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

Wisconsin Casket Builder Recognized for Innovation in Tree Planting

Beaver Dam, WI - The State of Wisconsin has awarded the Northwoods Casket Co. "Innovator of the Year" for creativity and commitment in tree-planting.  Founders Julie and Jonas Zahn plant 100 trees for every casket they make.  Through a partnership with the Department of Natural Resources the casket maker helps plant trees, mixed hardwood and conifer species, in both forest and urban settings.  "We believe we can make a difference," says founder Jonas Zahn.  "Not only can we build quality caskets with sustainable practices, local craftsman, and domestic materials, we believe we can set a new trend in death care by 'paying it forward' with our tree-planting efforts," Zahn says.  Though primarily established in Wisconsin, the casket builder has partnered with more than 160 funeral homes across 12 states since organizing in 2006.

Last year, Northwoods Casket Co sponsored three urban community tree plantings supervised by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Division of Urban Forestry.  The Arbor Foundation recognized the Willage of Wonewoc as a "Tree City USA" as a result of the casket builder's program.  Steve Mitchell of Thompson Funeral Home in Wonewoc participated in the Arbor Day tree planting dedication ceremony at the Wonewoc High School.  "What a great partnerhip between village, state, casket-builder and my funeral home," says Mitchell,  "everybody wins in this arrangement."  Northwoods Casket is sponsoring another Arbor Day planting for the village of Wonewoc this year.  

For 2013, Northwoods Casket Co. is sponsoring more urban plantings throughout Wisconsin including Jefferson, Beaver Dam, Minocqua, and Wonewoc.  The city of Jefferson, with help from local funeral home partners Marla Michaelis of Schneider-Michaelis Funeral Home and David Olsen of Olsen Funeral Home, will plant trees in the city of Jefferson on April 24th.  John Leiting of Murray Funeral Home and Josh Koepsell of Koepsell Funeral Home will be planting trees on Arbor Day at a local elementary school in the city of Beaver Dam.  The city of Minocqua is working with Mike Bolger of Bolger Funeral Home to plant trees along the shoreline of Lake Minocqua.  

About Northwoods Casket Co. - Founded in 2006 by Jonas Zahn, the Northwoods Casket Co. builds wooden caskets with Wisconsin-grown lumber and distributes them to funeral homes and funeral supply companies nationwide.  The company mission is to provide funeral homes and families with a simple, affordable, wooden casket purposefully designed for quality and a low environmental impact.  They have more than 150 funeral home partners throughout Wisconsin and the United States and can be found online at www.NorthwoodsCasket.com.

Students from Wonewoc High School plant a tree donated by Northwoods Casket Company as Steve Mitchell of Thompson Funeral Home looks on.  Thanks to the donation, Wonewoc became a Tree City USA in 2012.

Students from Wonewoc High School plant a tree donated by Northwoods Casket Company as Steve Mitchell of Thompson Funeral Home looks on.  Thanks to the donation, Wonewoc became a Tree City USA in 2012.

City of Jefferson to benefit with trees funded by Northwoods Casket Co.

Jefferson, WI. Wisconsin casket builder, Northwoods Casket Co, presented a grant Tuesday evening to the Jefferson City Council for spring tree plantings throughout the city on April 24th, the week of Arbor Day.  Jonas Zahn, President of the Beaver Dam-based company, shared his enthusiasm for community-supported tree planting with the city council.  City of Jefferson Parks and Forestry Director, Cyndi Keller, is organizing the tree planting and other community participation next month.  Jefferson funeral home owners Marla and Ron Michaelis of Schneider-Michaelis Funeral Home have partnered with Northwoods Casket Co to make the grant possible.  Marla and Ron attended the council meeting and are excited to participate in the community plantings.  Cyndi Keller has arranged an educational program that will be presented by WI Department of Natural Resources Urban Forester, Olivia Witthun, for 130 students from the high school freshman class.  Following the program the students will plant the donated trees in Riverfront, Stoppenbach and Tensfeldt Parks. 

Northwoods Casket Co, based in Beaver Dam, sponsors tree plantings statewide with urban plantings this spring in Jefferson, Beaver Dam, Minocqua, and Wonewoc.  Last year trees were planted in Sheboygan, Wonewoc, Beaver Dam, and in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.  The company's statewide tree planting initiative began in 2012 and has earned Northwoods Casket Co an award from the State of Wisconsin as "Innovator of the Year" for their creativity and commitment in tree-planting.  The company plants 100 trees for every casket they make. 

About Northwoods Casket Co. - Founded in 2006 by Jonas and Julie Zahn, the Northwoods Casket Co builds environmentally friendly wooden caskets with sustainable practices and Wisconsin-grown lumber.  The company distributes caskets to funeral homes and funeral supply companies nationwide.  Their mission is to plant 100 trees for every casket they make.  The company can deliver a casket to any funeral home in the United States and can be found online at www.NorthwoodsCasket.com.

About Schneider-Michaelis Funeral Home - Owners Marla and Ronald Michaelis have been active members of the Jefferson community supporting and participating in local Kiwanis Club, WELCA, Cab Ride Program, the city utilities commission, as well as Trinity Lutheran Church.  Licensed in 1996, Marla Michaelis has seventeen years experience in funeral services and is one of a growing number of Wisconsin funeral homes offering green and natural burial services as an alternative to the conventional funeral.  

Jonas Zahn presenting a check to the City of Jefferson for an urban tree planting initiative.

Jonas Zahn presenting a check to the City of Jefferson for an urban tree planting initiative.

