Stehn Family Funeral Homes adapts for long-term sustainability.

When Mark Stehn got into the family business as a licensed funeral director and embalmer back in 1987, the business looked quite a bit different than it does today.

Back then, most funeral homes were family-run and had long been serving a neighborhood, town or community. That’s the business his parents, Robert and Sandy Stehn, purchased in 1977 in Milwaukie that became Stehn Family Funeral Homes. Before that, Robert Stehn had worked as a funeral home manager on the Coast for 10 years.

“Bob always wanted to own one,” Sandy recalls.

Four decades later, a family-owned funeral home is now somewhat unique. 

But Mark Stehn still sees a future in the family business. Corporations can’t compete with the personalized service he provides.

“In a lot of ways, they are easy to compete against,” Mark Stehn says. “There is always going to be a place for the family funeral home.”

The Stehns have been leaders in adapting to consumer trends, becoming the first funeral home in Oregon and third in the country to offer tribute videos to families, which has become common practice.

The Stehns have been deeply involved in the community, participating in numerous civic groups, events and both national and state trade associations. Since taking over as director when his dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Mark Stehn has continued those memberships and community commitments.

Sandy Stehn, who still does the bookkeeping, says her husband believed in handling everything with a personal touch. 

“It wasn’t like a cookie-cutter business,” Sandy Stehn says. “Bob was a believer in treating people the way he would want to be treated.”

The Stehns were nominated for the Excellence in Family Business Awards by a family they had served. 

“We are honored to be considered,” Mark Stehn says. 

Mark Stehn attended the funeral service education program at Mount Hood Community College, completed a two-year apprenticeship and passed a national board exam to become a licensed funeral director. He worked outside the family business for 15 years. Then he became executive director of the Oregon Funeral Directors Association for 8 years, where he worked on legislative issues relating to the funeral industry in Oregon.

But when his dad could no longer work, Mark Stehn came back to the family business.

“When I came in, we had to make changes in the day-to-day operations,” he says. “I gleaned all the best practices from my previous experiences, so it was easy to bring those ideas here.”

These changes are aimed at achieving long-term sustainability for the family business. But the most important things he learned from his dad haven’t changed: attention to detail, accuracy and community.