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Article: Richard Traunero on How Funeral Directors Can “Fly for a Cause”

Jun 02, 2015

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the Funeral Pro Chat podcast with Richard Traunero about how funeral directors can “fly for a cause”, a portion of the interview was published in American Funeral Director. Both a humantarian and animal lover, Richard volunteers his time and private plane to help people and animals in need. He works with Angel Flight and Lifeline Pilots, human compassionate groups that help patients and families travel to treatment or diagnosis locations free of charge. Richard also volunteers for Pilots N Paws which helps animals in danger of euthanization by transporting them to foster or forever homes in other locations.In this podcast interview, Richard talks to Nancy Burban and ASD Public Relations Specialist, Jessica Fowler, about the relationship between funeral service and volunteer work.

Funeral Pro Chat is a new podcast series where funeral professionals discuss funeral trends, news and customs. The goal of Funeral Pro Chat is to inform and enlighten funeral professionals on a range of subjects that interest them. American Funeral Director will periodically provide edited excerpts from the podcasts to spur the discussion on topical issues affecting the industry. Funeral Pro Chat is now also available on iTunes.

Funeral service, it’s not a job, it’s a calling.

Nancy Burban and Jessica Fowler chat with Richard Traunero about how he uses his piloting skills to help patients and animals.
Nancy: I’m Nancy Burban and I’m here with my Co-Host Jessica Fowler from ASD. Today we are chatting with a funeral director, Richard Traunero from Tiffin, Ohio. Richard will explain why funeral directors don’t always need to keep both feet on the ground.
Richard: Thank you Nancy and Jessica. That was an interesting comment.
Nancy: I was referring to your avocation; flying. You are not only a funeral director but a licensed pilot and past president of the Flying Funeral Director of America. In addition you’re involved as an Angel Flight Pilot, a volunteer pilot for Pilots N Paws and Lifeline Pilots.
Richard: I do love to fly. My wife and I also run a family run funeral home in Tiffin, Ohio. We have owned and operated it since 1996. The business has been in operation since 1900.
Nancy: Thanks Richard. That’s very impressive. Now Jessica would like to discuss with you how funeral directors can “fly for a cause.”
Jessica: Funeral Director. Volunteer. Pilot. Animal Lover. Humanitarian. All these words describe Rich Traunero. When did you become a pilot Rich?
Richard: I started flying back in 1992. It is something that I had always thought about doing and one Christmas my father in law gives me a 100 dollar bill, and said go and start flying lessons. That was what I needed to do and I received my pilot’s license five months later and bought a plane and just really started having a really good time with that. As a funeral director I did not have a lot of spare time. I do not golf; I do not have a lot of other hobbies, so flying helped me to fill some of that time when I wanted to kind of get away from things. It is a great way for us to take family vacations and do some travelling and a really fun activity for me to share with my family.
Jessica: Absolutely. And what was the first humanitarian group that you joined and why?
Richard: I received a card from a group called Angel Flight and it described their organization. Angel Flight is a humanitarian organization that connects patients with pilots to fly these patients to get a medical diagnosis or treatment. It is for patients who have no other way to get to a medical facility. Most of these patients are at the end of their rope – financially and emotionally – and they need help to travel to get treatment. Angel Flight helps them do this. As an Angel Flight pilot, we volunteer all of our time, our services, flying, our fuel, all of the expenses – there is no cost to the patient whatsoever – and we fly them to where they need to be. It is a very rewarding thing to do. It enables me to use my flying capabilities to help a person, which mirrors what I do in funeral service. Of course being a funeral director is all about helping people and this was another way that I could help people, in a way that maybe not so many others around this area could.
Jessica: Interesting. Now I know that you also help animals through the Pilots N Paws organization. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with that group?
Richard: Yes, I was flying for Angel Flight and then I came across Pilots N Paws. It is a similar type organization that helps animals. We help animals who are in danger of being euthanized. In the south there are a lot of animal shelters that are called ‘kill shelters’ that are overrun with animals and they do not hesitate to euthanize them because they have no other alternative. So Pilots N Paws was started by a lady, who was very active in rescuing dogs and she had a friend who was a pilot and they came up with this idea. It is modelled after the Angel Flight model. There is a website that we can go to and see if there is a need to get an animal from, a kill shelter to a foster home or to be adopted-a ‘forever home’. Sometimes there is someone who will adopt an animal into their home but they have no way of getting them because it is so far away. We primarily deal with dogs but it is really open to any animal – I have transported some cats and I know of others that have transported snakes and rabbits and even there was one case where there was an American Bald Eagle who was rescued from a wildlife refuge and there were some pilots that got involved in transporting that eagle.
