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Olivia Farrell, Trailblazer in Arkansas Publishing

Lance Turner of Arkansas Business

Listen to Learn:

  • How a controversial cover of the Arkansas Times launched her career in journalism
  • The "5-legged-stool" management philosophy
  • Why single mothers make excellent employees
  • The "Power of the Purse"
  • Why Farrell sold ABPG

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Olivia Farrell graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and began her publishing career in 1978, joining the Arkansas Writers Project as part of the ad sales department at the Arkansas Times. She was among the founders of Arkansas Business in 1984 and Southern magazine in 1986.

In 1984, she was honored in New York by the National Council of Women of the United States as a Young Achiever, one of six young women in the country achieving exceptional success at a young age. She was the first woman from Arkansas to receive this honor. In May 1985, she was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine’s 100th anniversary issue as one of the “100 Young Women of Promise” and the only woman from Arkansas to be included.

In 1995, she became CEO and principal owner of the newly formed Arkansas Business Publishing Group, which has been honored with more than 115 national and local awards for outstanding journalism, publication and website design, and excellence in publishing and web development.

From 1995 to 1999, she created a publication featuring the top 100 women in Arkansas and their accomplishments. In 1998, this publication led to co-founding the Arkansas Women’s Foundation with Pat Lile.

In 2012, Gov. Mike Beebe presented her with the Distinguished Citizen Award. As of February 2019, she has retired from ABPG.




Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com

EPISODE 185

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it’s time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.

[EPISODE]

[00:00:34] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. My guest today is Ms. Olivia Farrell, the self-taught publisher and CEO of the award-winning weekly journal, Arkansas Business. Under Olivia’s leadership, this business journal that she cofounded in 1984 grew to become a publishing conglomerate of roughly 30 title publications across two states. To better represent her expanding business, Olivia broaden the company name to Arkansas business publishing group. Under this diverse business model, she grew the company revenues from 100 – Are you ready? To $8 million and over 70 employees. Last year, Ms. Farrell did what I know must have been hard and sold her baby, Arkansas Business Publishing Group, to her savvy employee and maybe her biggest fan, Mitch Bettis. Together they share the business ethics of a family friendly workplace, honorable business relationships, factual reporting and service to others. Speaking to that, Olivia in 1998 cofounded with Ms. Pat Lyle the Arkansas Women’s Foundation, which works to ensure economic security for Arkansas women and girls.

Today we’re going to hear Ms. Ferrell’s story, a single mom with two children who broke rules and glass ceilings, first, by appearing on the 1977 Arkansas Times Magazine cover, living it up in high-style edition with a lit joint to becoming CEO and owner of Arkansas Business Publishing Group. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table the uniquely instinctive business woman who makes no excuses for her gender and has won many first-time women success awards, Ms. Olivia Ferrell.

[00:02:27] OF: Thank you so much, Kerry. I’m so delighted to be here.

[00:02:31] KM: Well, I’ll just tell everybody that I’ve been trying to get you on, and I called you last year, because you sold your business in February of 2019 and I called you up. We’re just talking about this before the show. And I said, “Oh, Olivia, you got to come on, tell your story.” And you said, “I’m not doing anything for one year.” And at one year I called you back and said, “Here we are.”

And also before this show, we talked about how you and I’s paths have been so parallel that yet we never really met each other. I mean, we knew about each other, but we never really met each other prior to today, which I think think is interesting.

[00:03:04] OF: Actually, I did meet you once at Flag & Banner. You probably don’t remember this, because you were busy running –

[00:03:10] KM: Flag & Banner.

[00:03:11] OF: Yeah. I was buying some flags, and I didn’t meet you there. But that’s been a hundred years ago.

[00:03:18] KM: Yeah. Let’s start at the beginning of your life. In one article, I read – And I don’t know which is right. I read you’re a political science major. And then in another, I read you are a bachelor’s degree in history and English. So which is it?

[00:03:31] OF: Well, I was a political science major and then I decided, “You know, finishing college is going to be hard,” and I love to read. So why don’t I finish up with my English literature degree? And it just ended up that I had enough credit to get also a history. So it really was English and history.

[00:03:48] KM: Oh. So you’re everything. Just everything.

[00:03:51] OF: Yeah.

[00:03:51] KM: Nowhere did I read that you studied journalism. So what were your plans when you were –

[00:03:56] OF: I didn’t.

[00:03:56] KM: What did you think you were going to be when you grow up?

[00:03:58] OF: Yeah, okay. This is really embarrassing. But I thought when I was leaving Europe. I went to school in Europe for a while. I thought, “Gosh! What do I want to be when I finish school? Do I want to work in a book store or a record shop?” Because that’s such a hard choice at the time. This was ’77 or something like that. Yeah, those were my great aspirations at that point in time.

Then it was just to get a job after I finished school. And Alen Leveritt, who at that time had started the Arkansas Times tricked me into coming to work for him. He was my neighbor in a quadruplex. We lived Quapaw Quarter. And he kind of tricked me into coming to work with him at the Arkansas Times, and I made the fourth person on the team. So there were four of us in 1978. And I fell in love with the business. Just fell in love with publishing, everything about it.

[00:04:52] KM: He didn’t just tricked you into working there. He asked you to come on the cover of a very controversial cover. You weren’t even working for him when that happened, were you?

[00:05:01] OF: No. I was his neighbor.

[00:05:06] KM: You’re living in downtown Little Rock.

[00:05:07] OF: Yes, upstairs from his – He and his girlfriend. And he said, “I’ve got this cover. I want to actually do some smoking a joint. Would you mind?” Because I’m the neighbor upstairs, I said, “Sure, that’d be great.”

[00:05:20] KM: You didn’t think I’m going to get arrested. I mean, it’s 1977. People were going to jail for –

[00:05:24] OF: No. And this is what’s really funny, Kerry. My mother was so proud of that, that she had it now on her coffee table. She’s in brand. Can you imagine?

[00:05:37] GM: I love that so much.

[00:05:41] OF: Yeah, I thought – So a little concerned about that. But no, she was – That’s my daughter. Here.

[00:05:48] KM: I love your mother who’s still alive. Shout out to mom, if you’re listening. What was the article about? It’s called Living it Up in High Style was the name of the cover that you were on. So what was the article about?

[00:06:01] OF: Well, in ’78, that was at the height of the conception of marijuana, certainly. And what the article focused on was the fact that it was within high society, if you will, that the wealthy and the rich were protecting. It wasn’t just a youth drug, but that it actually made its way into the upper echelons of society.

[00:06:24] KM: Oh, living it up high. Living it up in high style. I see. So I heard your editor was Bill Terry, because Alen Leveritt was not the editor.

[00:06:34] OF: No. He was the publisher.

[00:06:36] KM: And so the editor I heard was a little upset that he did that, or did he know that y’all were going to do that cover?

[00:06:43] OF: No. He did. What he was concerned about was he was scared to death that I was going to get stoned while we were shooting the cover, because it was a live reefer.

[00:06:50] KM: So you’re smoking.

[00:06:51] OF: Yeah. No, I wasn’t. It was lit. I wasn’t inhaling. But he was very nervous. Every time we would do some shots, he would take it away from me, because he was afraid I’d get stoned while we were shooting. That was his only concern, I think. Yeah.

[00:07:09] KM: So didn’t you – I read where you wanted to go into the foreign services aspiration.

[00:07:14] OF: No. Actually I’ve forgotten about that. Thank you for reminding me. As I mentioned earlier, I have lost half my brain. Yeah, because of my time in Europe, yeah. After that time I decided the foreign service would be the coolest thing to do. And my father said, “Well, you can’t go off to DC.” At the time, this was June of ’78. And you could only take the foreign service exam in December of every year. And he said, “You have to save $5,000 before you can move to DC.” And so that’s why I started the job. I remember now. I’ve forgotten that. Started the job at Arkansas Times.

[00:07:50] KM: But you also fell in love with publishing at the same time.

[00:07:52] OF: Oh, I did. I did. No. As soon as I started working there, I have to say I hated advertising sales. But I got really good at it, because we needed the revenue to do the rest of it. But I loved the publishing business. I loved all the people in the publishing industry. I loved the writers and the designers. And I love print. I loved reading. Arkansas Times at that time was so devoted to having really good quality writers from around the state, and we at that time had just a lot of really great ones, wonderful writing. Actually, we’re doing investigative reporting. Very important investigative reporting at that time. So it was a thrill. It was a thrill. And I loved the people. I just love the people in the publishing industry.

[00:08:42] KM: Did being on the cover smoking a joint, did anybody from the foreign services go, “You can’t be on there because of that cover?”

[00:08:48] OF: No. I didn’t go take the test, because I started in June and just stayed. I never left.

[00:08:55] KM: So you’ve met Alen Leveritt. You’re selling – And he’s just charming. He’s hard not to do anything that Alen told you to do. You’re like, “Kerry, go jump off the cliff.” “Okay. Whatever you say, Alen.” So he’s talked you into being on the cover of this magazine with very controversial ad of you smoking a marijuana cigarette. And now you’re selling ads for the Arkansas Times. And within one short year, you are hooked on the business of publishing and you’re a part of the Arkansas Writers Project. What is the Arkansas Writers Project?

[00:09:26] OF: At that time the Arkansas Writers Project was primarily the Arkansas Times. It was –

[00:09:34] KM: A division?

[00:09:35] OF: It was a sub-core of Arkansas Writers Project. Arkansas Writers Project was a corporation, and actually Arkansas Times was a product, if you will, of the corporation.

[00:09:48] KM: Oh I see. Okay.

