This week marks my 20th Work Anniversary at ASD as the Public Relations Specialist, the person behind ASD’s social media content, blogs, and articles. For those who have never met me, which are probably most of you because I typically like to stay behind the scenes, my name Jessica (Jess) Farren (Fowler) and I began working at ASD as a 17-year-old way back in October 2003.
While I usually prefer celebrating others’ achievements over my own, I felt it important to acknowledge the incredible support I’ve received from this company, both personally and professionally, throughout the past two decades. Reflecting on this brought to mind some of the incredible memories I have had working here. My journey began as a Call Specialist, back when I was a high school student eager to get away from working in fast food. Little did I know that ASD would become the foundation of my career, spanning 20 years and counting.
Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of meeting remarkable individuals who have become like family. Writing has always been my passion, and ASD has provided the platform to transform that passion into a fulfilling profession. The world of funeral directors has continually fascinated me, offering an abundant source of inspiration for my writing. I feel privileged to use my skills to shed light on the issues affecting the lives of funeral professionals. I’m also profoundly grateful to be part of a profession filled with compassionate and caring individuals.
Now, I am not one you would ever call self-important. Of the hundreds of blogs on this page, I think maybe four of them have been written in the first person. Writing about myself isn’t something I do very often. In fact, I will probably second-guess myself about 100 times while drafting this up. I don’t usually feel comfortable making myself the subject of anything I write. However, I decided to make an exception for this significant milestone as I wanted an excuse to reminisce about the remarkable moments I’ve experienced during my two decades at this workplace. More than anything else, I think what these memories reveal is what an incredibly rare and rewarding work environment I’ve been fortunate enough to grow within and how lucky I am to have the support of my ASD family.
So, without any further exposition, here are my 20 favorite memories from working at ASD these past 20 years.
1. High School bragging rights
One of my favorite memories of ASD occurred before I even began working here. It was back in 2003 when I got to tell all my co-workers at Wendys, some of whom I liked and some of whom I definitely did not, that I would be moving on to greener pastures. I remember being in my senior year of high school and while all of my friends were making minimum wage in food service, I had managed to secure a job that paid $4 more an hour and didn’t require me to come home with French fry grease covering my skin. Although it was easier to get hired at ASD back then, I was the only high school student working there at the time since you still needed to be a quick learner, a fast typist, and possess a level of emotional intelligence that most 17 year olds do not have. Even back in 2003, you still had to take several qualifying tests to get hired. Many of my friends applied to work there but did not make the cut, and I remember feeling that I stumbled upon something special that would pave the way for my future success.
2. Training with my sister
As I mentioned above, everyone who worked at ASD had to pass a series of tests, but the company has always favored referrals from current employees when hiring, a characteristic unique to the ASD’s family-owned culture. Over the years, numerous family members have worked together at ASD. My sister was an employee before me and played a crucial role in my journey, not only guiding me through interview preparations but also being my primary mentor in call handling (along with others who still work here like Renee Mancer and Sue Fritz). Though she has since pursued a successful career as a homecare nurse, I hold dear those times we worked side by side. I will forever appreciate her for providing me the opportunity to join ASD. It’s somewhat rare to have the chance to work with a family member, such as a sibling, parent, child, spouse, or cousins. However, ASD actively promotes and embraces familial collaboration in the workplace, fostering a unique and supportive environment for such experiences.
3. The Glen-Olden Days
Last year when ASD celebrated our company’s 50th Anniversary, it gave me the opportunity to revisit some old photographs from what we refer to as the Glen-olden days. Before ASD expanded its operations and moved to our current company headquarters in Media, our company’s entire Operations was housed on the second floor of a twin house located in Glenolden, PA. To say it was a different work atmosphere is a bit of an understatement. You could yell across the room and tell someone, “don’t reach that funeral director, I have him on the line.” Notes were routinely passed. Stations were separated by doodle-filled cork boards. A certain supervisor who shall remain nameless enjoyed putting notes on people’s backs before they walked across the street to the Subway restaurant.
Granted, we may have been slightly less professional in those days, but we all still did our jobs well and enjoyed a wonderful camaraderie. I worked in the Glenolden building from 2003 until we moved in 2006 While many of my co-workers from that time have pursued other opportunities, we’ve maintained our friendships, and a good number of them are still part of ASD. Every now and then we will reminisce about those wild Glen-olden days.
