Naperville is still home to many residents whose families have been here for generations. But few could rival the Kunsch family, whose funeral home has been around since the Civil War.
Today, John Kunsch, 73, runs what is now Beidelman-Kunsch Funeral Homes & Crematory with locations in south Naperville on Royal Worlington Drive and downtown on Washington Street.
Kunsch is a Naperville native, who only left the city to attend a private high school in Wisconsin and later earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from John Carroll University in Ohio.
Kunsch said he considered going into the insurance business, and trained for a year to be an underwriter and a field agent for Hartford Insurance.
“Before the insurance work, I was drafted as the Vietnam war came up, and I went on to become a second lieutenant who served in combat from 1966 to 1967,” Kunsch said. “I earned a bronze star, and I actually was considering a career in the military, but I decided in the end not to. It was a very significant experience for me.”
Kunsch said he met his wife after returning from the service and was offered a job in their family’s funeral home business — a decision he has never regretted. Oddly enough, Kunsch said that having an aptitude for work as a funeral director was something he learned about well before he actually became one.
“I took an aptitude test at IIT during the college years in order to match both my interests and skills, and the thing I scored highest on was being a funeral director,” he said. “When I got back from the war, I took the same test at IIT, and it came out exactly the same way.”
Kunsch said he somewhat credits his father for his career path, who also was one of Naperville’s first physicians.
“My father worked as a doctor here in Naperville for 50 years, and I think the connection between he and I and working is that — as a doctor — he was always taking care of people, and that’s what I think we do here at the funeral home,” Kunsch said. “We try to help people with their grief. This job requires really listening to people and finding out what they are thinking when they’ve experienced a loss and what they want to do.”
One of Kunsch’s big advocates is his neighbor Mayor A. George Pradel, who has known Kunsch for many years. Pradel says the long-standing businessman “is very tender-hearted and is very knowledgeable about his business.”
“John’s family has been a part of the community for a long time, and I feel he’s a man of distinction and is so humble,” Pradel said. “I know he was in the service and was decorated, but he never talks about it.
“He’s well known in the community, and he cares about the people he deals with.”
Kunsch said working as a funeral director has had its changes, too. From people choosing to have more cremations to dealing with economic issues that all businesses seemed to face when the recession hit in 2008, he’s taken the challenges in stride.
“Years ago, if someone died and was Catholic, you’d contact one of the few churches in town and that was it,” Kunsch said. “Today, people are looking more at cremation — it’s about a 50-50 split between that and burial, and people aren’t looking to have family plots where all the relatives are placed because society today is too mobile.”
Kunsch’s two sons are poised to take over the business their father will eventually leave, but for now, Kunsch said he still feels good about what he does as well.
He’s also very happy about having made Naperville his home.
“We’ve raised three kids here, and even though I’m at the ‘retirement era,’ I love what I do because each person is unique,” he said. “They have their own history, and this work involves a lot of personal involvement and putting yourself into it.”