Five-generation family tradition
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE ZIZELMANN FAMILY The current generation of funeral directors includes Eric, Jon and Christine (Mateyak) Zizelmann.
Helping people through some of the most difficult moments of their lives has been a sort of mantra for Christine Mateyak Zizelmann for all of her adult life.
The 1978 graduate of Tamaqua Area High School attended the Geisinger Medical Center School of Nursing, earning her RN in 1980. When the nursing profession became even more technical, she headed back to school and earned a bachelor's degree in science and nursing from Immaculata College in 2005.
After marrying into a multigenerational family of Tamaqua funeral directors, it seemed only natural to her to work toward a funeral license too.
So, it was back to school, this time Northampton Community College, where she earned an associate de-gree in funeral service in 2012.
Never one to take half steps, Zizelmann was the recipient of the 2011-2012 Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Award, an award given annually to one student in the state of Pennsylvania who has "excelled in education and showed outstanding knowledge of funeral service." (Organized in 1881, the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA) is the largest state funeral directors association in the nation, and a member of the National Funeral Directors Association. It exists to inform and educate funeral directors, the public and government about the value of funeral service and licensed funeral directors.)
After earning her degree from NCC, she still had work to do, by way of completing an internship. That's where the "family business" came in handy. Working in tandem with her husband, Eric Zizelmann, and father-in-law, Jon Zizelmann, she completed her internship, passed the state and national funeral director's exams, and was recently notified that her years of hard work have paid off.
Zizelmann is now a fully licensed funeral director. And that's in addition to her careers in motherhood and nursing, as she continues to work the weekend shift in the emergency room at St. Luke's Miners Hospital in Coaldale. She has been employed at the hospital for the past 31 years, even during her recent college days. She and Eric have a blended family of four children, including Andrew and Amanda Titus, and Evelyn and Matthew Zizelmann
The daughter of Charlie and Sally Mateyak of the New England Valley, and the late Phyllis (Kerr) Mateyak, she explains her many years dedicated to helping others.
"My family has always lived in the Tamaqua area from the time of my great-grandparents they lived in Seek and, except for my years at Geisinger, I have lived here as well. In retrospect, it's probably not an accident that I find myself in careers that serve the public. Sometimes people come down on our area, but I believe small-town people are more genuine, more real. I think I do better here, where I have longtime relationships with people, than I ever would in a suburb or a city, but it's rewarding to serve those I don't know personally as well."
Regarding her work at the hospital, she is optimistic of recent events.
"I have been there for a long time and have seen many changes, but the latest initiatives (such as the Level IV Trauma Center) are most exciting to be a part of. There are good people there that are making a real difference to the medical service in our region. We are fortunate to have this level of health care in our back yard," she offers.
As for her new career, it's only appropriate, after all, the family business started under the direction of Wilhelmina Buri Bischoff, wife of German cabinet maker Conrad Bischoff.
While Conrad perfected his cabinet making trade, Wilhelmina was the one coordinating funerals, sometimes as many as three per week as the local industry, mining, was dangerous, to say the least.
When Conrad died in 1901, Mrs. Bischoff kept both businesses running with the help of her four children Charles, Fred, William and Emma. After she passed away in 1909, the children continued running the family enterprises, with Emma taking on her mother's role in the funeral business. In 1930, the family decided to center their efforts on the funeral business.
By that time, Fred Bischoff had also passed away. Charles and William remained bachelors and it was left to Emma, who had married August Wilhelm Friederick Zizelmann, to continue the family line. She obliged by having a son, Conrad Bischoff Zizelmann.
It was under Zizelmann's direction that the family business moved to its current location the Zizelmann-Roche Funeral Home, 500 E. Broad St., Tamaqua, and expanded to include the Gulla Funeral Home, 130 E. Ridge St., Coaldale.
Today's Zizelmann men see Christine's addition as coming full circle. Representing the fifth generation of the family, Eric offers "Spouses inevitably get pulled into supporting roles of this business, but with this license she has been handling all aspects of it on her own. It helps so much when you already have a personal relationship with people. Christine expands our circle of interaction and brings more of the one-to-one relationships that will benefit those we serve."
Jon Zizelmann marvels at the determination of his daughter-in-law.
"There are some personality types that do especially well as a funeral director. Christine is one of these; soft-spoken, professional, and empathetic. She was so determined to do this. After a weekend of three 12-hour overnight shifts at the hospital, she was sitting at her desk in Bethlehem at 9 a.m. every Monday morning for a day of classes. I don't know how she did it, but I do know that Christine is an asset to our family profession, giving our family the opportunity to work together in serving others in their time of need. She is above all else a knowledgeable, compassionate, and ethical addition to funeral service."
"Because the first two generations of our business were run by the family matriarchs, it is especially fitting that Christine joins our ranks. Somewhere up there, my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother are smiling right now," muses Eric.