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Loan and offer terms, conditions, restrictions apply. Equal housing lender. And we return to our American stories. Up next, a story out of Des Moines, Iowa from our great affiliate news radio 1040 WHO. When Lene Strovers was given the job of figuring out what to do with unclaimed urns at the funeral home she worked at, some of which belonged to veterans, she took it personally. But that would make sense for someone who got into the mortuary business for personal reasons. Let's get into the story.
Here's Lene. When I was 21, I had a very, very good friend who died. And I went to his funeral. And it was horrible. It had absolutely nothing to do with him. It wasn't personalized at all. It wasn't a celebration of his life, which was an amazing life.
It was just very bland. And I was so frustrated that the person who was in charge of making this last chapter of his life important didn't. I knew in that moment that it was what I was supposed to do.
There was no questioning. And I went home and sat on my couch and signed up for classes. And we went back to school that Monday. I was 25, single mom, working two jobs. And that was terrifying.
You can watch as many movies or read up as much as you want. But when you walk into that embalming suite for the first time, and there is a body laying on the table, for me, it was very humbling because that was a person, someone's son. And the work that I was going to do is what was going to give that family their final viewing. When I was given the project to start reconnecting these urns that had been left behind, I started with three months of bed rest. I wasn't able to walk.
And I am not a person that sits still very easily. And I was terrified. I was worried about my mental health for being on bed rest that long.
I was worried about my husband's health for dealing with me for that long on bed rest, my kids, my family. And so I had asked my employer, please, please, please give me a project to work on. I thought it would be like stuffing envelopes for mailings or editing obituaries from home or just literally anything begged for a project. So our owner who is Sasha, she gave me a huge yellow envelope saying, we have a lot of urns that are still in our care. They've either never been picked up or for whatever reason, the family just has never contacted us. Some of these people died that had guardians and we just weren't sure what the next step was.
And she goes, if you can start calling some of these people and just gently remind them to come and pick up their loved one, that would be great. I knew that we had urns. We always have quite a few urns because we're a very large funeral home. But I didn't know to the extent how many had been there for so long. And at this point, I've worked for the funeral home for about eight years and had no idea. Some of the urns that we have in our care, the person died in like 1995, some from the early 2000s. So people who died 20, 30 some years ago were still literally sitting on our shelves and there wasn't many notes or or anything about it.
They just were still there. So I just started calling and some of the times I call and they're like, oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry. I thought my brother picked up mom will be right down. And that was a majority of the phone calls, like just the family thought somebody else in the family had handled it. And then I got some phone calls for people that just they're like, I know, but I just don't feel comfortable having my loved ones urn at home and I don't know what to do with them. And so at that point with those people, we would walk through the option of helping locate a cemetery space and doing that. And then I started to realize we were getting a lot of people that either there was no family left, family that was left was very distant and didn't want those urns.
At the same time that I was doing the research for finding these urns, I was also doing 23andMe and Ancestry to find my biological family. When I was born, my biological mom was a college student. And she had not told her parents that she was pregnant. She had not told anyone. And so when she went to the hospital to have me, she left right away.
She did not want to to tell anybody that she had had a baby. And for me, even though obviously I don't remember that there's times where I agree for her, where I've lost someone that I've never known. So as I was going through all of these urns and looking at these names and trying to find family, I kind of had a light bulb moment. All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, sitting in the hospital bed in my living room, it occurred to me any one of these people could be my family. Any one of those people could be a dad or a mom or a brother or an uncle or an aunt or a cousin. And I felt that if I was ever able to figure out who my biological family was and if I found out that one of those people was a family member of mine, I wanted to make sure that I had treated them with the respect that I would have if I knew it was a family member of mine. And so we came up with the concept of doing a mass burial and giving those people that were in our care for a long time that had no one to claim them a respectful burial with a headstone and to do a service. I just felt they are my family.
They have to be. So when I was going through, one of the questions when you're visiting with a family member of the person who died is we ask, was your loved one a veteran? And of this group of about 90 urns that we were going to do a mass burial for, three of them were veterans.
And I just felt that they should not be included in the mass burial. If I had an uncle or a brother or someone who had served in the military, I would want somebody to have military honors for them. It was very important for me because the honors are not only just for the veteran who served, but it's also spouses and children served right along with the veteran. And when that flag is given to the family, it's given to them out of respect for you supported this veteran. You are part of them. You are part of their service. I just thought, well, we have access to Iowa Veterans Cemetery here locally, which is one of the most incredible and beautiful cemeteries ever, I think. And so I called the cemetery, Gina, who runs it over there.
I said, I have a crazy idea. I have three veterans that have no family. I can't find any contact for them. What do you think if we held a little service out there for these men? And we'll just invite the local legions, VFW, Patriot Guard, CVMA guys, just hopefully a few people will show up to pay respects to these guys. And she was like, I love it. Whatever you need, I'll support you. That sounds perfect.
So I said, okay. I was expecting maybe 20 to 30 people to attend. We had 300. It was just one of those moments that very surreal pictures, videos do not do it justice. All these people were coming out of their day to respect these three men that they never met ever, just out of respect for our country. As the years progressed, we started getting phone calls from local law enforcement. If they found an urn in different places, we had an urn that was actually found in the middle of an intersection. It had gotten thrown out of a car after a house was robbed.
I actually just recently got a phone call last week of a veteran who was found. He had passed away. His wife had passed away.
They had had no children, no other family. And there was a broker basically who was charged from the lawyer to clean this house out, get everything going. And he sat with his flag next to him. There's no one else left. So he was returned to us and said, I know what you do.
Please make sure this man gets buried with honors. So they've kind of started coming from all over. I hope it's something eventually we never have to do again, because that would mean that there's nobody ever left unclaimed.
But while that is still happening and unfortunately I think it's going to happen more and more, it's just something you have to go to. It's so humbling. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery. A special thanks to Simon Conway for putting us on to this story.
A terrific host at WHO in Des Moines. And a special thanks to Lene Strovers. And what a heart this lady has. And this is the entrepreneurial part of this country in which people don't start businesses. They just get stuff done and they do it for the right reason. The story of Lene Strovers and how she honors not only unclaimed urns, but unclaimed urns of veterans. Here on Our American Stories. What's up guys?
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