50 years of funerals
A recent staff photo from Ryan Funeral Home.
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It’s been 50 years since Connie Ryan started Ryan Funeral Home on Madison’s north side, and Ryan and the business are still as lively as ever.
“It only feels like 25 years, not 50,” says Ryan, who officially celebrated his anniversary as owner of Ryan Funeral Home on Dec. 16. “I just can’t believe it’s gone that quick, but when it’s a labor of love it goes that way, I guess.”
For Ryan, the funeral business has always been a family affair, too. Some might have noticed that the funeral home bills itself as having been in business since 1938, not 1966 when Ryan bought the business. That’s because Ryan’s father, Paul, purchased his own Ryan Funeral Home in Madison in 1938. Connie Ryan actually did work for his father for about six years, he notes, but when he bought his own funeral home his dad didn’t employ him, nor did Paul have any connection to the new funeral home operation.
Still, as a courtesy to his father and the legacy he started in the funeral industry, Ryan has long said Ryan Funeral Home has been around since 1938. At the beginning of the month, a fourth generation of the family entered the funeral home business and joined Ryan Funeral Home. Ryan’s grandson, Casey, began work as a funeral director apprentice on Jan. 1, joining his father, Roman, and aunt Diane, both Connie Ryan’s children who have been a part of the business for decades.
“They always say the happiest day of your life is when you get married or buy a home,” Connie Ryan says. “But to be honest, the day I went into business was the happiest day of my life. It meant that it was me, I had to make it, and I couldn’t blame anyone else for any failures. It was all on me. Now, to celebrate 50 years and welcome another generation into the family business is an honor.”
Connie Ryan attended the Wisconsin Institute of Mortuary Science where he received his degree in 1964, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He opened the first, original Ryan Funeral Home on North Sherman Avenue two years later.
Connie Ryan and his wife, Jan.
Twenty years later, Ryan’s daughter, Diane, made history as one of the first women in Dane County to earn a funeral director license. Ryan’s son Roman joined the business in 1992. In 2000, the Ryan family acquired Joyce Funeral Homes located on Odana Road in Madison and in Verona, as a way to better assist the needs of families on the growing west side. They sold the Verona building in 2002, and built a new funeral home there. In 2006, the family built the Ryan Funeral Home in DeForest.
Ryan knows it’s rare for family businesses to survive past the first generation, but he says it is more common in the funeral home industry. Being a family operation is something he believes is critical to effectively serve the needs of grieving families.
“I think the care is there,” Ryan opines. “There’s a large company out of Texas, Service Corp. International (SCI), that’s in the business but it’s not the same. When they go into a community and buy a funeral home what often happens is the next guy in town, the family operation, does more business. That happens all the time because people know [we really do care about them like a family].”