[00:09:47] OF: Yeah. And I’m trying to remember when we started branching into other publications. It was pretty quickly, like within a few years. I think our first special publication was to do a Newcomers’s guide with the Chamber of Commerce. And what we found was it was very hard to make money at the Arkansas Times. And I’ve discovered after doing some analysis, is that if chickens could read in Arkansas, we could have done a great business in the magazine.

[00:10:24] KM: Because there were a lot of chickens.

[00:10:26] OF: Yes, and there just weren’t enough readers. Our saturation of the market was comparable to our peers. But they’re just weren’t enough people, yeah, to make it work. Then when we launched into these ancillary publications, they were incredibly profitable.

[00:10:43] KM: Niche markets.

[00:10:44] OF: Yes, exactly. Yes. So in this case, a new comer publication, we started. I think our next one was a publication for the Chamber of Commerce, their annual publication. We reached off into – Actually, I’m remember now that we’re so successful with the Newcomer’s guide that we did one in El Dorado, which was a big defense contractor, Territory. I don’t know if you remember that back in the early 80s. They’re a huge defense contracting manufactures down there. So they had a lot of Newcomer’s. We did one in Fayetteville. We actually did one in Austin Texas and one in Raleigh, North Carolina.

[00:11:29] KM: Newcomer publications done by the Arkansas Writers Project, who is also publishing the Arkansas Times.

[00:11:36] OF: That’s right.

[00:11:36] KM: And then they decided to start publishing the Arkansas Business Journal?

[00:11:40] OF: That was in 1984. And what happened to us then was a young man – No. Let me digress and say we did a publication that was focused on the companies in Arkansas were tops in their field nationally who was an incredible publication, really fascinating. Who knew that the biggest manufacturer of rabbit feet is an Arkansan.

[00:12:05] KM: A rabbit what?

[00:12:06] OF: Rabbit feet. Yes.

[00:12:08] KM: What? Lucky rabbit feet?

[00:12:12] GM: We used to be one of the biggest rabbit producers in the country, Arkansas.

[00:12:17] KM: Were we?

[00:12:15] GM: Yeah, used to be. Yeah.

[00:12:16] OF: Yeah. So there were a lot of feet available. But it was from both manufacturers to rice production. It was just this phenomenal – When we got in and started digging around the state, phenomenal collection of businesses who were tops in their field national and internationally. And that was a wildly successful publication. We knew immediately there’s something here doing this focus on business. And about that time, a young man named Dan Owens came to us and said, “I want to start a business, Arkansas Business Publication.” And we said, “We do too.” So we joined forces and launched Arkansas Business in 1984. Yeah, I’m pretty sure.

[00:12:59] KM: You were already an owner of the Arkansas Writers Project.

[00:13:03] OF: Yes. I became an owner in 1982. I bought out. At that time, there are probably – In that Arkansas Writers Project, there were probably I’m going to say 25 stock holders. This is kind of interesting. Most of the stock holders were employees who had worked for nothing. And as a way to show gratitude, Alen went to the office supply store and bought the prettiest stock holder certificates he could find and gave those people stock, which they never thought would be worth anything.

And just to jump forward really quickly. So when I sold the Arkansas Publishing Group –

[00:13:46] KM: Last year.

[00:13:47] OF: Yeah. These people made huge bucks.

[00:13:50] KM: Oh! You’re kidding.

[00:13:52] OF: No. They did. They did. Now, at that time, moving back to 1982, there were three major stock holders at that time. We had two classes of stock, but there were three major stockholders who really had control of the company. And I bought one of them out. A few years later, Alen and I bought out the third gentleman so that he and I were the primary stock holders. And then you had all these ex-employees, these early employees who had worked for nothing holding the rest of the stock.

[00:14:23] KM: Holding stock certificates.

[00:14:24] OF: Yes.

[00:14:25] KM: That they held forever.

[00:14:26] OF: Yes. And so then 40 years later.

[00:14:31] KM: Yeah, 4 decades later.

[00:14:31] OF: They get them a little windfall.

[00:14:34] KM: I love that. You’re a great guest.

[00:14:37] OF: Is that incredible? I’ll tell you what. One thing that was really funny was a previous employee who had actually purchased additional stock, and unfortunately he passed away, but his wife when she received the proceeds wrote me and she said, “I’m so grateful. Thank you so much. You’re so kind to do this.” I said, “Darling, your husband did this. I didn’t do this. Your husband invested in this stock.” And yeah, I she got like $70,000.

[00:15:04] KM: Wow! So how many hats did you wear in the beginning part of the Arkansas Writers Project? You sold ads.

[00:15:11] OF: Sold ads. I then would produce the ads that I sold. So I had to do at that time the photography. We had a photographer, but designing, styling, shooting and writing the copy, designing, laying out the copy, producing the ads. Then go and proof the press run. When it comes off the press, we took turns –

[00:15:37] KM: Because it’s offset printing back then.

[00:15:39] OF: Right. Yes. Exactly. And then when it was time for the magazines to be distributed, we all took our share and went and distributed it.

[00:15:46] KM: Oh my gosh!

[00:15:48] OF: Yeah.

[00:15:50] KM: So it says you bought your partner out in 1995 though. So was that Alen Leveritt?

[00:15:57] OF: It wasn’t that I bought him out. That’s not correct. We split the company into two separate companies so that we could operate independently.

[00:16:11] KM: So he took Arkansas Times and you took Arkansas Business.

[00:16:14] OF: Yes, and a group with the special publications.

[00:16:17] KM: And at the time – It’s what I was going to say. So at the time in 1995, how many special publications were there?

[00:16:24] OF: I think there were 6.

[00:16:25] KM: And he took some of them. Or did he just take Arkansas Times?

[00:16:29] OF: I think 6 was what we had. 6 special pubs, but I also took Little Rock Family with me and Arkansas Business.

[00:16:41] KM: So for everybody to know, some of the titles you publish, which everybody knows these magazines, but they may not realize they all come from the Arkansas Business Publishing Group – Soiree, Arkansas Bride, Little Rock Family, Arkansas Next.

[00:16:56] OF: That’s well-known in high schools. It’s a terrific magazine that addresses the information that you need to decide what you’re going to do after you finish high school. And that was really important when we launched that, because there were such a brain drain in Arkansas. And we needed –

[00:17:16] KM: What do you mean by that?

[00:17:17] OF: Where our best and our brightest were leaving the state and going to school elsewhere. So we created a publication that really highlighted all of the opportunities within the state in the hopes of maintaining some of that power and potential here within the state. And we have since – Or they have started before I left. It branched off into a section called Pros that is fantastic. I probably shouldn’t be going on about this, but I like it so much.

There’s a dearth of people going into the trades, just a dearth. Like the average age of the electrician –

[00:17:53] KM: Nobody uses that word, dearth.

[00:17:56] GM: I love it.

[00:17:57] KM: So dearth of people going into trades. Okay, go ahead.

[00:18:01] OF: Yeah. There is. I was going to say that the average age of our plumbers and our electricians are 55 and 65 and young people – I think we went through a crazy time where we were high on four-year college and really didn’t really sort of diminished the trades, and trade schools, and all of that. It’s a big mistake.

So this young woman who I adore, Rachel. Her name is – Her maiden name was Bradberry. It escaped me. But this brilliant young woman actually was the publisher for this pros, and she did this great sexy shots of welders, and plumbers, and lawn men, and women too. I didn’t mean to be all excited, but good looking men.

[00:18:51] KM: That’s okay. But those guys do look – Those strong looking young guys do look good.

[00:18:56] OF: With all the information about what it takes to do it, what they make, what their jobs were like. Just an incredible, sexy publication about going into the trades, which I kind of been hammering on my daughter and her boyfriend about going to auto mechanics.

[00:19:15] KM: There’s not enough engineers either out there.

[00:19:16] OF: No. But engineers require –

[00:19:18] KM: A degree.

[00:19:19] OF: Yeah.

[00:19:21] KM: So when did this one come out? What’s it called? What’s the name of the –

[00:19:23] OF: Pros. It’s part of Next. So it goes to the same high school students.

[00:19:27] KM: Oh I see.

[00:19:28] OF: But it’s a way to say, “Look –”

[00:19:30] KM: You don’t have to go to college. You can go do this. Well, I tried to talk all my kids out of going to college, which is why everyone of them went and got a four-year degree.

[00:19:37] OF: Right. So you do have to pay for it. Yes.

[00:19:40] KM: No. Because they’re just not going to do what I tell them to do.

[00:19:42] OF: There’s that. There’s that.

[00:19:43] KM: Just tell your kids the opposite of what you want them to do. So describe the company you built.

[00:19:52] OF: In what way? In terms of just –

[00:19:55] KM: When you think about your company that you built.

[00:19:58] OF: The culture?

[00:19:59] KM: Yeah. That’s a good one.

[00:20:01] OF: Yeah. I appreciate that question, because I feel really strongly about this, and it’s idea that’s getting a lot more traction. And I think it’s going to be imperative going forward and facing sort of the inequities that we’re up against right now. For me, it was never just about the stockholders. It was never – I always felt like the company to succeed needed to care equally about the employees who work there and their well-being. Certain, our customers, the readers, and the advertisers who sometimes were at odds with each other, making sure that we took care of them, taking care of our vendors.

A lot of people, a lot of very successful businesses thrive on the idea that you squeeze everything you can out of your vendors until some of them go broke. And I preferred to do business with people who I want you to make money. I want me to make money. I want us to be a good partnership. And then we help each other out. If there’s a problem, we’ve made mistakes and had to reprint entire publications and they’ll do it at their cost. There’ve been many instances where our vendors have saved us. And I just think it’s imperative you have a good relationship there. And then certainly, the stockholders. I care about them. I was the biggest one. So I did care about that. But that wasn’t the only thing.

