Casket company promises sustainability

Contributed to the Wisconsin State Farmer by Gloria Hafemeister, Correspondent

Beaver Dam — “We’re a tree planting business that happens to build caskets,” said Jonas Zahn, who, with his wife Julie, owns Northwoods Casket Company.

Jonas Zahn pictured with a 100% metal free pine casket--one of more than 75 different styles the company crafts here in Wisconsin.

Jonas Zahn pictured with a 100% metal free pine casket--one of more than 75 different styles the company crafts here in Wisconsin.

Jonas grew up on a dairy farm and had a 20-year career in the corporate world, but he and Julie started this business as a way to satisfy his desire to provide something that will benefit generations to come.

“We need to make a profit in this business in order to survive, but making money is not our goal,” he said.  “Our goal is to plant 10 million trees for the next generation and the generation after that. We’re financing that goal with profits from our casket business.”

Read more at the Wisconsin State Farmer

Environmentally friendly to the very end

By Gloria Hafemeister | Watertown Daily Times

Beaver Dam - When Jonas Zahn’s grandfather died just before Christmas in 2004, he and other family members gathered in his grandparents’ farmhouse to talk about funeral plans. While family members had trouble agreeing on what Grandpa would want, Jonas came up with the idea of building a casket for his grandpa. He pointed out that Grandpa was a big John Wayne and Clint Eastwood fan and he always wanted to be a cowboy. “I remembered the coffin from the movie ‘Unforgiven’ that was known as the toe-pincher. I offered to build one like it for Grandpa,” he recalls. His grandma agreed it would be what her husband wanted and family members offered to help. Together family members made a Transylvanian coffin design. The process brought the family closer together and provided an outlet for their grieving.  

The whole thing, however, got Jonas thinking about modern caskets. He thought about how environmentally unfriendly modern caskets are, how most of them are made in China and other countries, and about the cost. “It just didn’t make sense to me to bury Grandma or Grandpa in a steel box that probably cost more than they ever spent in their lifetime on a bedroom set,” he says.

Making that first casket sparked his interest in the natural burial movement and he started making some prototypes of caskets that were aesthetically pleasing but also practical. He began making environmentally friendly caskets in the carriage house behind their home. As interest grew and he began selling quite a few of them through funeral homes around the state, he began storing them in his huge home. His wife, Julie, said, “We had caskets all over our house. Our children were little and they had caskets all around them.” The couple joked, “We never let them take a nap in any of them though.”

As their business grew they eventually bought a former funeral home in Beaver Dam, and they now have a showroom and plenty of space for assembling, painting and completing caskets for the business that has grown considerably. Julie, a photographer by profession, does all of the company’s catalogs that are sent out to funeral homes all around the country. Jonas Zahn’s college degree is in civil and environmental engineering, and he has worked with high-tech startup companies for more than 20 years. He continues his IT work and guides the casket business with help from his wife, his dad, Jim Zahn, and numerous other talented crafters.

Read the complete article at The Watertown Daily Times.

Feingold visits Northwoods Casket, Black Waters Coffee

Feingold travels the state in search of Wisconsin entrepreneurs 

Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold is visiting new businesses and entrepreneurs across the state of Wisconsin in preparation for his upcoming bid for Wisconsin Senate in 2016.  Feingold spent a few hours in Beaver Dam during the quiet hours of the afternoon on Sunday, July 5th with Northwoods Casket Co. founders Jonas and Julie Zahn and Black Waters Coffee founder, Josiah Vilmin.

Feingold is looking for entrepreneurs with new ideas and new businesses in Wisconsin--the kind of people and ideas that will bring new industries to our state and create jobs for Wisconsin in the coming decades. 

Learn more about Feingold's visits throughout Wisconsin on his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/russfeingold

Russ Feingold learning about an historic 100% non-toxic "limed oak" finish on a casket made from locally sourced, sustainable Wisconsin red oak.

Russ Feingold learning about an historic 100% non-toxic "limed oak" finish on a casket made from locally sourced, sustainable Wisconsin red oak.