4. College Years
If working at ASD was a great job during high school, it transformed into the ultimate job during college. Everything about the Call Specialist position is ideal for college students. First and foremost, the company provides tuition reimbursement which was immensely helpful in allowing me to peruse my academic goals. Secondly, the level of flexibility offered significantly eased my college experience. I could tailor my work schedule to 24 hours per week during intense study periods, and during less demanding periods, I had the option to take on additional hours. During the middle of my college journey, I successfully transitioned from second shift to the first shift at ASD by coordinating hours with fellow employees. I can’t emphasize enough how this flexibility greatly contributed to my success in college. As a result, I graduated magna cum laude with a Communication degree from Temple University in 2009.
5. Finding opportunities for best friends
As I mentioned before, ASD has always put strong emphasis on employee referrals when hiring and this gave me the opportunity to help others the same way my sister helped me. One of my oldest friends, Tina Boyle, started working at ASD just a few years after me. We often laugh about how she told me she was pregnant with her first child by writing it down on a piece of paper and holding it up while we were both working. Tina remains employed with ASD today and was recently promoted to our Customer Service team which made me so happy for her. Another good friend of mine from college who worked at ASD with me for a number of years was Shane Toogood. He has since moved on to other opportunities, but he was instrumental in helping ASD to establish its dedicated customer service team and we had so many great times together while working together. You can still find him popping by an ASD event from time to time to which he is always met with a chorus of, “Shane we missed you!”
6. Meeting my husband
2010 was a bit of a rollercoaster year for me personally and it was also a challenging year for me on a professional level as I was very ambivalent about the best career path for me. I began working full-time hours at ASD while seeking out other employment opportunities, and during this time I met a man at ASD who would later become my husband. We often talk about how our very first interaction was him walking through the door on his first day, feeling a bit nervous, and me giving him a friendly greeting from our receptionist area. While I was one of ASD’s lead trainers at the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy training, and Sean has the distinction of being the only person whom I ever volunteered to train without being asked. I never took to anyone so fast, and he made me laugh like no one else could. Sean worked with me at ASD from 2010 until he moved on to a different company in 2012. I have a lot of great memories of working at ASD but those days will always be especially precious to me.
7. Promotion to Sales
In 2011, I was actively pursuing new career opportunities and interviewing for positions at different companies. At the time, I did not believe my future was with ASD as I had been answering calls for more than 8 years and while doing that job part-time during school was a good fit, I did not want it to become my full-time career. It was around this time that ASD family-member owner, Kevin Czachor, approached me about doing some freelance writing for the Sales department. I did not know it at the time, but one of my managers had recommended me for the role, mentioning my college degree and love of writing. I began working in the Sales department a few hours every week and drafted up several pieces that would become the first blogs on our website.
Right off the bat, I felt a strong affinity for the role—it was a completely novel position at ASD that allowed me to blend my writing skills with my extensive understanding of the funeral profession, acquired from eight years of answering calls. Soon after, I adopted a hybrid work schedule. By year-end, I had seamlessly transitioned into a full-time role in sales and marketing. I will always appreciate Sharon Batten for suggesting me for this opportunity and Kevin Czachor for recognizing the potential I could bring to the sales team. Having a company create a new position that didn’t exist previously specifically for you is a true recognition of your expertise and the value you bring to the organization.
8. Hurricane Irene sleepover
Before Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) made it possible for employees to work remotely from their homes, ASD really had to think outside of the box to ensure funeral homes had telephone protection through major weather events. Throughout the course of the 8 years I had worked at ASD we had dealt with many blizzards, most of which required ASD’s owners and other staff who had 4-wheel drive to transport employees to and from their homes and the office. However, a major hurricane was a different beast and ASD’s owners tackled it head on. In the days leading up to Hurricane Irene’s arrival that last weekend of August 2011, they filled multiple fridges with food, set up air mattresses and instructed staff to sleep over night so we could be in the office to help our clients. They were also exceedingly generous in compensating staff that slept over. That night, the window howled outside but our local area was largely unaffected. ASD ended up being fully staffed that Sunday morning and I remember sitting in my PJs in the office writing my very first press release about it. I like looking back on it because it was such a crazy, surreal and also triumphant moment in our company’s history.
9. First article published
In the 12 years I have worked as ASD’s Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer, I have penned probably close to forty articles that have been published in trade journals. Like many things in life though, the first one is always the most special. The article topic was centered around burnout and compassionate fatigue, a subject that is just as relevant today as it was back then. You know how people sometimes talk about how, when you are on the right path, there will be signs leading the way to encourage you. Every stage of writing that first article felt like a giant billboard telling me, “this is exactly what you are supposed to be doing.”
