Me and my (job) shadow


The Mirror

Their friends think they are morbid.

But Samantha Moser and Robin Bowdre are completely comfortable talking about their career interest: Being funeral directors.

The two Federal Way High School students spent a day recently talking with Joe Santamaria and peppering him with questions about the inner workings of a funeral home and cemetery. It was part of Job Shadow Day at Federal Way High School. Santamaria is the family service director at New Tacoma Cemeteries and Funeral Home in University Place in Pierce County.

Earlier in the week, Kaylin Getzlaff, also of Federal Way High, was sitting in a room above an indoor arena with Greg Bowman, owner of Summit Stables in Puyallup. They were taking a break and getting warm on a cold, drippy day.

Getzlaff, 17, was on her second job shadow as part of her ambition to become a large-animal veterinarian for horses. She plans to attend either Washington State University or Central Washington University.

The three students were part of a larger group of more than 80 who expressed interest in a business or profession they might want to join in the future, according to program coordinator Cindy Ducich.

More than 75 students were placed in job shadows that included following fitness instructors, teachers and hospital staff at St. Francis Hospital. At the end of the experience, they and their hosts write evaluations of the day.

Last year, Getzlaff spent a day with a veterinarian at Emerald Downs, the thoroughbred horse race track in Auburn. This year, she went to Bowman’s stable to learn about horse training and the ups and downs of being self-employed.

Bowman and Getzlaff had spent time earlier in the morning working with a horse to help it learn to accept a rider. Bowman uses a technique he calls “natural horsemanship,” where he works with the horse instead of forcing it to his will.

Getzlaff and Bowman agreed that she needed to learn some handling techniques because equine owners often expect their vets to know everything about a horse and not just its physical health.

Knowing how to work with a horse would not only make it easier for her to diagnose and treat the animal, but both the horse and future vet would be safer, Bowman said.

Getzlaff hopes one day to run her own veterinary operation, and part of her time with Bowman was learning about how he operates. Bowman explained being self-employed can be good and bad. For example, his time is his own, but it means the work either gets done in the middle of the day or at some odd hour when most other people are in bed. Being a self-employed veterinarian will have some similarities, he said.

Moser and Bowdre, both 15, think working with the dead and their families is a calling. Moser’s interest in the profession was raised when her grandmother died. She became interested in all the people at the funeral home making it possible for her family to bury her grandmother. Her decision to become a funeral director was probably cinched when she found herself taking notes at home on a television program about morticians.

Bowdre’s interest came from curiosity after seeing a drawing of a boy asking his mother if he could be a mortician. Wanting to know more, she looked into it and decided it was for her.

They wanted to know from Santamaria how caskets fit into mausoleums, how much and what type of education a funeral director –– or mortician –– needs, the different ways people say goodbye to their deceased friends and family, how they are memorialized and how families plan –– some years in advance and others the day of the death.

Santamaria, a tall man dressed in a suit, answered their questions with the calm voice one would expect from someone who has worked in the industry for a decade. He encouraged the students, dressed in business casual, to ask more questions and take notes and pictures during their time there.

There are schools for funeral directors to learn their profession, and it takes two years to complete. After that, funeral directors work as apprentices in a funeral home, getting practical experience.

The only area at New Tacoma Cemeteries and Funeral Home the two girls couldn’t tour was where the deceased are prepared for burial. Santamaria explained that section was off-limits to people without the proper state licenses and training.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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