TRAVERSE CITY — “Everyone has a life’s story, whether you’re 2 years old or you’re 100 years old,” Life Story Funeral Home owner/manager LeVon “Vaughn” Seavolt said.
Seavolt wanted to make sure Tonya Schroka was able to tell the story of her husband, Michael A. Schroka, after his unexpected death on Dec. 17 at the age of 36. After greeting 200 people on one of the most difficult days of her life, Seavolt had one last question for Tonya before she spoke at the funeral service.
“Have you eaten?” Tonya Schroka recalled Seavolt asking at the Dec. 22 service at Lake Ann United Methodist Church.
“Who does that?” Schroka said this week of Seavolt. “It’s the little things. It’s the little things in life that matter the most.”
Schroka said she and her late husband often used the expression about the little things and it even appeared at the end of his obituary. Tonya also is convinced it was her husband delivering an important message through Seavolt.
“It has been the most beautiful experience that you could ask for in such a tragic situation,” Tonya Schroka said. “Vaughn and his staff have been beyond wonderful. They have been extremely compassionate, sensitive and thoughtful, allowing you to grieve in whatever manner grief comes to you.
“Also being able to help you walk through those very difficult choices that you never think you’re going to have to make.”
Life Story Funeral Home soon will write a new story of its own, moving from the East Bay Plaza at 752 Munson Ave. to West Hammond Road next to the Traversefield Industrial Park in March.
Seavolt said the additional space — both inside and outside — is needed. He opened Life Story in April of 2008 after renovating the building that formerly housed a Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant and a Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders.
The first phase of the new building, which began in December, will increase the size of Life Story from 2,900 to 4,200 square feet. Life Story also has seen the parking in front of its current location go from 75 spaces to single digits as a result of structural expansion at East Bay Plaza.
“With the new building, I’ll be out by myself, it will be all natural with woods all around me and we’ll be able to accommodate, in the first phase, 75 parking spaces,” Seavolt said. “As we grow, we’re thinking at least a hundred.”
Seavolt said the new building will be bright and inviting. The new structure will offer more privacy in the form of two conference rooms, as well as a chapel for on-site services.
“We try to offer more comfort,” said Seavolt, who wears a Life Story polo shirt to meet with families, later donning a traditional suit for services. “Families say to us that they like coming here because it doesn’t feel like a traditional funeral home. It just feels more open, more homey.”
Seavolt said the concept of Life Story, started by two funeral home directors in the Kalamazoo area, is a little different. Funeral homes are locally owned and operated and all decisions are made in-house. Life Story funeral homes partner together to manage websites as well as to produce register books, memory cards, video slideshows and life panels that Seavolt said “tell people’s life story though photos.”
“For decades and decades, funeral directors basically used the casket as the focal point rather than the person that has died,” Seavolt said.
Seavolt said Life Story also tries to control the cost to families while still providing the same services.
“My approach is that families can choose how much involvement the funeral home is in and also what kind of pricing structure,” he said. “My pricing structure is completely different, like costs for caskets and cemetery vaults that families pick from are a lot less expensive. It’s the same quality and you can get the same exact thing from other funeral homes, but our fees are a lot less expensive.”
In the end, it all comes down to serving the survivors. Schroka said Seavolt had to make an additional trip to Lake Ann to transport all the flowers for her husband’s funeral.
“It’s the little things,” Schroka said.