the family and the business that bears the Worlein name.

Paul credited Kittelson with helping fulfill a vision of his father.

Although she attempted to deflect that praise, Worlein said she was hired, in part, to meet a long-time goal.

“My father thought it was important to have a position like this,” he said. “I’ve been here 30 years, and he was here for 50 years and he wanted to have someone who could help before the funeral service and during the service as well as follow-up afterwards.”

But the attitude of “all for one, one for all” has existed at Worlein Funeral Home forever, according Paul.

“Absolutely, this award validates what we have been doing at Worlein Funeral Home since the start,” he said.

Not resting on the NFDA laurels, Worlein Funeral Home is now promoting use of its Web site — www.worleinfuneralhome.com — as a means to pre-plan a funeral.

Still, it’s the personal touch that gives employees the most pride.

“I think our basic feeling is that we are going to treat every family like that’s our family,” Kittelson said. “If we can put ourselves in their position and treat them like family we all will benefit.”