Frank Modelski, Sr., was a pharmacy student when he made a decision that changed his life. He had heard that being a funeral director would be a good way to support his family, so he decided to give it a try.
Modelski began working at Pizer Funeral Home to learn the business. He did well and eventually graduated from the Worsham College of Mortuary Science.
On May 5, 1955, Modelski opened his own funeral home at 57th Street and Pulaski in Chicago. In an effort to attract clientele beyond the Polish community, he modified the name of his funeral home from ‘Modelski’ to ‘Modell.’ He and his wife, Estelle, had an apartment in the same building. Estelle, who was a seamstress, sewed all the draperies for the business.
To support his family, Modelski continued working at Pizer while building his own business. And when he was at Pizer, Estelle would take the night calls at the new .
Modelski's sons, Frank, Jr., and Richard, followed their parents into the business. The two brothers worked for their father until he passed away in 1995. They now own the business together.
Over the years, that business has grown to include two more funeral homes: one in Darien and one in Homer Glen. And a new generation has joined the family enterprise.
Chris Modelski Brunsen, the daughter of Frank, Jr., and his wife, Fran, grew up living above the funeral home in Darien. She knew she wanted to be in this business from a very young age.
“As as a little girl, I always knew,” she said. “I’d come downstairs and watch everything being done.”
Brunsen’s interest in the business showed itself in surprising ways.
“When it was ‘dress-up day’ at school – ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ – I would wear a black suit and bring my briefcase with a death certificate,” she laughed.
Brunsen earned a marketing degree from Miami University of Ohio. She worked in marketing for three years before deciding that her childhood goal was a better fit. She has since graduated from Worsham College and recently joined Modell Funeral Homes as a licensed funeral director and embalmer.
So what attracted Brunsen to the family business? She sees her dad as a good role model, and she is happy to follow in his footsteps.
“I grew up here. This was home to me, always," she said. "I think about that a lot. You’re inviting someone into your ‘home’ to say good-bye to their loved one. I’ve always wanted to be there for other people, to serve other people.”
Changes continue in the funeral industry just as they do in every field. Cremations are on the rise, and people are finding more ways to personalize wakes and funerals.
“People are finding that this is more of a celebration of life than something to be sorrowful,” Brunsen noted. “Granted, yes, you should be sad. But let’s celebrate the fact that this person was here on earth with us.”
The lessons of her grandfather have not been forgotten.
“What we were taught from the beginning by our grandfather was to treat every person who comes through that door as family,” Brunsen said. “And that’s our motto. We treat everyone as family.”
The in Darien is at 7710 S. Cass Avenue. The phone number in Darien is 630-852-3595. More information on all three locations can be found online at www.modellfh.com.