And I’m hearing more and more now, and corporations are really embracing this idea of we have a responsibility to move than just our stockholders. And I’m concerned that part of what has created this inequity was the idea that we’re only here for the stockholders. And I remember getting to an argument with a pervious stockholder who was a Harvard Business grad who was an adherent of you’re only responsibility is to your stockholder. And to me, that was just so wrong for your community, for the health of your company. And I do think one of the reasons that we thrived in particular is the newspaper business declined precipitously with the advent of the internet. Our business did not. We continued to thrive. And I give a lot of that credit to the quality of the people that we had there. The motivation to do really good quality products. The relationships with our advertisers and in our vendors and in the community. I think that was really part of our success.

[00:22:42] KM: When I go to sell, because I have a magazine too. When I go to sell Brave Magazine to an advertising agency, first thing out of their mouth is – Because I believe in print. And I believe that people like to go to the mailbox and get a good magazine and go sit on their couch and read it. If you looked around my house, there are a million publications laying around.

[00:23:04] OF: Sure.

[00:23:05] KM: We’re on the internet world and our laptops all day. But when I go to an ad agency and I say, “Buy an ad for this. These are the people it’s going to go to,” and I give them the demographics of it. They say, “Well, I can’t measure it.” How did Arkansas Business counters that? I mean, you could see a Google click and you go, “Well, you’ve got a 3.1 ROI return on that.”

[00:23:31] OF: Yeah. Well, clicks certainly are meaningless. But they are.

[00:23:36] KM: The clicks are.

[00:23:37] GM: Tell like it is.

[00:23:38] OF: It is. At the end of the day, what kind of engagement did you get and did you actually sell something? And unfortunately, so many people don’t look at what the return on investment is where it is much more quantifiable on the internet. So we compensated for that by knowing very precisely who our audience was. So we spent a lot of money on research to be able to say, “This is exactly who you’re going to reach.” We used testimonials to talk about that. We used testimonials to talk about that. We used mathematics to quantify. Again, from research, what the reach is, what the penetration is.

One thing that I like to say people in the older days talked about cost per thousand CPM. In the same way that ROI and internet is important, I talked about cost per effect of reach. So what’s it really costing you to reach the person who really can be a potential buyer? And so we use those kind of mechanisms to offset our ability to have a direct response that we could measure and say, “Here’s your ROI.”

[00:24:43] KM: I’m using that. I’m going to write that down and I’m going to use cost effective reach the next time I’m talking to somebody about – I agree. I love print. Breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. You never felt gender mattered in your career.

[00:25:01] OF: Let me say it did matter, but I just went on anyway. And I was fortunate, because I was raised by a father who really expected me to be able to do anything I wanted. He kind of raised me like his only son, see? And that’s why we both were fearless about going into whatever field of endeavor we wanted.

[00:25:21] KM: You’re Mulan.

[00:25:23] OF: Yeah. I love Mulan. But that well I’m going to take it on. Yeah. I was the only woman in the room for the first half of my career over and over and over and over again. It just didn’t bother me. I just said I guess I did from a very early age want to be better than any other guys. Because I was defensive about being a woman in the way you and I socialize. I don’t know if it’s better for Gray. But the way we socialized, we were second-class citizens. And I just didn’t accept it.

[00:25:59] KM: I never felt like it was a handicap though. I felt like I was the only girl in the room, but I never felt I was a handicap. I was there on value. Because I deserved to be there.

[00:26:13] OF: Yes, that I do have to conceive that I would often times for the man as the face of my company.

[00:26:21] KM: Well, they don’t get pregnant and have to go out on maternity leave.

[00:26:25] OF: Well, that shouldn’t matter. I mean, do we not want to propagate the earth? I mean, that’s part of life. I’ll tell you, the other thing, this is when I first started this special pubs or special publications unit, those niche publications that were so wildly profitable, I hired only single mothers, and they were the hardest working, most effective employees in the company, because they had to get their stuff done. There was no loligacking around. They had to get it done. They had to support their children, and they were ace employees and built this phenomenal division within my company.

[00:27:01] KM: And task-oriented, multi-taskers. Gray, don’t you think there’re more women in Arkansas Flag & Banner than men?

[00:27:08] GM: There are certainly more women at the table, literally, at the big table.

[00:27:13] KM: At the management table.

[00:27:13] OF: Yeah, that’s great. I love that.

[00:27:15] KM: But it’s not on purpose. I mean, it’s not a conscious decision to do that. It’s just they were just super qualified and super smart and super hardworking. Everything you just settle it –

[00:27:24] OF: Yes.

[00:27:26] KM: All right. Let’s take another quick break, and then when we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Ms. Olivia Ferrell, retired CEO of the Arkansas Business Publishing Group, that during her tenure grew from a single magazine to 30+ publications and from $100,000, I just love that, in sales revenue to 8 million. Still to come, how Olivia made the decision to sell the company she built. Why she chose Mitch Bettis as her successor and what she’s planned for the next chapter in her life. We’ll be back after the break.

[BREAK]

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[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[00:28:44] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Ms. Olivia Ferrell, retired CEO and cofounder of Arkansas Business Publishing Group. Before the break we talked about how she built her business, and now we’re going to talk about how she sold her business. When you look back over your time, is there something you’re the most proud of that you did?

[00:29:13] OF: Two things. No. Can I have three?

[00:29:16] KM: Okay, three.

[00:29:17] OF: Thank you.

[00:29:17] KM: What’s that called when you have three things?

[00:29:20] OF: There’s a word for that?

[00:29:22] KM: Oh, come on.

[00:29:23] OF: I was really proud of these 5 annual publications that we created called the Top 100 Women, that was created because in Arkansas Business doing an article women serving on boards in Arkansas, one of the banks, bank presidents who was asked, “Why don’t you have any women on your board?” Answered, “Because there are no women qualified.”

[00:29:53] KM: Qualified?

[00:29:53] OF: Qualified. No women qualified. It’s still hurts me to this day.

[00:29:57] KM: We just didn’t know.

[00:29:59] OF: No.

[00:30:00] KM: He just didn’t know.

[00:30:00] OF: He didn’t. And so I determined at that point, I was going to produce a magazine with 100 of the top women in Arkansas across a variety of fields so that – And I was going to mail it to every single board member of every public board of directors in Arkansas as well as to every Arkansas business subscriber and reader. So there were over 5,000 additional copies to boards of directors to say the next time you have an opening, here are 100 women highly qualified to serve on your board. And my intention was to do it for 5 years, which we did.

I was really proud of that. That was actually the instigator for Arkansas Women’s Foundation, because we got all of the women together. It was the fourth year. We would have a luncheon and get all the women together. Incredible energy of those women in one room. And the consensus was that what we wanted to do with this power that was in that room was something that would help women and girls, and in particular an interesting that’s kind of forward-thinking, but in technology, but engineering, in the sciences and technology.

[00:31:22] KM: This is 1998.

[00:31:23] OF: Yeah, exactly. Yes.

[00:31:25] KM: That is forward-thinking.

[00:31:26] OF: Yeah. And from that, it was really Pat Lyle who came to me and said, “How about we start the women’s foundation to do this?” And I said, “I love it. That’s great.” And from that we launched an endeavor – And it was based off the top 100% women. We went to them first and said, “Help us build this foundation.”

[00:31:46] KM: What’s the called? The power of the purse? Or is that something else?

[00:31:49] OF: That was the event.

[00:31:49] KM: Oh, that was the name of the event.

[00:31:51] OF: Yes.

[00:31:52] KM: Oh yeah, I remember that. Power of the purse.

[00:31:54] OF: Yes. Yeah.

[00:31:55] KM: I love it.

[00:31:55] OF: Yeah. So that would be one thing. Those are one and two, being the top 100 Women magazine that I thought was really important, starting the Women’s Foundation. And the third thing was the quality of the culture that we built the company. I’m really, really proud of that. I’m really, really proud of the products that were produced from that. I’m going to get teary-eyed, and I felt like those were really good jobs. We tried to pay at the highest level we could. I mean, all of our wages were very competitive, if not at the top of their stratus. And that that was something I took a lot of pride.

[00:32:44] KM: All right. Let’s talk about you selling – Before you start crying. Let’s talk about you selling ABPG, Arkansas Business Publishing Group. Was there some event that triggered it or had you been thinking about it for a long-time?

[00:32:59] OF: I have been thinking about it. I mean, 40 years, you know what it’s like, because you’re still –

[00:33:04] KM: 40 years, 45 years.

[00:33:04] OF: Been in vigor and running and gunning. And I was missing the fire in the belly. I was.

[00:33:15] KM: Well, news never stops. Talk about – I mean, it’s just, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” in your face all day long every day.

[00:33:25] OF: Yes.

[00:33:27] KM: That would be exhausting.

[00:33:31] OF: I still love that a part of it. That’s not exhausting to me, but just the business and being 40 years, and one thing – I just didn’t have the same drive and motivation that I’d had previously. So I felt like to some extent, that wasn’t fair to the company either. And then I was approached by a major publishing group, a publicly traded group, who I will call the dementors.

[00:34:02] KM: What? But that’s not their name.

[00:34:05] OF: No.

[00:34:07] KM: The dementors.

[00:34:07] OF: You’re obviously not a Harry Potter fan.

[00:34:09] KM: Oh. Oh. Oh.

[00:34:11] GM: Oh, I got it.

[00:34:12] KM: What’s the definition?

[00:34:14] GM: The creepy, hooded, faceless, face eaters, right? Aren’t they face –

[00:34:19] OF: They sucked the soul out of you.

[00:34:21] GM: Yeah, soul eaters. Yeah. So there you go.

[00:34:22] KM: Okay. All right. So you were approached by the soul eaters.

