Johnson County family designs a burial that supports feelings & pocketbooks

By Steve Nicely

The grandchildren of Randy and Nancy Jobe gather at the stone marking the site of Randy’s natural burial.

Some months ago, Nancy Jobe attended a presentation in Kansas City. The talk was by Sally King, vice president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Kansas City, on the topic of natural burial.

That evening at their rural home north of Gardner, Nancy told Randy, her husband of 27 years, what she had learned. Randy, who has Native American ancestry, liked the idea of his body being returned to the earth after death in its natural state—no embalming, no metal casket, no concrete vault.

On April 22, at the age of 57, Randy suffered a massive heart attack at home and died. Nancy dialed 911. Med-Act professionals, volunteer firefighters, and county sheriff’s officers responded. She sat on the floor with her back against the wall while they tried unsuccessfully to revive Randy.

Then came the awful question: Where did she want his body taken?

Nancy’s thoughts raced through her mind: We have made no arrangements. I’m not ready. What should I do? How can I honor his wishes for a natural burial? One answer became clear: Leave him alone until I make some calls.

So Nancy contacted a funeral home that would charge $3,900 for its part in a natural burial process. When she asked, “What do I get for that money?” the funeral director seemed defensive. Pick up the body, he said. Prepare it. Use of our facility. File the death certificate and obituary.

“I am basically a cheap person,” she told the Funeral Consumers Alliance board later. “Randy and I have always felt that funeral homes take advantage of grief.”

Her continued search found First Call, a private morgue service. First Call arrived within an hour of Nancy’s call, about four hours after Randy’s death, and transported his body to its refrigerated facilities in Kansas City, Kan. Now she had time for necessary planning.

She got on the Internet and searched for “green burial.” The city-owned Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence popped up.

She and her three sons went for a look. At first they were put off by the backhoe and pile of dirt near the entrance to the cemetery’s natural burial section. But when they entered the wooded canopy, they found that it was beautiful.

“Dad would like this,” one son said.

“You boys decide where you want him buried,” Nancy responded.

Randy died at 1:45 on a Sunday afternoon. At 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, family and friends gathered at the cemetery for private services and burial. First Call placed the body in a shroud and then in a cardboard cremation container. It was delivered to the cemetery and then placed on a cart, with boards to support the cardboard container, three coiled ropes on each side.

Randy’s children decorated the container, attaching to the box a scroll containing the bright handprints of the Jobes’ nine grandchildren. Because Randy was once a professional bass fisherman, his fishing shirt, hat, and award patches were placed on the lid. One son, a firefighter and member of the Memorial Guard, wore his dress uniform. Another, who works at an airport, arranged a flyover of two vintage airplanes. Native American flute music was played during the processional of his body to the grave.

Randy’s sons lowered the container into the grave with the ropes, then refilled the grave with shovels. On Father’s Day, an engraved native stone boulder was installed as a headstone and a redbud was planted on the grave. The grandchildren threw wildflowers.

The cemetery costs totaled $2,280: $800 for the plot, $750 for opening and closing the grave, $485 for the boulder, and $245 for the tree. Even with all remaining costs, the total was more than $1,000 under what the funeral home was going to charge for its services alone.

Nancy’s comments about the experience: “It gave me so much peace. It was way more personal, almost healing. And this way is better for the earth.”

Nancy Jobe joins two featured speakers at FCA annual meeting Sept. 14

Nancy Jobe will discuss the details of her husband’s death and burial and answer questions as a guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 14. The meeting will be at 3:00 p.m. in the Kansas City Room at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center, 4801 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, Mo. The public is welcome.

Two added features at the annual meeting will be the results of a new survey of prices charged by virtually all metropolitan area funeral homes, and the return of Mercedes Bern-Klug as the meeting’s keynote speaker.

Bern-Klug, an associate professor of social work and aging at the University of Iowa, will speak on the topic “We Don’t Die Like We Used To: A Dozen New Challenges Facing Families Today.” A former 10-year board member of Kansas City’s Funeral Consumers Alliance chapter, she will explain how dying changed during the 20th century and what it means for us in the 21st century.

Alliance board member Jim Fitzpatrick led a funeral price survey team this summer in the collection of data from 88 area funeral homes. He will explain the results and provide copies at the meeting. One key result: The average cost of a minimal funeral is $6,368, an increase of 1.4 percent since the alliance’s last survey in 2009. The change was well below the 7.8 percent increase in consumer prices here during the same period. All of the results are posted on the alliance’s Web site,

Steve Nicely is president of the Greater Kansas City chapter of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. He lives in Mission.
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