Side trip that lasted 72 years

After nearly 50 years in the funeral business, Mike and Jackie Skroch retired earlier this month and will now settle into a more relaxed life style. Mike’s father bought the Davis Funeral Home in 1950 and it’s been Skroch’s Funeral Chapel ever since.

ML Headrick
Moody County Enterprise

If you’ve lived in the greater Moody County area for more than the past year or so, chances are you’ve encountered the professionalism of Mike and Jackie Skroch.
Whether it was to lay a loved one to rest or to pay respects to another family, most people have been to one of the three Skroch Funeral Chapel sites. Skroch’s has been a Moody County institution for 72 years. And of those years, Mike has played a part for over 50 of them.
Earlier this month, the Skrochs announced the sale of their three funeral homes to Pioneer Enterprises. Locally, they will be managed by Cole and Jessica Wingen. (see related story below)
Pioneer Enterprises, who also owns Eidsness and Rude’s Funeral Homes in Brookings, has no intentions of changing the highly familiar Skroch name.
While they may be gone from the business, the compassion and consideration of Mike and Jackie won’t soon be forgotten. They’ve touched countless families, helping them embrace the fact that dying, is simply a part of living; something we all will experience.
They just seemed to make the process of losing a loved one a bit easier for perhaps thousands of folks.

Family history
The Skroch family came to the area in 1950; maybe via “a little divine intervention.”
Mike’s parents, Roy P. and Mary Skroch, Jamestown, ND natives, were living in Redfield. Roy had accepted a long-term vacancy as a funeral director there while the owners were on a year-long vacation. The local priest asked Roy to drive him to Sioux Falls one day. When they arrived at the corner of Highway 77 and the sign ‘Flandreau’ was pointed east, the priest asked Roy to drive him there so he could visit his friend Father Kelly at Ss Simon and Jude.
During the visit, Father Kelly mentioned to Roy that the three-generation Davis Funeral Home in town was for sale, and he should consider purchasing it.
Mike says Roy told the priest he didn’t even own a car much less have the money to buy a funeral home, so through the determination of Father Kelly and his $1,000 loan, a new era of business was born.
Roy P., Mary and their young daughter Terry moved to Flandreau in October of 1950 and started business.
Mary K. came along shortly after the move and in December of 1951, Mike was born. Three more children would come along, Pat, Jim and Joe, in quick succession.
At the time, Mary was a nurse and Mike said if his father held 20 funerals in a year, it was a lot, meaning they counted on Mary’s nursing income to help feed the family.
Also in those days, local funeral homes were tasked with ambulance services and Mike says that his parents would go on many calls at all hours of the day and night to help pay the bills.
“Roy was a medic in the Navy and with mom being an RN, their knowledge at the ambulance service was invaluable to the community.”

At an age when most boys were mainly thinking of cars, fishing or girls, Mike took an interest in his father’s business and began working with Roy.
“I suppose around 14-16 years old, I started helping dad,” he said, doing various tasks such as lifting, moving and helping with funeral services. It eventually led to more and more and Mike decided he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and serve the community.
“I never really wanted to do anything else,” he said, although he did try.
After graduating from Flandreau High in 1970, he attended South Dakota State University for two years enrolled in the pharmacy program.
“During college one summer, some buddies and I helped build bridges on the Interstate north of Brookings,” he said.
“You know, my dad really never wanted me to be a funeral director,” he said, “but after working on those bridges, I KNEW, I didn’t want to do THAT for a living!”