[00:34:25] OF: Yes, and it was at a national convention. And you’re going to love this. So he asked me for a side meeting, and this was the CEO at this particular group. And we go sit and talk about it, and I just started crying. I just cried.

[00:34:43] KM: Talking about selling it, you just start crying? Maybe she’s dying thinking about it.

[00:34:48] OF: No. It was so pitiful. I doubt he’s ever approached somebody before to purchase their company and they start crying. And it was for two reasons. One, this is like selling your child into slavery.

[00:35:03] KM: Absolutely.

[00:35:03] OF: But two, to a dementor. I know what that meant. I knew that was not going to be good for my child.

[00:35:11] KM: Or for your employees or for your children’s children.

[00:35:14] OF: No. Not at all. So I came back and visited with Mitch about it, Mitch Bettis. And I said, “Is there any chance you would –” Or I don’t know who suggested. He might have suggested. I might be interested. Because he knew of course –

[00:35:31] KM: Was he already working there?

[00:35:32] OF: Yes. Yes.

[00:35:33] KM: And you fell in love with him how many years before when you hired him?

[00:35:36] OF: The minute, the day.

[00:35:38] KM: How many years before was that?

[00:35:39] OF: No. I met him and hired at the same – I met him and hired me –

[00:35:39] KM: At the same time you met dementors?

[00:35:46] OF: No. No. No. No. Let me think. He’s been there six years. So maybe 2000 –

[00:35:54] GM: 2014?

[00:35:55] OF: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, it sounds about right. I think he’s been there 6 years.

[00:35:59] KM: So you meet him. Have an interview with him. Fall in love with him. Hire him –

[00:36:05] OF: It was like what will it take?

[00:36:06] KM: To get you.

[00:36:08] OF: Yeah, because he was incredible. I mean, just an incredible talent and an incredible person.

[00:36:15] KM: Then you cry in the interview?

[00:36:16] OF: I did.

[00:36:15] KM: Gosh! She cries all the time.

[00:36:17] OF: I’m a big baby, I am.

[00:36:20] KM: Laughing, crying. I can’t tell the difference between the two.

[00:36:23] OF: They get mixed up. They do. They do get mixed up. Yeah, I actually cried. That’s another first for him –

[00:36:29] KM: Cried –

[00:36:31] OF: Interview. And I’m not even the one being interviewed. I’m the one interviewing. I’m like “- You’re so fantastic.” And he’s just an incredible person, an incredible talent. And he brought so much expertise that I just didn’t have. I tried really hard to learn on the job. And I had great people around me who taught me so much and we’re so good about their time. But he just had a level of corporate experience and knowledge that I didn’t have.

[00:37:08] KM: How old was he when you hired him?

[00:37:10] OF: 45 maybe.

[00:37:11] KM: Oh! He looks like he’s not even 45 now.

[00:37:14] OF: I know. I know. I know.

[00:37:16] KM: So he’s been on the staff for a while. The dementors come to you and did they know you were wanting to sell or did they just have –

[00:37:23] OF: No.

[00:37:23] KM: It’s just serendipity. They just approached you out of –

[00:37:25] OF: I have to say within the industry, within the industry nationally, our company has a great reputation. It’s not my company anymore. Their company has a great reputation being really good solid company, really well-run. So when the dementors started looking for these particular companies to buy, we were the second one they came to purchase. And I think maybe Mitch said, “Let me look at putting together a group and seeing if I can get in here and try to vie for this.” And I said, “That wouldn’t be so good.” I started crying again.

No. Well, let me just say, at the end of the day was the two days before the dementors were going to come to town to do their onset visit. We’d already done all the due diligence.

[00:38:18] KM: Oh! You were that close. Oh, girl.

[00:38:20] OF: And they were coming to town and I called them up and I said, “Don’t. Don’t come.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do that to the people in the company.” I just couldn’t do it.

[00:38:32] KM: I totally get it. So Mitch did put together a company, and I think this is cute. Now I know why he did it. He named it the 5-Legged Stool LLC.

[00:38:43] OF: Yes he did.

[00:38:44] KM: Remember how – Gray is looking at me like, “What?”

[00:38:47] OF: Because I talked about the 5, and he’s the one who coined the term 5-legged stool from that –

[00:38:53] KM: Employees? Readers, advertisers, vendors and stockholders.

[00:38:59] OF: And at a speech that I gave at the Rotary Club, I did talk about that I hadn’t specified the community, but the community always was a huge part of our consideration.

[00:39:14] KM: I think you wrapped a big bow around all of that. It is the community.

[00:39:19] OF: Yeah. But I do feel companies are obligated to the communities they’re in. I feel very strongly about that.

[00:39:25] KM: Yeah. You and Mitch seemed to be very aligned in continuing a business with the family values.

[00:39:32] OF: Very much so.

[00:39:33] KM: So the changes you saw during your nearly 40-year reign, what were they besides – I mean, I’m sure you went from offset printing to digital printing.

[00:39:44] OF: No. No. We continued to be offset.

[00:39:47] KM: Are you still offset printing? No. Digital printing? You know, offset printing is where they make those plates, “Tsh-tsh-tsh.”

[00:39:55] OF: Yeah, I’m pretty sure. If you see how removed I am.

[00:39:57] KM: Girl, you’ve been out of it too long.

[00:40:01] GM: It doesn’t take long.

[00:40:04] KM: It’s gone. It’s a good thing you sold that business.

[00:40:09] OF: You’re kidding. They’re so much better off. No. First of all, it’s just that we were so poor and had to do everything. So going from – We were just kids. I mean, I was 23, Leveritt was 26. The median age of our company was 23-years-old in the beginning. And then growing into a healthy mature professional company – Again, going from where each of us had to do everything to a really professional group with fabulous talented people and really great products. It was like a dream come true.

[00:40:51] KM: How did the .com business not just take you down like it did everybody else?

[00:40:56] OF: Part of it was that we weren’t competing with them. Think about it. The internet is not very local. Now you’re doing local things, and there are more and more local things coming up. But where the daily newspapers were completely threatened by their ability to do 24/7 news and the newspapers inability to do that. The internet was providing local information. So they weren’t competing with me. And at the same time, very early on, we invested in digital technology and had digitalarkansasbusiness.com and took all of our publications. Have a digital component. And then also we do digital marketing, or they do. Sorry. I trip on that all the time, Kerry. The digital marketing side of Arkansas Business has been the fastest growing area of the business.

[00:41:48] KM: Do you have to have a subscription or subscription to get into the website for the Arkansas Business website? It’s not free. You can’t just go there.

[00:41:55] OF: No. You can have I think four visits a month last that I was involved.

[00:42:02] KM: Is it still a weekly magazine, or is it a monthly magazine?

[00:42:05] OF: No. It’s weekly.

[00:42:06] KM: That’s just so much to do every week along with all the other stuff you do.

[00:42:10] OF: Yeah. Ask Gwen Moritz about that.

[00:42:12] KM: Who?

[00:42:12] OF: The editor, Gwen Moritz. She’s very attuned to the rigorous schedule that we play.

[00:42:19] KM: So what do you see for the future of journalism? Do you believe it’s still an honorable profession?

[00:42:23] OF: I do. I definitely do. I’m sorry that that has been so disparaged. I don’t think it’s fair for the mainstream media who really are good, hardworking, ethical people really trying to do the best that they can to report the news. So I think that’s been a real problem for the country, because people don’t know what to believe anymore. I mean, if you say that your information sources are all bad, and they’re not. There really are more principled and ethical media than others. And if you say they’re all bad, then people just withdraw from absorbing information in general. And then that makes for an educated electorate or community. So I totally disagree with that characterization of media as being all bad and on the take and just doing it to sell subscription. It’s not the case.

[00:43:35] KM: So you think journalism is still a great, honorable profession that you can make a living at.

[00:43:39] OF: Totally.

[00:43:41] KM: So if you’re speaking to a young adult wanting to pursue a career in journalism, what would you tell them?

[00:43:45] OF: Please do, if you’re smart and you’re ethical and you really care about your community or the community that you’re serving. You really want to do good, honest, hard work. Please, get into the profession.

[00:43:58] KM: And is creative.

[00:44:00] OF: Oh, yes. And like investigation. I was an article about the private detectives today and I thought, “Oh man, am I too told to become a private detective?” It sounded so cool what they do now.

[00:44:12] KM: Well, actually nobody would know you’re a private detective, because you would not look like one.

[00:44:16] OF: No. I don’t for that part at all. But you get to do investigating and research and digging and discovery. It’s an incredible profession. I love it.

[00:44:30] KM: All right. I want to tell everybody that you’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Ms. Olivia Farrell, retired CEO and cofounder of Arkansas Business Publishing Group. What’s next for you Ms. Farrell? I know you’re not going to join the Foreign Services that you once thought. But you are service work. You have been in more clubs than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life.

So you got to think about what your legacy is. So let’s just tell everybody what you currently are. You currently are in the news for being only the 4th women to be inducted into the University of Arkansas’ Walton Business Hall of Fame. You’ve already been on the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame. Rotary Club 99’s 2019 Leader of the Year. Governor Mike Beebee gave you the distinguished citizen award, and there is a portrayed of you hanging in the lobby of UALR. Come on, please.

[00:45:25] OF: I love that.

[00:45:25] KM: I bet you do.

[00:45:26] OF: I love that, because it’s a woman.

[00:45:29] KM: I just love it. I just love it. Period. That’s pretty cool.

[00:45:32] OF: Of course they let me use the 10-year-old photo.

[00:45:39] KM: Well, it’s going to be up there forever. So it needs to be one you like. So what is next? You got one minute.

[00:45:47] OF: As I mentioned to you before the show started, the only real goal I have in mind right now is teaching elementary kids, tutoring elementary children and reading. So that’s my biggest ambition. I’d like to be able to socialize again normally.