Feingold visiting with Jonas Zahn, Michelle Zahn, and Josiah Vilmin at Black Waters Coffee

Feingold visiting with Jonas Zahn, Michelle Zahn, and Josiah Vilmin at Black Waters Coffee

The Most Honorable Mission

“If someone told me 15 years ago that I would be managing a casket company, I would have laughed them out of the room. I mean, how absurd!” Julie laughs. “But it’s something that everybody can relate to. It’s something we all have to deal with, and we have to make choices that are in line with our values.”

Urban Forestry Council Awards Northwoods Casket Co. for "Innovations in Urban Forestry"

Jonas Zahn, Northwoods Casket Co. founder, accepts the “Innovations in Urban Forestry” award from Jeffrey Treu representing the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council.

Jonas Zahn, Northwoods Casket Co. founder, accepts the “Innovations in Urban Forestry” award from Jeffrey Treu representing the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council.

Beaver Dam, WI.  The Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council presented Northwoods Casket Co. owners Julie and Jonas Zahn with an award for “Innovations in Urban Forestry” recognizing the company’s commitment to plant 100 trees for every casket the company builds.

In 2012, the Northwoods Casket Co. helped sponsor a 175,000 tree planting in the Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern unit near Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Since 2010, the Northwoods Casket Co. has annually selected 3-4 communities in the state to sponsor urban tree plantings under the guidance of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Urban Forestry initiative. Through the company’s program trees have been planted in villages and cities large and small, in public parks, on public school grounds, street terraces, and private property.

“I’ve seen a lot of creative tree-planting programs, but this one—a casket company giving back this way—is very unique,” expressed Jeffrey Treu UFC member and resident of Waupaca, Wisconsin.

Northwoods Casket Co. founder, Jonas Zahn, is serious about planting trees.  Zahn has committed to plant ten million trees in Wisconsin in his lifetime.  “Planting ten million trees is not just a commitment I have made to the good people of Wisconsin, and the state legislature,” Zahn says, “it is a promise I’ve made to my two children.”

About the Northwoods Casket Co.
The company, founded in 2006, builds sustainable, eco-friendly caskets and delivers to every funeral home in the state of Wisconsin with next-day delivery service. The company builds a wide selection of caskets in 30 styles and finishes suitable for cremation or burial in prices ranging from $500 to $5,000.  For more information go to www.northwoodscasket.com or call (920) 631-7077.

About the Urban Forestry Council
The non-profit Urban Forestry Council (UFC) advises the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on the best ways to preserve, protect, expand and improve Wisconsin's urban and community forest resources.  Learn more about Wisconsin’s Urban Forestry initiative and the UFC at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/UrbanForests/

Local Casket Company to host Grand Opening this Saturday

Beaver Dam, WI.  On Saturday, September 20th, from 11am-5pm, the Northwoods Casket Company is hosting a Grand Opening event at their new casket gallery and furniture store located in the former Koepsell-Murray funeral home property at 109 N. Lincoln Ave. in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.  

The 10,000 square-foot funeral home will serve as the casket builder’s headquarters, workshop, and gallery.  The accessible ground floor will exhibit more than 30 casket styles, colors, and personalized options all available for purchase through local funeral homes.  Additionally, the gallery will sell home furnishings by the company's new brand, Carriage House Works.  The 5000 square-foot remodeled basement will serve as workshop space for both finishing and upholstery activities, while all woodworking activities will continue at Northwoods' multiple other workshops around the state of Wisconsin.

“The gallery is a game changer for us,” says Jonas A. Zahn, founder of Northwoods Casket Co.  “For almost ten years we have sold caskets nationwide through catalog sales to funeral homes,” says Zahn. “This gallery will help build local demand by making it possible to display one-of-a-kind, themed, and personalized caskets for local delivery.”  The casket builder delivers to every funeral home in Wisconsin with next-day white glove delivery service.  “This is a fantastic idea,” says Russ Koepsell, “and a very fitting use for this funeral home that served our family business for so many years.”  Beth Koepsell-Zeamer has already started sending families to select a casket, cremation casket, or urn that suits the family and says, “the family was very happy to be able to just come on down to our former location and select something that is both local and personal."

