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.