Catonsville Patch: How long has your family been in the funeral business?
Craig Witzke: My great grandfather owned a grocery business near Union Square. The local funeral director would come and rent his parlor, and that’s what led him to think about going into the funeral business. He opened his own funeral parlor on Ramsey Street in Baltimore. I have these old photographs on the walls and bookshelves to honor that family legacy.
Patch: What is your own history with the business?
Witzke: In 1996 my family sold the funeral home on Edmondson to a corporation out of Texas. I worked for that corporation for ten years and then in one fell swoop, they let off hundreds of former owners around the country. I was legally bound that I could not be a funeral director until March of 2011, so for the last five years, I’ve been waiting to again serve the families of Catonsville in this capacity. My family and I opened Craig Witzke Funeral Care in the fall of 2011.
Patch: Did you ever consider not going into the family business?
Witzke: I tried lots of other things: hotel services, automobiles, retail, but I was always drawn back to this work. Funeral service is a calling. Now my daughter Ashley is helping me with the business.
Patch: How has your business changed over time?
Witzke: In the late 1800s, one person would do everything. The body would be prepared for viewing in the home. Flowers would be brought to mask the primitive embalming methods. Then the funeral director would go make the casket and then, often, he would be the one to dig the grave. All that was a four or five day process.
Now, we are much more flexible with our time and options, so that we can personalize a funeral. We try to blend today’s lifestyles with traditional values.
Patch: What do you like about being in Catonsville?
Witzke: Catonsville is a wonderful small town, and the residents here have always supported small, locally owned businesses. My parents were both raised in Catonsville, and my wife Deborah and I are raising our daughters here. At one point we moved to Ellicott City, but in a short time, we moved back to Catonsville. In Ellicott City, many people’s lives centered on D.C., but Catonsville is different, it’s local. It’s a small town.
Patch: What services do you do?
Witzke: Our main focus is personal service. We offer traditional church funerals, end of life celebrations, memorial services, and graveside ceremonies. People choose venues ranging from their home to a restaurant, even a bar. We offer basic and full service cremation options; however, we have had much less interest in cremation than I expected. We do both in-state and out-of-state arrangements; we also offer grief support and funeral pre-planning.
Patch: How much is your work like the television show Six Feet Under?
Witzke: I loved that show; I watched every episode. Of course, it was television and they had to over-dramatize everything, but I thought there were many aspects of the show that were very accurate. They represented the challenges of the funeral business very well: from the threat of corporate take-over of the family owned business to the problems of dealing with families who are in the throes of grieving a loved one.
Patch: Do you have a signature service or specialty thing you do?
Witzke: My great grandfather started the first Witzke Funeral Home in 1912. My family built our reputation by providing personal service and attention to detail for a fair price. Now, one hundred years later, Craig Witzke Funeral Care is committed to offering the same service.
Patch: What’s one of the hardest things about your work?
Witzke: Someone’s death is a traumatic event which affects a wide circle of people: family, friends, relatives, neighbors and so on. Living in a small town like Catonsville, I often find that if I don’t know the deceased, I know someone in the family. I often have an emotional connection, but I have to keep a clear head and help guide the family through this difficult time.
Patch: What are you proud of?
Witzke: It is an honor to be entrusted with the final arrangements and care of a loved one. I am proud to carry on my family’s legacy.
Patch: What’s your favorite thing about your work?
Witzke: I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with my father, my grandfather, my sister, my wife and, recently, my daughter Ashley.
Patch: What's the best piece of advice that someone has given you when it comes to running a business?
Witzke: I learned the business from watching the actions of my parents and grandparents. They also provided me with a lifetime of good advice. One of the many memorable quotes is, “Take care of the families and business will take care of itself.”
I remember when I was young and just coming into the business, I always wanted to drive the hearse, the big vehicle, out in front of everyone else. But my father said, "No Craig, you need to drive the limousine, that is the most important place, with the family."