Ukrainian Heritage Inspires Career in Mortuary Science & Continued Support of Program
Wolodymyr “Wally” Gelecinskyj, University of Minnesota Medical School class of ‘89, says his Ukrainian heritage led him to pursue a career in mortuary science.
Gelecinskyj’s parents were displaced from Ukraine after World War II, but his family brought many of their Ukrainian traditions to the U.S. with them when they arrived in 1950 – including the funeral tradition of the Ukraine Orthodox faith.
“The tradition that we carry is the tradition of burial and to have the body present for viewing and the funeral — it is the tradition of saying goodbye,” Gelecinskyj said. “I went to several funerals as a young individual, and when we come together, it is a celebration of one’s life.”
Gelecinskyj said he was brought into it not knowing anything beyond what happens in our lifetime. It became a norm for him to see these things in his family and Ukrainian community.
“That tradition and my faith is what drew me to mortuary science,” he said.
Gelecinskyj graduated from the Program of Mortuary Science at the U of M Medical School in 1989. He now works as a business solutions consultant for Artco Casket Company where he helps funeral home owners and managers point their businesses in the right direction by bringing fresh ideas to the funeral directors of today’s world. He is also a current member of the U of M Program of Mortuary Science Advisory Committee.
“I understand that change is hard, but change must be tried to move forward in the industry,” Gelecinskyj said. “I am able to come into a funeral home and offer ideas of things I have personally experienced that might be able to help in a different way as they serve these families and the community.”
The U of M holds a special place in Gelecinskyj’s heart, and he believes it is very important for alumni to support the schools that helped shape their lives.
One way Gelecinskyj gives back is through volunteering. He started volunteering for the Program of Mortuary Science as a preceptor, or volunteer teacher, for mortuary science students two years after he graduated. He also does on-campus seminars where he teaches students about the Ukrainian Orthodox funeral.
“You teach them, you show them and you explain to them. You have them become a part of a funeral, preparation or funeral arrangement so they are feeling what the process is all about,” Gelecinskyj said. “It is sometimes hard to describe things, but it is easier to walk someone through that journey with you.”
Gelecinskyj never passes up an opportunity to help other alumni stay connected as well.
His role as a business solutions consultant brings him to many funeral homes across Minnesota and Wisconsin, many of which have funeral directors who are graduates of the U of M.
“I always talk about the U of M’s Program in Mortuary Science. Your program is only as strong as its supporters,” he said. “If someone doesn’t want to write a check, they can volunteer or buy merchandise where the proceeds go towards supporting the students in the program.”
“Volunteering doesn’t cost anything,” he added. “It is incredibly rewarding giving something to others and not asking for anything in return.”