[00:46:08] KM: That could be nice.

[00:46:08] OF: Just a social queen.

[00:46:10] GM: That sounds great.

[00:46:13] OF: A social queen and a reading tutor. Those are my big ambitions.

[00:46:17] KM: Love it. Here’s your gift for coming on the show, a US and Arkansas desk set to put on your desk at home.

[00:46:20] OF: Thank you so much.

[00:46:23] KM: While you’re reading.

[00:46:23] OF: Thank you.

[00:46:23] KM: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for coming on. Next week we have Joyce Elliot. And the week after that we have French Hill. So everybody stay tuned. I’d like to say in closing to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.

[OUTRO]

[00:46:55] GM: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today’s guest. If you’d like to sponsor this show or any show, contact me, Gray. That’s G-R-A-Y@flagandbanner.com. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you like to listen. Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.

[END]
EPISODE 184

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking and the commonalities of successful people. Connect with Kerry through her candid, often funny and always informative weekly blog. There you’ll read, learn and may comment about her life as a 21st century wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur.

And now it’s time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.

[00:00:41] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. My guest today is the owner of the oldest family businesses in Arkansas, Justin Wittenberg of Ruebel Funeral Home. Founded in 1901 on Sixth and Main Streets, Ruebel is the oldest funeral home establishment in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was 1953 when Justin's grandfather, Mr. George Wittenberg, hired on to the already established business as secretary and became part owner of Ruebel.

Fast-forward, 20 years later, George's son, Tom Wittenberg would join the firm becoming its president in 1983 and sole owner by 1997. Today the family legacy lives on in Justin Wittenberg, Tom's son. The third generation family-owned funeral business continues to offer its facility now on West Markham, its equipment, and its staff for immediate response to Central Arkansas families of every religion, race and socioeconomic circumstances.

It is a pleasure to welcome to the table, third generation owner, Mr Justin Wittenberg of Ruebel Funeral home. And you are on-call all the time, because you have just been talking to your answering service and
Said, “I'm going to be off the grid for one hour.” Hey, Justin.

[00:02:03] JW: Hey, Kerry. Thank you for having me.

[00:02:04] KM: You're so welcome. So Ruebel Runeral Home, when I’m researching it a little bit – Who is Ruebel? I couldn't figure out why it's called Ruebel Funeral Home.

[00:02:15] JW: Mr. Ruebel started Ruebel Funeral Home in 1901 at Sixth and Main like you pointed out. From what I understand, he was a furniture maker. And he was filling a need for caskets for other funeral homes. And he decided that he would start his own funeral home. And when he only had one daughter, Catherine, who didn't want to take the business over.

[00:02:44] KM: The furniture business or the funeral?

[00:02:46] JW: The funeral home.

[00:02:47] KM: Building the casket business.

[00:02:49] JW: Right. Right. Right. Her husband, Walter Lymer, who was a prominent banker here in town at the time inherited the funeral home. And he didn't know what to do with it, and he reached out to my grandfather, George, and my grandfather's future partner, Jack Reed, and confronted them and asked them if they would like to run the funeral home. And they ended up purchasing it after many years of
running it for them.

[00:03:18] KM: Well, I wondered how George Wittenberg, who is an architect, right?

[00:03:25] JW: George Senior, his father, started Wittenberg Delony & Davis, WD&D. And his son, my grandfather, was an insurance agent for Massachusetts Mutual. And a large portion of the funeral
Business is insurance-based. In fact we are governed in the state of Aarkansas by the Arkansas Insurance Commission.

[00:03:48] KM: Really? Are there a lot of rules?

[00:03:51] JW: There are a lot of rules, yeah. Yeah. The number one rule is our customers come first.

[00:03:56] KM: Oh! That’s a good rule. How much competition do you have? Have how many other funeral homes are there? There's Drummond, yours.

[00:04:03] JW: I like to say we don't have any competition, but there are other funeral homes here in town. There is uh Roller, which is owned by Renata. And that's Roller-Drummon. Roller-Owen
North Little Rock, Roller-Chenal out in West Little Rock.

[00:04:19] KM: They're an out of state company?

[00:04:22] JW: No. In fact, Renata's father, Denver Roller, if I looked far enough back in our records,
had his apprenticeship for his funeral director's license at Ruebel Funeral Home.

[00:04:34] KM: Get out of town.

[00:04:36] JW: So we're all connected if you go far enough back. It’s a trend in Little Rock. If you go
far enough back, we all know each other.

[00:04:44] KM: That’s right. We’re all cousins.

[00:04:47] JW: And then we had Griffin and Leggett. That was another funeral home here in town. And Harry Leggett, whose son is Brad, they sold out to a big international corporation many, many
years ago. And brad started Little Rock Funeral Home, which was just purchased by Jeff Smith, which was North Little Rock Funeral Home.

And he now has Smith Family Cares, and they have Smith North Little Rock and Smith Little Rock. Several other funeral homes throughout the state.

[00:05:20] KM: Are you thinking about branching out? Having another location? Have you talked about it? You've got one location on West Markham Street.

[00:05:26] JW: I’ve got one location on West Markham Street. I've got a very loyal group of clients. And I spend the majority of my time making sure that they are well taken care of. And I think that if I expanded too much, I wouldn't be able to give them the personal care that they are wanting and deserve.

[00:05:50] KM: Did you think you were always going to – So your grandfather started it or bought
it from Mr. Ruebel. And then your father went into the business and ended up being the sole owner. And did you always think I'm going to grow up and go into this business too? Or did you think I was going to do something else?

[00:06:08] JW: It's funny. My knee-jerk reaction would be no. I didn't always think I was going to be in this business. But my dad showed me a drawing one day. I was in kindergarten at the Cathedral School, and they had us draw what we wanted to be when we grew up, and it was stick figures carrying a little casket and it said, “I want to grow up and be like my dad.”

So I would say yes at that point. Now, did my education and my immediate future reflect that? No. No, not at all. I went to Hendrix, got a chemistry degree. Was going to be a dentist. And –

[00:06:49] KM: That's a caring job too though.

[00:06:51] JW: Yeah. I enjoyed it. I worked for a dentist during college as an apprentice, and really enjoyed it. But my dad's friends, his colleagues, his contemporaries kept saying to me, “Please. Please. Please. Take over for your dad one day. Who are we going to come to when we need your help? There's not going to be a Wittenberg there when we need you.” And I wisely listened to them after many, many confrontations like that.

[00:07:22] KM: How old were you when you came to work there?

[00:07:25] JW: It was in 2007. So I was 27 years old.

[00:07:30] KM: So what had you been doing from college till 27?

[00:07:32] JW: I had driven an ambulance in Denver, Colorado.

[00:07:36] KM: Oh really?

[00:07:39] JW: Quite the adventure.

[00:07:41] KM: So have you got an EMT license I guess it's called? Certification?

[00:07:45] JW: Yeah. I did that in college as an elective at Hendrix. I could take PE or get an EMT license. So I went to Conway regional two nights a week and ended up with an EMT basic license, then decided to go on an adventure.

[00:08:01] KM: To Colorado.

[00:08:02] JW: Yeah. Why not, right?

[00:08:04] KM: Because you like to snow ski probably.

[00:08:05] JW: Yes, I love it. I love it actually. And then after that, I came back and worked for Willis Smith & Associates and appraised real estate and got to see the bubble grow and then burst.

[00:08:19] KM: The Little Rock real uh real estate market bubble.

[00:08:22] JW: Yeah.

[00:08:22] KM: Yeah, it did.

[00:08:23] JW: Yeah. And Willis was a great guy, and Beck Kaiser. They were partners. And they were my employers at that point, and what a great experience.

[00:08:34] KM: Are there any other Wittenbergs working in the business?

[00:08:36] JW: No.

[00:08:37] KM: Dad's retired.

[00:08:38] JW: Dad’s retired. Sisters are full-time moms with careers of their own. So they both are doubled up on – I don't see how they do it. I don't think they get any sleep.

[00:08:52] KM: Probably not.

[00:08:53] JW: Right.

[00:08:54] KM: What does a person need like from within to be a good funeral director? Do you call yourself a funeral director?

[00:09:02] JW: Yeah, definitely. That's our title and –

[00:09:08] KM: What does a person need from within to do that well, you think? Because not just anybody could do that.

[00:09:14] JW: Right. I would say the best way to draw on what a person needs to do that well is to look at my employees, because I can see what it actually takes by looking out rather than in. Sometimes it's difficult to look in, and introspection is a difficult thing I think for people. So I look at my employees and I've got one employee who's been doing this his entire life. And he is devoted endlessly to the deceased and their families.

And then I've got another employee who was a great friend of mine through playing soccer at Burns Park, and he had an experience close in his family with death, and I could see that he was having like a hard time with it. He was struggling with it, but he wanted to know more. And so we started talking after our games and I offered him a job. And oh my goodness! He is the most compassionate person when it comes to dealing with the families. He goes into the arrangements and the first calls with – Nothing takes precedent over what you're doing right now. And he really devotes himself a hundred percent to his families.

[00:10:36] KM: And when you say arrangements, you mean the funeral arrangements.

[00:10:39] JW: Yeah. The funeral arrangements really start when we take the first call.

[00:10:46] KM: What does the first call sound like?

[00:10:48] JW: The first call is usually in the middle of the night and we're getting a call from –

[00:10:53] KM: So most people die in the middle of the night?

[00:10:55] JW: It seems like it. It really does.

[00:10:56] KM: Okay. That was one of my questions. I wondered. Okay, go ahead.

