|February 6, 2014
Meeting the needs of those who pass on
Foster Funeral Home and Crematory’s sensitivity to tribal culture sets it apart
By Adriana Fehrs
Through snow and ice, the Foster Funeral Home and Crematory services the community. It is first local funeral home to service the specific cultural needs of the native community. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — The three-story 7,000 sq. ft. building, erected around 1890 has been the location of the Foster Funeral Home and Crematory since 1999. Ralph Foster, the owner and mortician, says “(My wife Phyllis and I) started out as a business for tribal members because their needs were not being met by other local funeral homes.” Though his funeral home services all local residents, his business meets the specific cultural needs of the native community - the first in the area to do so.
Ralph Foster was born in Missouri into a Cherokee/Delaware and Passamaquoddy family. He started his education in chemical engineering in Kansas. When the oil fields shut down back in the late 70’s - early 80’s, he changed his major to Premed and religion/ethics. While at Kentucky University Medical, he obtained a certificate in mortuary science.
Ralph’s went to work for Riddle/Hunt funeral homes of Browning and St. Ignatius for the health insurance they offered for him and his wife, who had terminal cancer. After the unfortunate death of his first wife in 2002, he continued to stay in St. Ignatius. In 2003 David Durgleloh Jr., Ralph’s first wife’s cousin, became his partner.
In 2004 Ralph married Phyllis Haynes - who was his children’s head start teacher. Then after, David Durgeloh Jr. sold his part of the business in 2008 and Phyllis became the majority holder. The branch they owned in Browning was sold in 2008 to the Spotted Eagle family. Through the changes, Phyllis and his sons Zach and Zane Foster, have been involved in the process of all aspects. Ralph says, “My wife is my right hand in many decisions; while I run most of the day-to-day tasks, she is always my sounding board.” He also mentions that his staff Reonna Morigeau, the office/tech manager, and Arleen Adams, their cultural director, have a great working relationship. “Everyone has a job, and they know what to do.” Recently, Arleen has also been helping the Spotted Eagles in Browning.
Ralph Foster, the co-owner and mortician of the Foster Funeral Home and Crematory, poses in the snow in front of his business. Established in 1999, Ralph says “we started as a business for tribal members because their needs were not being met by other funeral homes.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)
The funeral home, since its beginning in 1999, has been incorporated under the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe as a tribally owned business. Financing is through CSKT by Sovereign Leasing, which allows tribal members and descendants the financial freedom to fulfill their loved ones final wishes. Ralph explains that their focus is not on profit, but instead “It is about serving the needs of the surviving while fulfilling the wishes of the deceased.” The funeral homes services between 110 - 120 families annually, and a large percentage of what the home makes is paid back in principal and interest. Since they are 100 percent locally owned, they strive to keep all of their contracted work local as well, using family members of the deceased, or other local businesses.
Many individuals choose to use Foster Funeral Home and Crematory because of the sensitivity shown in the past, and the continued practices they exhibit. Seventy-five percent of families serviced are Native American families, “We are the most culturally sensitive funeral home in the area, as all employees and ownership comes from Native American ancestry.” Within reason, Ralph says, “(We) do anything that the deceased wish for, and when we started we were the only home that let families stay overnight with their past loved ones.” They still continue to be one of the few funeral homes that provide that service. The funeral home also strives to create a home environment that helps to put families at ease. Foster’s funeral home has an expansive array of services they offer, from Catholic practices, cultural practices, and even cremation. Ralph says there is no service regarding the burial of a loved one that they do not offer.
Ralph has many plans for the future regarding his funeral home. He hopes to finish construction on the chapel, the expansion of the three-story building, the crematory, and finish construction on the rest of the aesthetics. Ralph is going nowhere soon, he says. “I plan to grow old around here and hopefully our [youngest son Zane] will come back and take over”.
Foster Funeral Home and Crematory is Located at 216 Project Drive in St. Ignatius. They can be contacted at (406) 745-6789, or via email at email@example.com. To find out more about the business, view their website at www.fosterfhndcrematory.com
Last week’s article about Foster Funeral Home and Crematory contain errors: KSU med is Kansas, not Kentucky; David Durgeloh was Ralph’s original partner in 1999, sold his part of the business in 2003, and then sold his stock in the company in 2008. Arlene Adams does not help the Spotted Eagles, but instead individuals in the Browning community.