Jessica: That is really neat. It is interesting to think, that you can also help endangered animals, in addition to dogs and cats.
Richard: It is interesting and it can be very overwhelming when you realize the number of animals that are euthanized every year. I get questions from people saying ‘well you are transporting one dog, saving one dog, but there are so many others that are not going to make it. Is it really worth it?’ My response to that is simply I will save as many as I can, one at a time, and that is the best I can do. Every pilot has that same philosophy and maybe we cannot save them all but we will save as many as we can.
Jessica: It’s such a worthy cause. There are areas in the country where there are kill shelters, whereas there are others areas where there are people that want to adopt more animals, so it definitely makes sense to have something available that can transport them. Who covers the expenses for those organizations? They must be costly.
Richard: Flying is not cheap and it can be costly. Pilots N Paws is the same as Angel Flight in that we cover all the expenses that are involved. On the other hand, both of these organizations are 501C3 charitable organizations recognized by the Internal Revenue Service so as a result of that, the pilot does get a charitable contribution of those expenses. So I can take the expenses we incur and deduct them as a charitable contribution. It is a nice addition to the benefits of doing it, but it certainly is not the primary reason why I do it.
Jessica: Richard, it is really inspiring how you help patients and animals. Have you always been interested in both funeral service and piloting?
Richard: I have wanted to be a funeral director since I was 12 years old. It just struck me as something I would like to do. As I got older and looked into other occupations I always came back to funeral service because that was what I always wanted to do. I finished school and worked in two different funeral homes. Then back in ‘96, I was able to return to my hometown and purchase the funeral home that had always served our family. It was kind of a homecoming for me. I always enjoyed the level of satisfaction that I get from helping people, some of whom I grew up with. Then when I got the card from Angel Flight, the light bulb went off and I thought this is a way I could use my flying skills to help people, like I help people in the funeral home. I guess it gives me an excuse to fly, and I can help people while still doing something that I enjoy doing, piloting a plane. It is just it is a win/win for everybody, so the two go hand in hand.
Nancy: Richard, can you share some the benefits for funeral directors that these groups provide around their shared passions?
Richard: I get a great deal of satisfaction helping people in the funeral home as well as helping people flying the Angel Flights and transporting the animals. There is just a great benefit from helping people. And if you have a passion for helping people, I think that shows and people appreciate that. There is a common characteristic amongst funeral directors to want to help people in any way that they can. And this is my way.
Nancy: I agree. Do you have a story that you would like to share with us?
Richard: Well there is one flight that is just near and dear to my heart. We had a young girl in our town who was suffering from neuroblastoma. She was the daughter of good friends of ours and we had followed her journey through this illness for several years. I transported her back and forth from Philadelphia Children’s Hospital back here to Tiffin several times as a patient. When she did pass away in Philadelphia, my last mission was to fly to Philadelphia and bring her back to Tiffin for her funeral, at our funeral home. We were very close to that family and that was something that I just will never forget and that is one of the sadder stories I can share.
On a happier note, I have to go back to the animals and I have had so much fun transporting the dogs because they always seem to know that you are helping them. More than once I would be flying the plane home and turn around and get a big sloppy kiss on my cheek from a big German shepherd. They always know that you are trying to help them and the dogs always love to show their appreciation. It is amazing what these animals can do for you and how it makes you feel. There are plenty of stories out there and they are all good.
Nancy: Great stories. Thanks for sharing these with us today.
Jessica: Yes, thank you Richard, you provided a lot of great information on how to combine funeral service with charitable work.
Nancy: Richard, how would you like to share your contact info?
Richard: I am always available through my website which is You can also visit the websites for Angel Flight or Pilots N Paws.
Nancy: And thank you Jessica. How can people contact you?
Jessica: I can be reached at or call 800-868-9950.
Nancy: You can contact me on Facebook or the Funeral Pro Chat page.

Click here to listen to the full Podcast and hear the interview in it’s entirety.

Funeral Pro Chat is a production of Burban Turner Media

© Nancy Burban 2014

About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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