[00:11:00] JW: It really does. We sit at the funeral home all day and wait for the phone to ring. And then as soon as we go home and go to bed, the phone starts ringing. And so you have to be able to say it doesn't matter what time of night it is or what I need to do the next day. I've got to stop everything and care for this family and their loved one that's passed away.

[00:11:20] KM: And what does that mean? Does that mean you go to their house? Does that mean you meet with the funeral home? Does that mean you just talk to them on the phone and say, “I'll see you at eight o'clock tomorrow?” What does it mean?

[00:11:29] JW: That's really changed a lot actually. When my dad was at the helm, so 20 years ago, it was you got up and went to their house right then. When I started in this, it was, “Hey, we're going to send the person that's on call and they'll be there and we trust them, and they are our number one crew, and they're going to come over and take very good care of you, and we'll see you in the morning.”

[00:11:55] KM: And take care of you, does that mean they pick up the deceased body?

[00:11:57] JW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And we bring them into our care and we treat them as if they're our own family member that's just passed away. And now in the time of COVID, it is a, “We'll talk to you on the phone tomorrow and we're going to send you an email, and you can sign an e-document, and you can look on our website for merchandise,” and it's all very removed. And I think we have adapted and made it easier for our families to sit in their home and not take a risk of going outside and meeting with people that they don't know and exposing themselves to things. And it's uh it's made it easier on our families. But at the same time, I don't think it gives them the full service that we need to give them and that they expect.

[00:12:53] KM: Yeah.

[00:12:54] JW: So it's a balance that we're trying to do that we haven't found the balance point yet.

[00:13:01] KM: It sounds like you have to me. All right, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Justin Wittenberg, third generation owner of Ruebel Funeral Home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Still to come, how to manage the stages of grief. I look forward to talking about that. What you need to do in preparation or after an end-of-life occurrence, and leaving a business legacy. How have the Wittenberg’s done it so successfully? We'll be back after the break.

[BREAK]

[00:13:34] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. A production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed along with Kerry’s experience and leadership knowledge. In 1995, she embraced the internet and rebranded her company as simply flagonbanner.com. In 2004, she became an early blogger. Since then, she has founded the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom. Began publishing her magazine, Brave, and in 2016, branched out into this very radio show, YouTube channel and podcast. And today, in 2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years. If you'd like to sponsor this show or get involved with any of Kerry McCoy’s enterprises, send an email to me, Gray. That's gray@flagandbanner.com. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Kerry.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[00:14:46] KM: Thank you, Gray. You're listening to Up in Your Business with me,
Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Justin Wittenberg, third generation owner of Ruebel Funeral Home. The oldest funeral home in Little Rock, Arkansas, founded in 1901 in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Before the break we talked about Justin's family legacy. Their family is old. Old family. I don't know if you could say old money, maybe old money. I don't know. But they've been around a long time. Wittenberg Delony, Davidson was your grandfather?

[00:15:20] JW: Great grandfather.

[00:15:20] KM: Great grandfather, and founded in the early 1900s. And then Ruebel Funeral Home was his next business venture. And then he passed it to his son, and then he passed it to his grandson, and
it's just been a wonderful family legacy. So we talked about how Justin kind of evolved and got into the business. But now let's talk about grief. You were kind of leading into that about how COVID has changed things. How people grieve and what they grieve.

So I went on your website and I kind of looked at the stages of grief. You have some good information for people there. And the first one is shock, then denial, then guilt, which I didn't realize everybody feels guilt. Sadness, acceptance, and then the rollercoaster of renewal as you get there. So let's
talk about shock. Why are you shocked? Why are people shocked? They're just never ready for it even
when you see it coming?

[00:16:21] JW: Yeah, I think that there's no way to totally prepare for your family member, the person you've been in love with for 40 years passing away. And even though you might have had the opportunity to prepare because they have a long demise, there's never any way to actually say to yourself, “When this person is gone, what am I going to experience?” And everybody experiences that differently. And so that is a shock to your system. And I think it's a very common term, but I tell lots of my clients that it's going to take a while to find your new normal. And that all of a sudden I'm this person and I have this support system, and I live in this household with this person. And all of a sudden that is gone and it'll never come back and there's nothing you can do to make it come back. It’s a shock to your system.

[00:17:17] KM: So then they go into denial.

[00:17:21] JW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, denial. It's, “This didn't really happen, or my life isn't going to change as a result of this, or I'll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream that I had.” And you see one of the reasons we do funeral services is because it's a direct, “You can't deny this anymore. We’re all sitting here in this church together with your friends, your family, your community, and this is real.

[00:17:53] KM: So the service, the visitation, the memorial, the service is for the living.

[00:17:59] JW: Oh, 100%. Now my faith, my Catholic faith says that we do ceremonial things that prepare the dead for the transition into the afterlife. And everything that we do other than those very ceremonial things are for the living. And it gives the family members and the community an opportunity to mourn and show their support for each other. It brings us together as a community.

[00:18:33] KM: You did talk about grief, that having a memorial or visitation to share and remember the deceased is really important. How do you do that now that we’re in this pandemic?

[00:18:46] JW: I guess we've been doing it two ways. And we never – A year ago, I wasn't sitting in the break room talking with my employees or having a drink with my dad talking about, “Hey, when the pandemic hits and we can't go to church and have services or we can't have people in our chapel and have services, what are we going to do?” So it was a wake up one day and where everything shut down. So it's been a very reactionary environment.

I can tell you, at first we didn't do a good job of it. We told our clients one thing, “Hey, we'll take care of the immediate needs, and when they open everything back up, we'll have a service.” And since then, we've adapted and overcome and we've got a YouTube channel. Who would have ever thought a funeral home would have a YouTube channel?

[00:19:49] KM: What do you do with the YouTube channel?

[00:19:51] JW: We live stream the services. So the family is all sitting there. We have some of our churches that we service, and they tell their parishioners these family members that have lost someone that, “Yes, you can have a service at the church, but you can only have your immediate family members there.”

And so their extended family, their friends, their neighbors can't come and be a part of that service. And so we take an iPad on a tripod and we set it up and we live stream it to our YouTube channel. And they can sit in the comfort and safety of their own home and be a part of that service. And then they can reach out to the family later and say, “Hey, we were there. We saw it. What an amazing eulogy. What a beautiful service. We're so sorry we couldn't shake your hand or give you a hug afterwards, but we were there virtually.” And so we've really expanded the way we're able to virtually do services.

[00:20:55] KM: You talked about on your website how to be a friend to someone who is grieving. And it was call two days after the funeral, which I think was very great, was really good advice because it does seem like after everything's over with, the funeral is over, everybody goes home, the bereaved just sit there in their home and the phone's not ringing. And it says call your friend two days after the service and ask them if there's anything you can do to help.

[00:21:30] JW: That's great. I'm really glad you focused on that point. When I meet with the families, I often tell them that your friends are going to reach out to you and ask you what can I do to help. And we have a list of things that we tell them to tell their friends to do.

[00:21:45] KM: Because they can't think.

[00:21:47] JW: Right.

[00:21:47] KM: When you're depressed like that, you can't think. You're like nothing, but you really do have a whole list.

[00:21:52] JW: One of the most basic things that we have at every funeral is a register book, and it seems weird that you would go to your friend's mom's funeral and sign in. But I have had many clients that come to me afterwards and they're meeting me for a follow-up, and they're disgruntled because their business partner of 40 years didn't even show up for their mom's funeral. And I say, “Hold on.
I'm pretty sure I saw him there. Let's look back through the register book,” and sure enough, there's their signature. And they go, “Oh my goodness! I can't believe it. I just didn't have any idea. I forgot that we had that conversation.” You get this tunnel vision and everything's clouded and you really don't know what's going on.

And so that whole point of reaching back out to them. You might have been there with them the whole time, but there's so many things going on and there's so many people coming up to them, and then that's all coupled with the grief of the loss. They have no recollection of what's really happened. And so reaching back out to them and saying, “Hey, I know we talked yesterday. But how are you doing today? And what can I do now for you?”

[00:23:10] KM: And it's odd to me that people are afraid to mention, “I saw you lost your brother.” And people are like, “Oh, I didn't want to mention that.” And you're like, “No. No. No. The bereaved want you to mention the fact.” I think people are confused about that. I think if anybody is listening, be sure to mention the fact that you saw they lost a family member and that you're sorry or whatever. Just say, “I heard about your brother.” Boom! That's all you have to say.

[00:23:42] JW: Yeah. I think people really – They feel like they're going to reopen a wound or bring up a bad subject.

[00:23:49] KM: Yes.

[00:23:50] JW: It’s a wound that's already open, and by you coming up to them and telling them that you saw and that you're here for them, it helps close the wound. It doesn't reopen it.

[00:24:00] KM: Exactly. I think a lot of people are confused about that. So the other thing about grief is guilt. This one caught me by surprise. I mean, I've lost both of my parents and I had no idea the guilt that would come up later on just because for – I mean, it’s just part of it. I mean, you could think of anything. You could think of the smallest thing like, “Oh, should have passed them the salt when they asked.” I mean, it can really just be almost anything. And I thought that was interesting that you said guilt was a big one.

[00:24:36] JW: Yeah, I think it's the hardest one. I think that's the one that it goes unresolved for the most amount of time, because usually the guilt is rooted off of some unresolved issue. Maybe you got in an argument, or maybe you had a disagreement, or maybe you hadn't spoken to your sibling in four years, and now they've passed away and you wished you had done this, or now looking back on a thought that something should have been done differently, but there's nothing you can do to change that.

[00:25:11] KM: So how do you get rid of it? What do you tell people? Mine is not that. Mine is I should have done more.

[00:25:19] JW: Okay. Yeah.

[00:25:19] KM: I should have done more. I should have done more. I should have done more.

