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Flagstaff funeral directors find spiritual joy

FLAGSTAFF -- The Flagstaff funeral homes sit quietly soft and reverent to lessen the blow death deals to families.

Their directors, in contrast, burst with the vivid light of life and have equally hearty laughs.

Norvel Owens, owner of Norvel Owens Mortuary, got into the business in 1971. Richard Lozano, owner of Lozano's Flagstaff Mortuary, has 25 years in the business behind him.

Welcome to a day in their lives.

"Curiosity that's how I got into the business," Lozano says.

As a youngster, he had attended a funeral and had wondered at the work that went into the presentation for the benefit of the family of the woman who had died.

"And I said, 'I'm going to learn to do that someday,' and here I am," he says, smiling.

Owens says that he was working for his father at a lumber mill when his cousin, who owned a funeral home in Holbrook, asked him if he could help out.

"I told him, 'No, thank, you," Owens says, smiling.

But he thought about the work. He wouldn't have to work for his dad anymore, and he would be working indoors. He decided to try it and give it a month.

"After I had helped a family and how much they appreciated it, it felt good ... so, here I am today," Owens says.

On the wall in the hallway of Lozano's, a plaque hangs. It says:

"The funeral ...

"Helps confirm the reality and finality of death ...

"Allows the sorrow of one to become sorrow of the many ...

"Is one of the few times love is given and not expected in return ..."

Lozano, who runs a smaller operation than Owens, says that his days are never the same. Owens says the same.

But while Owens has the benefit of additional help with his daughter Kay Schorman and family friend Scott Skinner as funeral directors, Lozano works alone.

Owens has five full-time employees, while Lozano has Allision Salway, who keeps the office going.

The days are never the same, but the themes are consistent. Both begin their days at 7 or so in the morning. There are meetings with families, taking care of the business side of running a mortuary, preparing for and conducting funerals, travel, and embalming and preparing bodies for burial or cremation.

"Things change quick around here," Owens says, and plans must be amended, sometimes quickly.

Lozano is on call all day, every day, but he tries to stay unavailable weekends and allow his part-time employees to pick up the slack. Owens has the luxury of being able to take some weekends off for pack trips into the wilderness, with his daughter and Skinner available back in Flagstaff.

The two men know each other, and Lozano even worked for Owens at one point in his career. And before Owens went out on his own, he worked for the former owners of Flagstaff Mortuary, which Lozano now owns.

Owens says that he has the good fortune of having Kay and Skinner working with him.

"That's a neat thing," he says.

He has another daughter and a son who are not interested in the business.

Norvel adds that someday, he hopes a succession plan will happen for the business.

"But I am not that old yet," he says, laughing.

Lozano has two daughters who have not expressed an interest in pursuing his type of work. He has no plans of retiring anytime soon.

"I don't know what else to do," he says.

The subject of death is often a touchy one with people, and neither man says he believes his profession affects the way he is approached. Despite the popular perception of the somber, darkly dressed people portrayed on the television or in films, these two men break the stereotype.

In fact, Lozano and Owens both say they are well-recognized in the community and are reminded over and again of their service with gratitude from those they meet.

Lozano says he sees the profession as a calling, a "spiritual fulfillment" of offering comfort and a stepping stone for families to heal and allow the chance to say good bye and carry on.

When Owens talks about the service he has provided to residents of northern Arizona for the last 42 years, he becomes reserved, and his humility rests on him like a well-worn sweater.

"I know I have been blessed," he says.

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