Meet Berwyn’s Entrepreneurs: John Adolf of Adolf Berwyn Funeral Home
Meet John Adolf of Adolf Berwyn Funeral Home (2921 S Harlem Ave, Berwyn), est. 1959
Hometown: Clarendon Hills, IL
Current residence: Burr Ridge, IL
All About John: The eldest of seven children, I grew up with five sisters and one brother. We grew up in a 3 bedroom ranch style home and my parents eventually added a second floor addition as we got older. It was always great family atmosphere around the house and we learned at an early age to take care of each other. I attended Hinsdale Central High School, where I played football and baseball. To be honest, I didn’t excel in either sport at a high level, but I enjoyed continuing to play baseball and softball through my college years and into the start of my business career! I am a graduate of Western Illinois University and continued my education at Worsham College of Mortuary Science to obtain my license as a funeral director.
The Business Side: I’ve been a funeral director for 38 years and continue to work in a family business that was established in Chicago by my great-grandfather in 1882. I began working with my grandfather in 1978 at our Berwyn location and continued after my grandfather’s death. I worked with my uncle who, interestingly, was a funeral director as well as a retired watch commander with the Berwyn Police Department. I’m very proud about my chosen career path and look at what I do each day as my passion. I truly enjoy the personal interaction and trust given with the people I take care of as a funeral director. What I have learned over the years is that no two people or families are exactly alike and they react very differently under the stress of a family member’s death. My goal as a funeral director is to guide people on a path they choose and help them create a respectful and meaningful service that in the end, will exceed all their wishes and expectations.
Describe yourself using three words.
Honest: A long time ago, my grandfather told me that you only do a funeral service once, so everything has to be perfect. Unlike most other decisions in life, you can’t go back and correct something that was done incorrectly with a funeral. What I tell people I meet with when making funeral arrangements is that I will take all the time necessary to make the best decisions possible. My goal is to make people feel as calm as they can be in this situation. I do my best to explain all the options and choices they have based on the type of service they wish to take place. I try to reassure families making these permanent decisions, if I think you’re making a mistake, I will tell you.
Trustworthy: I appreciate the trust that people give me with the responsibility of taking care of a family member at their death. What I have learned over the 38 years is that people are very different within the same family. Frequently, I’m needed to help facilitate processing many decisions regarding funeral arrangements when there are numerous family members who all have their own opinions. Many times I talk alone with the individuals within a family to help them arrive at acceptable decisions to everyone concerned. When I am involved in those types of situations, I do my best to let the individual know I am concerned about their input and I will certainly keep what they say in confidence.
Sincere: I can honestly say that I never get used to making funeral arrangements or taking care of funeral services. I so enjoy the “people part” of my profession—there is no better compliment than having a family member tell me that the funeral service was so much better than they thought it possibly could be. I’ve dealt with all kinds of difficult circumstances over the years and when you know you have done your best to make a bad situation so much better, your moral compass is pointed in the right direction.
What inspires you?
My parents have always been the greatest inspiration. I was very fortunate to grow up in a wonderful family environment. When I was a child, I remember my father going to night school at DePaul University to complete his Master’s Degree after a full day at work. I certainly did not understand at the time what he was trying to do and why, I just knew he was going to school. My mom always did a great job keeping things organized and made all of us feel loved, happy and safe. As you get older, you begin to realize all the things your parents did for you growing up and now it’s my responsibility to take care of them as they age. What I would like others to think about, is that life is short, don’t take things for granted.
Tell us something people might not know about you.
We never had pets growing up because there were too many young kids running around the house to take care of. At the time, I didn’t realize how important a family pet can become. Today I am fortunate to have the opportunity to “dog sit” fairly often for one of my sisters, who has a Cavalier King Charles named Noah. As active as he is, he is also a great calming force at the end of a stressful day.
What is your fondest memory?
Hitting a Grand Slam Home Run at Hinsdale Central in 1970. I played baseball four years in high school and we were an average team in our conference, but we always had fun! I still have the opportunity to get together with teammates who have moved all over the country and it’s amazing how we can recall the jokes we played on each other nearly 50 years ago.
If we were to hang out, what would we do?
I would say go sailing or play golf. I learned both sports when I was young and continue to enjoy both of them as an adult. I enjoy them because it’s something that can be relaxing and “work” at the same time. Sailing relies on wind and weather and golf relies on my swing that day. At least at the end of the day doing either one, you can relax with a nice refreshing cocktail.
What is the longest word you know?
Deciduous. To me, this is a funny word. I remember just blurting it out of nowhere as a child. I think I picked it up from someone at the nursery behind our house growing up.
What is the question you get asked repeatedly about your profession?
“How much is a funeral?” is probably the most common general question. Of course, there’s also questions like “Don’t you get scared?” or “Have you seen a ghost?” I often sense my grandfather’s presence while I’m working, but it’s anything but scary! It’s very comforting to know that he’s still around.
What is the most interesting place you’ve visited?
One of the most interesting places I have visited was the U.S Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is absolutely worth taking the time to see what they have on the property. This is also the home of the well-known “Space Camp”. Next on my list is The Ark in Williamstown, Kentucky.
What movie title best describes your life?
Field of Dreams
Adolf Berwyn Funeral Home has been in business for over 100 years in Berwyn. How did you come to select Berwyn as your location and why has keeping your roots in Berwyn been so important?
Our family funeral home began as Kral & Adolf in Chicago. My grandfather, Anthony J. Adolf, purchased the current location in 1959 from John Tancl, a well-respected funeral director, who built the building. We are always happy to give back to the community that we’ve been in for so many years. For example, we donated the bridge in Proksa Park a few years back. It’s those community-driven elements that we try to support at every turn.