I will never forget my first article interview with funeral director, Thomas Gale of Currie Funeral Home. The man literally spoke in perfect quotes. I could not have imagined a more perfect interview personality. (Here’s a sample quote “We take better care of our cars than we take care of ourselves. If you see a blinking red light in your car, you’re going to pull off the road to get it serviced. Yet, we have warning signs go off in our lives all the time, but we keep driving until we have a major crash.”) I also interviewed a kind gentleman named Timothy O’Brien who later became a mentor and friendly penpal to me during the first few years of my career. My article, titled Battling Burnout – How Funeral Directors Find Peace In The Midst Of Chaos was accepted for publication in The Director, the first trade journal I submitted it to. Within a month, two other articles I wrote were accepted by different publications.
10. Juan joins the sales team
In 2012, a new graphic designer joined our team. Juan and I hit it off right from the start and together we elevated ASD’s marketing efforts to new heights. The level of trust we have in one another’s abilities is really crucial to our ability to meet goals. I value my relationship with everyone on our sales team, but in terms of someone being a true collaborative partner, I found that in Juan. I truly believe that without Juan, I wouldn’t achieve even a fraction of what I do. Our work styles and skills complement each other so well I am very grateful he was the one who filled that important role on our team.
11. The Moshulu Party
In 2014, ASD hosted a cocktail party for members of Selected Independent Funeral Homes who were traveling to our local area for a conference. It was decided the party would be held at the Moshulu which is, for those that aren’t from the Philadelphia, a ridiculously fancy restaurant housed in the world’s oldest and largest four-masted tall ship. It’s the type of place you don’t typically get to go to unless you are planning to propose marriage to someone. Having the opportunity to spend a night there with my wonderful co-workers and some awesome funeral directors was a dream come true and a check off my bucket list. My only regret is not taking any photos that night, but I think I must have been too awestruck.
12. The 2015 NFDA Convention
From 2012-2019 I attended every NFDA Convention. While there were special memories at all of them, my favorite one of all has to be the 2015 NFDA Convention in Indianapolis. From all of us being in attendance when we won the 2015 NFDA Innovation Award to debuting our brand new booth to the incredible food at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse (best meal of my life), I just really enjoyed this one a little more than the rest although it just barely edged out some honorable mentions below.
Honorable mentions: The 2014 NFDA Convention in Nashville when we had an adorable therapy dog hanging out at our booth, the 2016 NFDA Convention in Philadelphia when we hosted a cocktail party that many of our employees were able to attend, and the 2017 NFDA Convention in Boston when we got to hang out with actor Daniel Roebuck while he was promoting Getting Grace.
13. Growing ASD’s Social Media & Presenting at MKJ Marketing’s Social U Conference
In 2011, I began the process of establishing social media accounts for ASD after creating our company blog. There was no real guidebook to follow– it was very much learn as you go. Fast forward to February 2016 when ASD’s Facebook page reached more than 10,000 followers, becoming the most liked social media page in the funeral profession. Today, we have more than doubled this number. I am very proud of this accomplishment and I thoroughly enjoy engaging online with funeral professionals and those interested in learning more about the work they do. I firmly believe the primary reason our page has struck a chord with a larger audience of death care professionals is the genuine human touch. Behind the page, there’s a real person dedicated to curating and creating content that we believe resonates and captivates our audience, setting us apart from automated bots or agency-run profiles.
If you know me, you’re aware that public speaking isn’t my forte. I’ve often mentioned that I can articulate my thoughts much better through writing than speaking and facing a room full of people isn’t where I shine. I’m more of a sit in the dark alone and write kind of gal. However, in 2016, I had to confront this fear when I was asked to speak at MKJ Marketing’s Social U Conference as part of a social media panel. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t filled with dread leading up to this, but it turned out to be an excellent opportunity for me to step outside of my comfort zone. The purpose of the presentation was to share all I had gleaned from managing ASD’s social media. Despite my introverted nature, I knew I possessed a wealth of valuable information to impart to others. I really enjoyed the time we spent with the funeral directors who attended the conference, and I appreciated the efforts made by the MKJ team, especially Courtney Gould Miller, to make me feel more at ease while stretching my boundaries.
14. Creating Awareness about the Opioid Epidemic
In 2017, I wrote a personal essay that examined how an overdose death can create barriers for healing and complicate the grief process. I lost my father to an overdose when I was 19 and wanted to help bring attention to this subject through my writing. ASD’s owners were incredibly supportive of this personal mission that was deeply important to me and in the months that followed they also encouraged me to create a resource list to help families who had been impacted by a substance abuse death.
Since it was published, the blog has been visited more than 40,000 times. I also receive more emails in response to this post than any other blog published on our website. Most of the emails come from people who have lost someone close to them to an overdose and want to connect with someone who has experienced a similar loss or to find a grief therapy group. They will often tell me how my blog made them feel less alone in their grief, which in turn helps me with my own. I do believe it is the most impactful piece of writing I have ever authored, and I am immensely proud of it.