Northwoods Casket Co. has built a casket business primarily focused on Wisconsin funeral homes.  The company is committed to sustainability by crafting caskets from locally sourced, sustainable woods adorned with non-toxic paints, natural oils, and VOC-free natural wax and oil wood finishes.  Casket interiors are made from biodegradable, organically grown natural cotton, and other environmentally friendly fabrics made from hemp, flax, and wood pulp.  Styles range from historic to contemporary at prices ranging from $500 to $5000 with most models below $3000--the average price paid for a casket in the U.S.  Above all, founders Jonas and Julie Zahn have committed to plant 10 million trees in their lifetime and plant 100 trees for every single casket the company builds.  “Planting trees is a core element of our business.  Planting 10 million trees is more than a commitment to the good people of Wisconsin—it is a promise I have made to my two children,” says Jonas Zahn.

Carriage House Works is the company’s new brand that sells Arts & Crafts period furniture, steampunk and Edison lighting, reclaimed lumber, vintage wood flooring, milk paint, natural oil finishes, and vintage lamp parts.  Handcrafting home furnishings is a natural extension of casket making and vice versa.  Historically, caskets were made by local furniture makers.  “We love what we do--crafting fine things from wood, using natural oil finishes, borrowing techniques mastered in 16th century England, and bringing both quality and beauty into the home."  Everything in the gallery is made from locally sourced materials by the hands of local artists with sustainable and eco-friendly products and techniques.

For more information visit the company online at www.northwoodscasket.com and www.carriagehouseworks.com.

The gallery features fine handcrafted caskets, furniture, and photography art on canvas.

The gallery features fine handcrafted caskets, furniture, and photography art on canvas.

Northwoods Casket Co. Opening a New Casket Gallery and Furniture Store

Beaver Dam, WI.  The Northwoods Casket Company recently acquired the former Koepsell-Murray funeral home property at 109 N. Lincoln Ave. in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin from the Koepsell family.  The gallery will be open to the general public with a grand opening event on Saturday, September 20th, from 11am to 4pm.  The 10,000 square-foot funeral home will serve as the casket builder’s headquarters, workshop, and gallery.  The accessible ground floor will exhibit more than 30 casket styles, colors, and personalized options all available for purchase through local funeral homes.  Additionally, the gallery will sell home furnishings by the company's new brand, Carriage House Works.  The 5000 square-foot remodeled basement will serve as workshop space for both finishing and upholstery activities, while all woodworking activities will continue at Northwoods' multiple other workshops around the state of Wisconsin.

“The gallery is a game changer for us,” says Jonas A. Zahn, founder of Northwoods Casket Co.  “For almost ten years we have sold caskets nationwide through catalog sales to funeral homes,” says Zahn. “This gallery will help build local demand by making it possible to display one-of-a-kind, themed, and personalized caskets for local delivery.”  The casket builder delivers to every funeral home in Wisconsin with next-day white glove delivery service.  “This is a fantastic idea,” says Russ Koepsell, “and a very fitting use for this funeral home that served our family business for so many years.”  Beth Koepsell-Zeamer has already started sending families to select a casket, cremation casket, or urn that suits the family and says, “the family was very happy to be able to just come on down to our former location and select something that is both local and personal."

Northwoods Casket Co. has built a casket business primarily focused on Wisconsin funeral homes.  The company is committed to sustainability by crafting caskets from locally sourced, sustainable woods adorned with non-toxic paints, natural oils, and VOC-free natural wax and oil wood finishes.  Casket interiors are made from biodegradable, organically grown natural cotton, and other environmentally friendly fabrics made from hemp, flax, and wood pulp.  Styles range from historic to contemporary at prices ranging from $500 to $5000 with most models below $3000--the average price paid for a casket in the U.S.  Above all, founders Jonas and Julie Zahn have committed to plant 10 million trees in their lifetime and plant 100 trees for every single casket the company builds.  “Planting trees is a core element of our business.  Planting 10 million trees is more than a commitment to the good people of Wisconsin—it is a promise I have made to my two children,” says Jonas Zahn.

Carriage House Works is the company’s new brand that sells Arts & Crafts period furniture, steampunk and Edison lighting, reclaimed lumber, vintage wood flooring, milk paint, natural oil finishes, and vintage lamp parts.  Handcrafting home furnishings is a natural extension of casket making and vice versa.  Historically, caskets were made by local furniture makers.  “We love what we do--crafting fine things from wood, using natural oil finishes, borrowing techniques mastered in 16th century England, and bringing both quality and beauty into the home."  Everything in the gallery is made from locally sourced materials by the hands of local artists with sustainable and eco-friendly products and techniques.

