On the first Friday of May, the 2021 graduating class from the Program of Mortuary Science had a fanfare like none other, complete with a pipe and drum procession and hosted on the lawn of Lakewood Cemetery outside of one of its historic mausoleums. 

The celebration caps one of the hardest years for many. Despite the difficult conditions created by COVID-19, the Program of Mortuary Science – the only program in the U.S. housed in a medical school – has continued to live up to its ideals as a compassionate teacher of the science and art of mourning and grieving. While the world mourned the loss of thousands who died from COVID-19, leaders from within the program helped hundreds of funeral directors pivot to a more virtual style of funeral planning and grieving. Because of this, this year’s graduates are a special breed – and were celebrated alongside one of the program’s most instrumental duos.

At this year’s ceremony, the Program in Mortuary Science honored long-time supporters, Bill and Kay McReavy, with the Regents Award, whichrecognizes individuals, families and organizations that demonstrate exceptionally valuable and meritorious service to the University. Bill McReavy, a 1952 Mortuary Science graduate, and his wife, Kay, a 1953 graduate from the U of M College of Education and Human Development, have had a hand in shaping the way Mortuary Science is taught and practiced. The family has hosted dozens, if not hundreds, of Mortuary Science students for practicums and internships at their Washburn-McReavy Funeral Homes and Chapels. This is great exposure for students – they serve more grieving families in the metro area than any other business.

In addition to helping train hundreds of the state’s funeral directors, Bill and Kay’s family tree includes four children and five local grandchildren who have graduated from the U of M. The duo also financially supports the Program of Mortuary Science, allowing their compassionate focus on families and people to be passed onto future generations. 

Funerals are a family business for the McReavys, which William P. Washburn started one year before Minnesota became a state in 1857. The business began as a furniture store, which was common at the turn of the century and still seen in small communities throughout the country. Eventually, Washburn chose to specialize in funeral service and changed the company name to “Mortuary” to reflect this passion. 

When Washburn’s nephew, Donald R. McReavy, died unexpectedly in 1949, Donald’s young son, Bill, was called to lead the business. Just 17 at the time, Bill had studied under his dad for long enough to know how to lead, but he sought more training from the U of M Medical School’s Program of Mortuary Science to continue his father’s plan of expanding the business to serve the entire Twin Cities region. 

Bill says the program prepared him for a lifetime of service, helping grieving community members while growing the family business. At the time, he was considered a trailblazer, as most families in the mortuary business only held one or two properties. The McReavys held eight chapels by 1981 and continued to expand, growing into the cemetery business in 2001 before adding new chapels well into the late 2000s. Today, the business stands with 16 funeral chapels, four cemeteries, 235 staff and 30 funeral directors. It remains a family business with son, Bill McReavy Jr., and daughter, Cyndi McReavy-Seitz, working to ensure Bill and Kay’s legacy of compassion and attention to detail shows up, even as they are “retired.” 

“In the basement, which we call the ‘cabin,’ Bill has his fax, printer and computer. He’s still involved in the business every day,” Kay said.

While Bill and Kay are proud and thankful that the business continues in the family, they are quick to note that they did not push any of their children into the business. 

“Mom and dad never forced us into the business. It was our choice, and now our children’s choices. They taught us to think global, think change and have vision,” McReavy-Seitz said. 

In fact, the fifth generation of McReavys, four of Bill and Kay’s grandsons, are all graduates of  the Program in Mortuary Science. Just last year, Jordan McReavy-Seitz was named “Preceptor of the Year in 2020” and has been invited to serve on the board of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association.

Despite all of the success Bill and Kay have had in expanding the family business, Bill says that the greatest feeling for him was to watch the U of M Medical School Mortuary Science Program grow. A big part of this growth is because of the McReavy’s dedication to teaching future generations of funeral directors and investing their time, talent and treasures back into the program. And, Bill and Kay watched a piece of that investment – the inaugural recipient of their endowed scholarship to support Mortuary Science students – earn their diploma at this year’s cemetery-style graduation.  

While it’s a family business, it’s clear that the McReavy’s view the Medical School’s Program of Mortuary Science as an important part of their family’s business – and Bill says it’s in good hands with Michael LuBrant, PhD, the program director.

“I can think of no other couple more deserving of the honor of a Regents Award, which, at its core, is recognition for leaving our community a better place than it was when they found it,” Dr. LuBrant said. “Bill and Kay’s lives and legacy have helped to make the world a better place for us all.”