[00:25:22] JW: Right. Well, there's nothing more that you can do. And I think that faith has a lot to do with that overcoming it, that one day I will see them again and we can resolve this issue, or I know that they loved me and I have faith that they were a good friend or a family member and they would have forgiven me, and I have to forgive myself.

[00:25:50] KM: Oh! I like that one. They would have forgiven me, and I have to forgive myself. Those are pearls of wisdom. So do you think being a funeral director makes it easier or harder to be religious with all you see? With all you do?

[00:26:03] JW: I think it makes it a lot easier. I go into church services and I see some very, very tough situations where someone's passed away from an accident or a self-inflicted wound, and everybody's very, very upset and very hurt. And they get into their church, their home, and their religious leader stands up in front of them and leads them in prayer and you can feel a calm come over the people. And standing as an outside observer and witnessing this, I think my faith has done nothing but grow
through this since 2007, 13 years. It has really helped me realized that there is a higher being and that our religious faith is important to not only us individually, but us as a society as whole.

[00:27:14] KM: Sadness. After the shock, after the denial, after the guilt. Well, maybe not after the guilt,
but next comes the sadness. Do you warn everybody it's coming? It's coming and you're just going to wallow in it until it passes. Time will heal. What is the advice you can give to somebody who's got so much sadness?

[00:27:34] JW: It's so difficult. So many people in societies suffer from depression already and then you throw sadness on top of that and you feel so sorry and helpless. And what can I do to help you? And you try and give them as many resources as are possible. And there are so many resources out there.

[00:27:52] KM: Are there?

[00:27:53] JW: Oh my goodness! We give out an aftercare packet, and the largest section of it is grief resources.

[00:28:00] KM: Find a group. Find friends who experience the same loss and get in a group.

[00:28:04] JW: They don't even had to be friends. They just have to be other people, peers in your society to know that you're not alone.

[00:28:10] KM: So there's grief groups, I guess.

[00:28:12] JW: Oh, every church, every hospital, they all have multiple groups that, “I've lost a child. I've lost a spouse. I've lost a friend,” and you're not the only person that's lost someone. And to know that other people are out there and they suffer on a daily basis, just knowing that you're not alone I think helps people and being able to connect with someone that's experiencing the same thing is so important. On my phone, if you pull up my Safari, the one thing I've saved is an article from – I think it's been on my phone for five years, and it's says, “Everyone around you is grieving. Go easy.”

[00:29:03] KM: Oh, that's nice.

[00:29:05] JW: And I've never closed that page. I opened that article somebody sent it to me, and I opened it, and it was like, “Wow! This really makes sense.” Somebody might be rude to you in the line at the grocery store, but it might be because their dad died yesterday and they are just overcome with grief. Go easy. Everybody's lost something. It might have been their dog that they lost. It might have been their cat that they lost. It could have been their son that passed away. Everyone has lost something, and knowing that and being compassionate to people's grief really helps you understand society.

[00:29:43] KM: And be a better person, and not be so mad all the time.

[00:29:46] JW: Yeah. Right.

[00:29:47] KM: Over silly stuff. You put in there on your website live a healthy life and exercise. But when you are sad and depressed, you can't get off the couch to go exercise. You can't get off the couch to go fix a meal. I mean, that seems to me like you're on moving into the acceptance. Once you start moving into the other level, you talk about acceptance. And I love this thing you said, acceptance is growth, and then they began to turn their loss into something meaningful. I just hate it that you have to go through strife in life to grow. But you mentioned that if you get through this and you get to the acceptance, the growth that comes out of it can give new purpose and some meaning to your life, a different life.

[00:30:36] JW: Definitely. And I think that that holds true to every aspect of life, right? If it’s not tough, if you don't have to work for it, it doesn't really have any meaning. You fail over and over again and then you succeed, and that success is so much greater and so much rewarding because of the failures. And that translate directly into grief. You take this loss and you suffer, and maybe you hit rock bottom, maybe you don't, but you hopefully –

[00:31:13] KM: Does anybody ever come in and be angry with you?

[00:31:16] JW: Oh, definitely.

[00:31:17] KM: They do?

[00:31:18] JW: Yeah, definitely.

[00:31:19] KM: I mean, how can they be angry? I mean, are they just trying to find somebody to be mad at?

[00:31:24] JW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They're not angry at us. We’ve done nothing wrong. We've done nothing to make them mad. But they're mad at the situation they're in. And one of the biggest things I talk with my employees about is don't take anything personal. You might know this person personally, but 90 of the clients that they're going to meet with, they've never met before in their lives. And so if they come in and they're mad at you, it's not because something you did. So just sit there and understand that they're upset. And it really helps them help the other person, because they see this person that they're mad at and they're sitting there going, “Okay. All right. Okay.”

[00:32:06] KM: I wondered if in the funeral business if you ever got disgruntled customers, because I know in every business you do almost, but it seems like during that one, it would be so broken-hearted that it just didn't seem like they had much energy for anger.

[00:32:20] JW: Right. So I talk with my employees about how we have one chance to get it right. There's no retakes on a funeral. If we mess up and play the wrong song or do something that the family wasn't expecting or don't do something that they were expecting, that they're going to get hung up on that mistake and they won't be able to grieve properly because they're not experiencing the entire process, because they're thinking about that one mistake.

[00:32:50] KM: They’re probably looking for something to take their mind off.

[00:32:53] JW: Well, that's the one-percenters, we call them.

[00:32:55] KM: They’re trying to find something else to focus on.

[00:32:58] JW: They’ll find something wrong with everything they do that they experience in life, and we know that and we go, “Okay. We're sorry.”

[00:33:05] KM: Yeah. So before we take a break, let's just go through dealing with grief. You said have a memorial visitation to share and remember the deceased. Talk about your grief with others. Find friends who've experienced the same loss. Live a healthy life, exercise. Make small plans. Get out, which is hard to do. And this one a lot of people have problems with, allow yourself time. Don't think it's going to be overnight.

And then the other thing that I liked on your website about how to be a friend to someone who's bereaving is be an active listener. That's a great one. Call during holidays and often. Call two days after the funeral. Say the deceased's name out loud during conversations and ask how you can help. Those are great advice. This is a great place to take a break. Still to come, preparation. What you need to know before or after an end-of-live occurrence. And leaving a busy legacy, how have the Wittenberg’s done it so successfully? And I want to remind everybody, we broadcast live every Wednesday from 6 to 7 PM central time on Facebook, and podcasts are made available on all popular listening sites and Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy’s YouTube channel. We’ll be back after the break.

[BREAK]

[00:34:22] ANNOUNCER: Long before Beyonce sang this song to the Obamas at the Inaugural Ball, Eddie James sang it on the Dreamland Ballroom stage. Located on the top floor of the flagandbanner.com building in downtown Little Rock, there lies a historical treasure called the Dreamland Ballroom where musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Eddie James once played.

30 years ago, this magnificent venue was destined for the Wrecking Ball, but since 2009, the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland has worked to restore this piece of Arkansas heritage. They’ve made it their mission to bring back its history and culture by providing tours, artistic performances, musical education and cultural outreach.

As you walk to the entrance of Dreamland, you’ll notice the paver bricks that are engraved with commemorative names and phrases chosen by donors to Dreamland. The Pave the Way Fundraiser is an ongoing project of the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland. Paver bricks are available for you to be a part of this restoration project. Visit dreamlandballrom.org to find out how you can contribute.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

[00:35:32] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Justin Wittenberg, third generation owner of Ruebel Funeral Home, the oldest funeral home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Founded in 1901 in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.

Before the break, we talked about grief, being a good friend to someone who's bereaved. So if you miss that, you should go back and listen to it, great tips. You can also go to Ruebel Funeral Homes website, click on their links. You can follow the process. After my father died, hospice gave me a book. Told me when you’re taking care of someone’s who’s dying and how they pull away and what they began to do. And I wish I had gotten that before my father passed. They gave it to me afterwards. And I looked back over my father passing and I thought, “Oh, that's what he was doing.” So that's a nice tip out there that hospice has this book if you are caring for somebody or you feel like you're going to get there. They can kind of help you with the stages of life. Because I couldn't figure out why my dad won't talk to me all the time. It’s like he's pulling away from this world, you know?

But anyway, let's talk about the process before and after death. Before, what should we all do while we're still living?

[00:36:44] JW: You should all have the conversation with your family members and tell them what you want when you pass away and what you expect your funeral to look like and what you –

[00:36:57] KM: What if you don't know?

[00:36:59] JW: Tell them that.

[00:37:01] KM: Whatever you want to do?

[00:37:02] JW: Yeah. Give them to give them permission to make that decision on their own.

[00:37:06] KM: Have you done that? You're so young. Have you already done that? No.

[00:37:12] JW: It’s strange. I think coming from the inside-out, it's kind of like doctors make the worst patients. Funeral directors, they give great advice but they don't listen to their own advice. My dad says, “Y'all do whatever you want,” and now been a funeral director for 40 plus years. He's got an honorary funeral director's license from the state of Arkansas. He's been a funeral director for so long. And he's always said, “I don't care what you do. Do whatever makes you happy.”

But the fact that he says that to us means that when he passes away, whatever we decide to do, we know that he's happy with. And the hardest decisions that are made are when family members sit down and I say, “Okay. Where are we going to go now? What are we going to do next?” They go, “Oh, we don't know. We don't we don't want to make a decision that would upset my mother.” And then they're left hanging, and we direct them. And that's why we're funeral directors, but they might leave those arrangements with us and think, “Did I make the right decision?” And that's where the guilt stage comes back in on them even after they’ve done their best job to support their loved one that's passed away and do what they think was right. They don't know for sure that's what they wanted, and it leaves them with a bad feeling of, “Have I done the right thing?”

