Amidst the grief of losing his grandmother, Dan Gile and his fiancé Gabby Gruenwald, found an opportunity to serve the people of Flandreau.
Gile and Gruenwald were introduced last August to Mike and Jackie Skroch at the visitation for Gile’s grandmother, Carol Parsley. The Skroch Funeral Chapel owners had been without help for eight months and decided to invite the new couple on board.
Gruenwald, 25, is a licensed funeral director in South Dakota and Minnesota, and previously was an apprentice in her hometown of Redfield. She sees the support of funeral directors and a community at the time of death as an important part of grieving.
“When we pick up a person and bring them into our care, all the way into the burial, it’s a very meaningful job. I really couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” she said.
Her career is part counselor, planner, sales and accountant, graphic artist and scientist that includes listening to family requests, helping them plan a meaningful service and preparing bodies for burial.
“You basically are a leader for a whole community at the worst time in their lives. You step up and guide them through a very important process,” she said.
The Skroch funeral business is 70 years old in Flandreau, a family legacy that was started in 1950 by Mike Scroch’s father, Roy. In 1975, Mike and Jackie Skroch moved back to Flandreau after two years working elsewhere. Mike worked with his dad during the first 20 years of the 45 years since.
The Skrochs were happy to find a younger couple who like small-town living, Mike said. “Anything that comes up, they’re willing to help us out. From our eyes, it’s a good fit.”
Gruenwald is a people-oriented person, a skill needed in the funeral business, and Mike is mentoring her during the early days of her career.
“We probably couldn’t get by without young help. It just has to be,” he said. “We are at the twilight of our career, but we’re not ready to be done with our career yet.”
With two couples sharing the funeral planning workload, everyone can have some time off, too.
“It allows for a very nice balance for each of our personal lives,” said Gile, 33, who grew up in Madison and graduated from Brandon Valley High School and the University of South Dakota with a degree in economics. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He and Gruenwald live in Flandreau and are planning an October wedding in her hometown.
Gile helps with the manual labor of the business, chapel maintenance and travel.
Gruenwald graduated from Northern State University in 2013 with a degree in psychology and a mortuary science degree from Des Moines Area Community College. But she knew at age 16 that she wanted to be a funeral director. Her great grandparents died close together and were the first funerals she had attended for someone close to her.
“The funeral was planned really well, very personalized. I just loved the personalization and how meaningful it was,” she said. She also noticed how her grandmother appreciated help from the funeral director she worked with.
“It was a hard time in her life, and they made it so much easier for her.”
Gruenwald started at Skrochs in February, while her fiancé came earlier to start working. The two have a new standard poodle, named Darcy, and live in space above the funeral chapel.
When COVID-19 started shutting down funeral services after mid-March, work changed and business slowed some, although burials still were happening. Most churches still are closed, Gruenwald said. But their chapel has had visitations, keeping safety in mind by spreading people out and routing people in and out different doors so that they don’t crowd into each other.
Yet without services, people who are grieving still are missing out on the comfort of community, she said.
“You miss a lot of important things that a funeral gives you, which is community support which is a huge one,” she said. “A funeral is saying hello on the way to goodbye.”