Jackie moved to town in 1960 when her parents, Dale and Mert Olson, purchased the Coast-to-Coast Store.
She married Mike in February of 1974 and they headed west that fall to attend the California College of Mortuary Science in Los Angeles for a year. (Mike would then complete his year-long apprenticeship at Welter Funeral Home in Huron in 1975.)
At the time he left for California, Mike recalls his dad saying “that if Mike was that serious to head off to mortuary school, he better make sure there was a job for him when he finished.”
That same fall, Roy started the Elkton chapel and after completing his time in Huron, Mike and Jackie moved to Elkton to serve the families there.
They became involved in many community affairs there.
“Elkton is a great place to live,” said Jackie.
“We were in Jaycees and Jaycettes, the Community Club, and coffee clubs,” she added.
As business grew, Mike and Jackie returned to their hometown in 1977, bought a house just a block away from the business and began raising their three children.
One summer, Mike learned of a need in Elkton.
“Elkton needed a band for one of their parades,” he noted. “I told them ‘I can find some old high school friends who will come and march’.”
And the Flandreau Alumni Band was born. They were quite active in their younger years traveling around the greater area, but now like fine wine, the band is brought out mostly for special occasions such as Flandreau All-School reunions.
The addition of the Colman chapel came in 1979. Ellis Thomas, who owned the other Flandreau funeral service at that time, retired and the Skrochs purchased his interests which meant the addition of the Thomas-French Funeral Home in Colman. (Thomas had bought out the French Funeral Home in the 1960s.)
Jackie, who attended Nettleton College, didn’t always work at the chapel; she was employed as a medical assistant at the Flandreau Clinic and did insurance claim work for the Santee Sioux Tribe’s Indian Health Services for many years.

In 1992, she started helping at the chapel with clerical work – writing and typing service folders and filing paperwork.
And after the deaths of Roy P. and Mary – both on January 4, two years apart, 1994 and 1996 – her work load increased.
As the years moved on, funerals have changed.
“We used to hold visitations from 1-9 pm for two or three days,” Jackie says. “It got to be a long, drawn-out time for those families.”
Mike added that he used to spend a lot of time finding “nice” cars along with drivers to bring family members and pallbearers to the cemetery.
“Now everyone drives themselves.”
Over these years, the couple appreciated their part-time employees who came to help when funerals times may overlap on the same day. Some would help at services while others were in the office to answer the phones or be there for a visitation.
They’ve also had many different funeral directors employed and living above the chapel. But for the past year, it’s only been the two of them working full-time.
And as far as the early years of ambulance services, those ceased in the mid 1970s when the now Moody County Ambulance was formed.
“I was very blessed to not have done that,” said Mike referring to the 24-hour ambulance calls to accidents.
But he’s had some rough times during some of the 80-90 funerals a year over the past 47 years.
He, too has grieved as he’s buried family, classmates, friends.
“Oh, it’s a slam dunk.…no question,” he says.
“Funerals for children are the hardest. For the first 20 plus years, Roy took care of the young ones.”
Good times outweigh those as he’s seen many families at what can be the saddest time in their lives, but yet “they keep strong and are the ones who are compassionate and wonderful to be around,” said Mike.
Jackie added that when sitting in the office during visitations and prayer services, she’s overheard many conversations and good stories with laughter, proving that even during a sad time, people can find joy and tell heartfelt stories about the deceased.
“They can be at their worst, but yet still celebrate all the good that person did during their life,” she said.

Looking ahead
What will they do now? The Skrochs say they may travel a bit, will enjoy their family and get to see more of their seven grandchildren’s activities.
Their family includes daughter Natalie Schmidt and husband Ricco and their children Steven, Nathan and Mallorie; son Marty and his son Emmett; and daughter Maren McCleish and husband Tim and their children Mackson, Monroe and Maisie.
They all live within 45 miles of Flandreau and Mike and Jackie plan on shutting off their phones and seeing more music concerts, athletic contests and anything else they can find to do with them.
Jackie will still play her alto clarinet with the Flandreau City Band during the summer months.
Mike noted he doesn’t have any hobbies, most likely since his job required being near the phone all the time never knowing when he would be interrupted.
“I golfed a few times, but it’s hard to get good at something when you go out four times a year,” he quipped.
“We’ll be at the lake. Everyone loves the lake,” he said.
Mike will help transition the new owners to become acquainted with Flandreau, Colman and Elkton. He’ll also assist with the cemetery records in Flandreau as there are no sextons at either Union or the Catholic Cemeteries here.
As for the near future, if someone needs to get ahold of the couple, they can probably find them spending time at their Lake Campbell cabin with friends and family.
Don’t call, though. They may not answer the phone.

** Mark your calendars: The family of Mike and Jackie are hosting a retirement reception for them on Sunday, February 19 from 2-4 pm at the chapel in Flandreau.

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