[00:38:45] KM: So my mother had picked out the funeral home. She wanted to be cremated, and she wanted to be buried in the North Little Rock Veteran Cemetery next to dad. That made everything so easy for me.

[00:38:59] JW: Yeah.

[00:39:00] KM: I mean, so easy for me.

[00:39:02] JW: Aren’t you lucky?

[00:39:04] KM: I felt so lucky that I didn't have to make any of those decisions, because I probably would have buried her if she hadn't said, “Oh! No. No. I want to be cremated.”

[00:39:14] JW: The easiest funerals that we direct for both my myself my staff and the families that we are there supporting are the ones that we pull a file out and say, “Your mom chose this, this, this and this, and here's her obituary that she wrote.” And they go, “Oh my goodness. We don't have to worry about anything?”

[00:39:34] KM: Writing an obituary is tough.

[00:39:37] JW: I can imagine. I wrote my grandmother's, and it wasn't easy, but she and I were the best of friends. And so I took joy in it. But I was in the funeral industry and I got a lot of experience of reading many, many obits, and I could pull from those. But yeah, writing an obit is a very difficult thing.

[00:39:59] KM: So you should even write your own obit, I guess.

[00:40:01] JW: Yes.

[00:40:03] KM: They used to let us lay in state. I kind of like that. Why are we not laying in state anymore?

[00:40:08] GM: Of course you like that.

[00:40:11] KM: I want to lay in state in the living room.

[00:40:12] GM: Don't worry mother, I'm taking notes.

[00:40:15] KM: Okay. Ruebel Funeral Home. Go to Ruebel Funeral –

[00:40:16] GM: Lying in state.

[00:40:17] KM: Lying in state at Ruebel Funeral Homes. And y’all have a big part.

[00:40:22] JW: We still do have people that lay in state for.

[00:40:25] KM: For how long?

[00:40:26] JW: I have state rooms.

[00:40:28] KM: Is that what that means on your website when it says you how many state rooms?

[00:40:33] JW: Three.

[00:40:33] KM: Three. Yeah. So three state rooms. I didn't know what that meant.

[00:40:37] JW: Where the person lays there and their friends come and see them and they come throughout the day and sign the register book. I have families that still do the what we call old school traditional way. And we take their mom and dad to their house.

[00:40:52] KM: That’s what I want.

[00:40:54] GM: Just right on the front porch.

[00:40:56] KM: I want to be in the dining room.

[00:40:58] KM: Oh, on the table? Like what’s her name?

[00:41:00] KM: Aha.

[00:41:01] JW: I love it. I think it's amazing. I think it really completes the grieving process. It's a complete acceptance of the fact that this person has passed away and they're now in a better place.

[00:41:15] KM: Americans are so weird about dying to me.

[00:41:20] JW: We have so many different faith directions in our country and so many different people telling us what we should do and believe, and that it's hard for people to say, “I don't care what you want. This is what I want and this is what makes me happy. And I'm going to do it.”

[00:41:39] KM: How long can you lay in state before you start to smell? Sorry, I just wondered.

[00:41:45] JW: Weeks.

[00:41:46] KM: Weeks. That embalming fluid works.

[00:41:48] JW: It works. Yes.

[00:41:49] KM: So why do we use embalming fluid?

[00:41:53] JW: To preserve.

[00:41:55] KM: I have a friend that’s Jewish. She's probably listening. She doesn’t want embalming fluid. She wants to she wants to go straight to burial within I think 24 hours, it has to be.

[00:42:06] JW: It's 48.

[00:42:07] KM: 48 hours.

[00:42:08] JW: 48. I would say that she's probably not Orthodox Jewish. She's probably Reformed Jewish. But the Orthodox Jewish faith says that there's no preservation of the body and they're buried within 48 hours of death. The state of Arkansas health department says that if we're not going to do anything to preserve the body, then yes, we have to bury within 48 hours of death. But we don't have to be embalmed to preserve. We can do refrigeration.

[00:42:38] KM: But you can't lay in state without embalming.

[00:42:41] JW: I wouldn't suggest it.

[00:42:43] KM: You have to burn a lot of candles.

[00:42:46] JW: Oh God!

[00:42:49] KM: Justin is grinning.

[00:42:50] JW: I was about to say I love this interview all of the sudden.

[00:42:55] KM: So after someone passes, what happens if it's in your home while under your care? Who do you call?

[00:43:02] JW: The police.

[00:43:03] KM: Oh, right.

[00:43:04] JW: And you tell them I’ve had a non-emergency death. And if you don't tell them the non-emergency part, the fire department and the mems and the police are all going to come light your neighborhood up in the middle of the night.

[00:43:17] KM: And everybody will know.

[00:43:18] JW: Yeah. Well, just the sight of the light and sirens are just overwhelming.

[00:43:24] KM: Yeah. And so uh my mother passed away like two o'clock in the morning in the middle of the night. I waited till morning to call, because I just thought I just kind of wanted to be with her and I also thought I didn't want to wake everybody up.

[00:43:40] JW: It's fine.

[00:43:42] KM: And so that was okay. I wondered if that was okay to do that.

[00:43:44] JW: I think it's great.

[00:43:47] KM: It's funny when someone dies in your home even if they're 95, like mother. You do kind of feel like, “Am I doing everything right? Am I doing everything lawfully the right way?”

[00:43:58] JW: Am I breaking the law? Yeah, that's the big fear.

[00:44:01] KM: I never thought about that until that happened with mother.

[00:44:04] JW: So have the conversation with your mother and then call the funeral home and have the conversation with them. This is what my mother wants. This is where she is. What do I need to do when she passes away? Okay. Well, what if I want to do something else? Can I do that? Yes or no. And we're there to direct you and allow you to grieve in the way that you want to grieve.

[00:44:32] KM: So everybody should have a funeral home in mind and should have called them and should have asked these questions, because I did not do that and I should have done that. And you get all those questions answered.

[00:44:43] JW: So there comes another hard part. That’s the denial part that we talked about before, and your mother hadn't even died yet.

[00:44:50] KM: I think it kind of was.

[00:44:51] JW: But by you calling the funeral home and asking them these questions that was you accepting that your mother was going to die, and that's a very difficult thing to do.

[00:45:02] KM: Even if you're ready. Even if she's 95, even if she's ready to go, it's still –

[00:45:06] JW: You weren't ready. You're sitting here telling me that what you did meant you weren't ready. You think you're ready, but you're still not completing the process. And that's okay.

[00:45:19] KM: Yeah. So if you're going to make decisions about – I notice on your website there're religious considerations to think about, which you already talked about. But what about you offer caskets vaults and urns. Caskets for in-ground burial?

[00:45:36] JW: Right, and vaults are for what the casket goes in. And it protects the casket. It keeps it from allowing water into the casket and it keeps the casket from being crushed over from the weight of the earth on top of it.

[00:45:51] KM: Do we care about that?

[00:45:54] JW: I do.

[00:45:55] KM: Does everybody get a vault or do most people?

[00:45:57] JW: No. No, definitely not.

[00:45:59] KM: Some people just put the casket straight in the ground. And then what about
– What are those rooms that you go into?

[00:46:08] JW: Mausoleums?

[00:46:09] KM: Mausoleums. I didn't see anything on your website about mausoleums.

[00:46:11] JW: Well. So that's above ground burial, and um those are provided by the cemetery.

[00:46:17] KM: Does Ruebel own a cemetery?

[00:46:18] JW: No. But I inherited a position on the executive board at Roselawn Cemetery when my dad retired, and it is one of the oldest cemeteries, not the oldest, in Little Rock. It's down at 17th and Woodrow. And it's across the street from the Catholic cemetery, which is Calvary Cemetery. A lot of people think they're the same cemetery, because there's just 17th Street Asher Wright Avenue, whatever name you choose to get.

[00:46:49] KM: We’ve only got a few minutes left. What is the weirdest request you've ever had?

[00:46:54] JW: I would say that it was a request my dad received from Craig O'Neill on a prank call.

[00:47:02] GM: Oh my God!

[00:47:04] JW: To embalm his pet turtle that had passed away.

[00:47:09] GM: That’s a prank call? Okay. I was hoping maybe somebody actually followed through.

[00:47:16] KM: All right. You're working for your family. We're wrapping it up now. I cannot thank you enough. I want to tell everybody that your facility has four state rooms on your website. Three or four state rooms?

[00:47:27] JW: Three.

[00:47:27] KM: Three. Three chapel seats 300. There's an arrangement room. Do you
embalm there?

[00:47:33] JW: Yes.

[00:47:33] KM: Oh, you do. You embalm there. There's a casket showroom.

[00:47:37] JW: No.

[00:47:38] KM: No.

[00:47:39] JW: No casket showroom anymore. We've converted that into a visitation/reception space. It's actually bigger than our chapel, and it's used more often than our chapel. And we have fully catered events with music and live music or recorded music. I mean, we’ve had open bars there where there's a bartender and people have drinks and they have a great time celebrating the life of their loved ones.

[00:48:05] KM: My favorite. All right. I want to give you a gift. Thank you so much for coming on. You get a US and an Arkansas desk set to put on your – Do you have one for the Ruebel Funeral Home?

[00:48:14] JW: I do not. I love it. I love it. Thank you so much.

[00:48:16] KM: You're welcome. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking to you. I hope everybody's gotten something out of it. It's really been – You're a really laid back guy.

[00:48:25] JW: Well, thank you. Thank you for the invite. I really appreciate you bringing me on your show.

[00:48:31] KM: You know, I think it's been a very rewarding show for everybody that got to listen. I just want to say to our listeners in closing, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy, and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.

[OUTRO]

[0:53:40.30] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Within 48 hours the podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.

[END]

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