15. My Wedding Day
My husband and I officially tied the knot on October 6, 2017. During my wedding reception, my sister delivered a toast that mentioned the early days of our relationship and how we first met, referring to it as “a true ASD love story.” At that moment, the table in the banquet hall that was filled with my ASD co-workers gave a loud cheer. This was just one of many unforgettable moments from that day which me feel so grateful to have them all there beside me to celebrate such an important milestone in my life.
16. ASD’s 2017 Christmas Luncheon
Every year I look forward to our annual Christmas luncheon when we call come together to celebrate ASD’s achievements over the previous year. In 2017, the Czachor family added a special touch to this event by recognizing our long-serving colleagues with a meaningful milestone award. This gesture of acknowledgment meant a great deal to all of us, adding depth and significance to our celebration.
17. The McCune Mansion Cocktail Party
In the fall of 2018, I channeled my inner NFL cheerleader during an Eagles game, attempting some high-flying moves in my kitchen. My foot, however, had different plans and decided to stage a solo act by breaking a bone. This resulted in me attending the 2018 NFDA Convention in Salt Lake City wearing a stabilizing shoe. Needless to say, I was not the fastest person on our team walking around the convention center that year, but it helped that everywhere I went there was friendly face telling me I was a trooper. Plus, there was no way I was going to miss our cocktail party event I had helped to plan and promote.
ASD’s Client Cocktail Party at McCune Mansion should have been a rough night for me. I mean, there were three stories you had to climb to fully explore that house, and as a history buff I really wanted to see everything. However, despite my injury, the magic of that night (and the open bar) kept me from experiencing even a moment of discomfort. I had so much fun hanging out with co-workers and clients exploring the old mansion, pouring drinks down the ice sculpture luge, and leading everyone up to see the spectacular sunset that my broken foot became nothing more than a good party story. In the photo above if you look closely you can see my stabilizing shoe, but the smile on my face is 100% genuine. Broken foot or not, this was an absolutely flawless evening.
18. Becoming a mom
A few months before the pandemic shut down our country, I found out I was expecting my first child. There are a lot of things to fear when you’re pregnant for the first time in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, but one thing I never had to worry about was losing the support of my employer. I remember hearing family members and friends of mine who worked for corporately owned companies telling me about the lack of compassion and understanding they were encountering at their jobs. I can recall how the pregnancy message boards were filled with story after story from women who were forced to put themselves at risk during their pregnancies because of their unsympathetic employers. I feel truly blessed to work for a company that not only encouraged me to work safely from home but went out of their way to show they cared about me throughout my pregnancy despite all of the pandemic challenges. On July 22nd, 2020 I gave birth to my daughter, Jade Mary. My ASD family has remained a constant source of strength and reassurance as I transitioned into my life as a new mom.
19. ASD Food Truck Events
In recent years, as remote work became the norm due to the pandemic, ASD’s managers stepped up to organize delightful food truck gatherings, bringing our workforce together for some delicious food. I eagerly anticipate these events, enjoying the chance to reconnect with colleagues I’ve known for years, despite not seeing them as often these days. What makes it even more special is the inclusive invitation to bring our families along. During the last Food Truck event just last month, watching my daughter bond and play with other kids was incredibly heartwarming. It serves as a touching reminder of how family-friendly this company truly is, reaffirming my affection for my job. Although now, it seems like every day my daughter is asking, “Can we go to mommy’s work?”
20. Our 50th Anniversary Cocktail Party
We marked our company’s milestone 50th Anniversary with an incredible bash that many people are still talking about. It’s hard to pick a favorite ASD gathering but this one definitely tops the list. From the string quartet’s soaring melodies, to the museum style panels displaying our company history, to the picturesque outside harbor area, this party truly had it all. We even hired an actress to pretend to be one of our 70s-era Call Specialists (not to mention shipping the giant old computer station from our office to the venue!) The best part? Since the 2022 NFDA Convention took place in Baltimore, we were able to bus a good number of our long-time employees so they could take part in the celebrations also. The night was an absolute blast, one of those memories that will stay with me forever. (Let’s just skip over the details of that wild bus ride back home though, shall we?)
Thank you for coming along with me on this journey down memory lane. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and much as I enjoyed writing it and reliving all of these wonderful times. Thank you to everyone who works with me at ASD for supporting me over these past 20 years. Here’s to 20 more!
ASD Turns 50: A Timeline of Our Company’s History
Operations Manager, Sharon Batten, Celebrates 30 Years with ASD
ASD’s Longest-Tenured Employee, Bill D’Orazio, to Retire After 50 Years of Remarkable Service