For more information visit the company online at www.northwoodscasket.com and www.carriagehouseworks.com.

Northwoods Casket Company recently acquired the former Koepsell-Murray funeral home at 109 N. Lincoln Ave. in Beaver Dam, WI.

Northwoods Casket Company recently acquired the former Koepsell-Murray funeral home at 109 N. Lincoln Ave. in Beaver Dam, WI.

Northwoods Casket Co. Adds Seamstress to Team

Growing market for sustainable “green” caskets calls for new skills in casket building.

Beaver Dam, WI - Northwoods Casket Company, a Beaver Dam based casket builder, welcomed Sally Cupery to the team in March as a full-time seamstress and interior designer.  Sally brings more than 40 years of sewing and design experience to the team.  According to owner Julie Zahn, "Sally's creativity and expertise is invaluable, specifically in working with our unique fabric interiors that include organic cotton, cotton/hemp blends, and Lyocell."  Sally joins founders Julie and Jonas Zahn, casket builder Jack Rhodes, delivery driver and shop manager Jim Zahn, and a dozen part-time team members at the company’s quaint casket shop located in downtown Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.


"Working with fabric gives me the opportunity to do something I really enjoy while being part of a process that results in a beautiful and unique casket or burial shroud for a family,” Sally shares.

Northwoods Casket Company builds sustainable wood caskets using locally sourced lumber and local craftspeople.  Founded in 2006 by Jonas and Julie Zahn of Beaver Dam, the company's caskets are sold by more than 250 funeral homes in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.  They plant 100 trees for every casket they build and won the 2013 award for "Innovator of the Year" from the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council for their creativity and commitment to planting trees in Wisconsin.  More information can be found online at www.NorthwoodsCasket.com.

Leaving the world green: Northwoods Casket offers sustainable burial option

Jonas Zahn, founder of Northwoods Casket Co., said he has always been interested in recycling, repurposing and sustainability. His caskets, like the metal-free Simple Pine Box, are made with Wisconsin-sourced wood.

Jonas Zahn, founder of Northwoods Casket Co., said he has always been interested in recycling, repurposing and sustainability. His caskets, like the metal-free Simple Pine Box, are made with Wisconsin-sourced wood.

By Sara Bredesen | Regional Editor

In 2004, when Jonas Zahn’s grandfather died, the family couldn’t decide between cremation and burial. Cost was a significant factor for the thrifty farm family, so Zahn volunteered to work with his father and sister to build a cowboy-style casket reminiscent of the old Westerns that his grandfather loved.

“It was the first time I had ever thought of making a casket,” Zahn said.

That very moving shared family experience inspired Zahn to start his own company providing simple pine boxes and environmentally friendly wood caskets for families who wanted choices. Today, Northwoods Casket Co., based in Beaver Dam, markets to about 200 funeral homes in the Midwest.

Read the complete article at The Country Today

Honoring Grandpa, Earth: Casket maker has passion for nature

NATHAN MABIE | For the State Journal

Honoring Grandpa on a cold winter day with a toe-pincher coffin inspired by the movies of the Old West.

Honoring Grandpa on a cold winter day with a toe-pincher coffin inspired by the movies of the Old West.

BEAVER DAM — Jonas Zahn’s grandfather died during the winter of 2004, just before the holidays.

So on a cold December day, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings all convened in his grandparents’ farmhouse near Mayville to discuss how to proceed. The exchange between family members was difficult.

“Everyone was circled around the living room,” Zahn recalls, “and no could agree on what should be done with Grandpa.”

But Zahn had an idea after family members couldn’t agree between a burial or cremation, something his grandfather viewed as the only alternative to a large, expensive funeral.

“Grandpa was a big (John) Wayne and (Clint) Eastwood fan. He wanted to be a cowboy. I remembered the coffin from (the movie) ‘Unforgiven,’ the toe pincher,” Zahn, 38, said. “I offered to build one for Grandpa.”

Read the complete article in the Wisconsin State Journal