More Wisconsin Funeral Homes Answer Consumer Demand for “Green” Options

Wisconsin-based green casket company inks deals with funeral homes across state, region

Beaver Dam, WI – Consumers in Wisconsin can now choose “greener” casket options for their loved ones thanks to several new partnerships between Northwoods Casket Co. and funeral homes across the state of Wisconsin and beyond.

Over the past month, several Wisconsin funeral homes including large, Madison-area providers Cress and Gunderson as well smaller homes serving rural communities like Saether in Blanchardville and Thompson in Wonewoc have added Northwoods’ products to their showrooms and offerings, meaning families can easily make choices that are gentler on the planet.

“Families are increasingly looking for greener options,” says Rachel Bledsoe, advance funeral planner with Cress. “By offering these caskets, we help them make very personal choices to honor their loved ones and the environment.”  

Northwoods caskets are made from red pine grown in the northern Wisconsin and cut by local loggers. The caskets are milled and built in Wisconsin and even the cardboard shipping boxes are made in the Wisconsin’s Fox River valley from recycled paper and tree pulp produced in Wisconsin. 

“I not only feel good offering more environmental and affordable options for families,” says Paul Saether, director of Seather funeral home in Blanchardville, “I also like the fact that these products support jobs in our state.”

Northwoods Casket also replaces what it uses by planting 100 trees for every casket it produces.

“The care we put into creating our caskets might make them the greenest on the planet, but what I’m most proud of is the natural legacy we leave for future generations by planting these trees,” says Jonas Zahn, Northwoods Casket founder.

About Northwoods Casket Co. - Established in 2010 and based in Beaver Dam, Wis., Northwoods’ mission is to provide funeral homes and families a simple, affordable, wooden casket purposefully designed for quality and a low environmental impact. The company’s commitment is to plant 100 trees for every casket built. In addition to caskets and casket kits, Northwood’s Casket creates and sells simple assembled and do-it-yourself caskets, shrouds, trundles, and casket liners and pillows. All products are biodegradable.

The simple pine box, made from Wisconsin blue-stained pine, is an affordable and earth-friendly alternative to expensive steel and wooden caskets often made overseas.

The simple pine box, made from Wisconsin blue-stained pine, is an affordable and earth-friendly alternative to expensive steel and wooden caskets often made overseas.

Funeral Industry Adapting to Customer Demand for “Greener” Options

Wisconsin funeral directors to learn more about natural burial, green caskets

Elkhart Lake, Wis. – When funeral directors from across Wisconsin gather for their annual convention next week they’ll hear about natural burial and how they can use it to boost business at a time when the growing popularity of cremation has meant falling revenues for most traditional funeral homes – in part because cremation has reduced demand for caskets.

Funeral directors attending the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association convention will also have the opportunity to see, touch – and even assemble – a simple Wisconsin pine casket made by Northwoods Casket Co. of Beaver Dam, Wis. Consumers seeking to reduce their carbon footprint – even after death – are making biodegradable, chemical-free caskets a more popular option.  

“An increase in cremation and other less traditional options have reduced revenue for the funeral industry by almost half over the past 20 years,” says Jim Olson, an expert in natural burial and funeral director with Lippert-Olson Funeral Home in Sheboygan, Wis. Olson will lead the session on green and natural burial.

“Consumers are looking for more natural options and if we don’t offer them, they’ll find them on their own,” Olson says. “As an industry, it’s our responsibility to let people know there are options out there – many which are actually ‘greener’ than cremation.”

The simple pine caskets made by Northwoods Casket are part of this trend. The company sells caskets and casket kits including everything a do-it-yourselfer needs to make a casket. A Presidential sponsor of the convention, Northwoods will be displaying their caskets, kits, and natural casket liners and educating funeral directors about their products.

Jonas Zahn founder of Northwoods Casket Co. started researching natural burial after building his first pine casket for his grandfather when he died. 

“As the choices for people in who are interested in a “greener” burial expand, so do the questions,” says Jonas. “The answers are out there and we in the industry must help consumers understand they do have choices.”

Established in 2010, Northwoods’ founding principle is to promote sustainable practices for a smarter planet. The company provides customers with a simple, affordable, wooden casket purposefully designed for quality, low cost, and the choice to simple, do-it-yourself assembly: assembled caskets cost $999 and kits are $679.

“Green” caskets: a kinder, gentler, more affordable option

New Wisconsin company produces natural caskets with north woods pine, no chemicals

When The Farley Center’s Natural Path Sanctuary in Verona opens this summer, joining Circle Cemetery near Barneveld in offering natural burials, more Wisconsinites will be able to choose a burial that reflects how they live – with respect of the environment and gentleness toward the planet.

As the choices for people in who are interested in a “greener” burial expand, so do the questions:
● What is a natural burial?
● What are the burial options at most natural cemeteries?
● Are natural burial options more or less expensive than traditional options?
● Will a traditional cemetery/funeral director allow me to use a green casket?

Jonas Zahn, founder of Beaver Dam, Wis.-based Northwoods Casket Co. started researching these questions after building a “natural” casket when his grandfather died.

“I designed and built my first casket when my grandfather passed away. A modest man, he was fond of the simple things in life--he scoffed at fancy. In the years since, I have designed and built several caskets and researched the laws and regulations of many states concerning burials. I learned about Green Burial practices and how so many people wish to be laid to rest peacefully, simply, and without the unnecessary consumption of natural resources. Most of all, I have learned that a simple, low impact burial is much easier to plan than I had thought,” Zahn said.

Established in 2010, Northwoods’ founding principle is to promote sustainable practices for a smarter planet. The company provides customers with a simple, affordable, wooden casket purposefully designed for quality, low cost, and the choice to simple, do-it-yourself assembly: assembled caskets cost $999 and kits are $679.