Northwest Business Magazine

Milestones: Honquest Family Funeral Homes with Crematory at 20 Years

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For two decades, this family-owned funeral specialist has helped people to navigate the grieving process. Meet the driven leader and see how he fulfilled a dream while helping others.

Timothy Honquest, funeral director and owner of Honquest Family Funeral Homes with Crematory, in Rockford and Roscoe, Ill., built his business on a passion for helping people through a trying time.

Timothy Honquest, funeral director and owner of Honquest Family Funeral Homes with Crematory, in Rockford and Roscoe, Ill., built his business on a passion for helping people through a trying time.

As a funeral director, Tim Honquest has helped many people through the grieving process of losing a loved one.

But all those years of experience couldn’t help Honquest deal with the sudden death of his own sister, Mary, who committed suicide in 2005.

The incident left Honquest and his family shaken and searching for answers.

“When we sat down that night, my family looked at me and said, ‘Now what do we do?’ I didn’t really have any answers at the time.”

Mary’s death also gave Honquest a new perspective on his role as a funeral director.

“I would never say ‘I know what you’re going through,’ to a family, because everyone grieves differently,” he says. “But now I can sit down with a family touched by suicide and build a bond with them. My experience gave me a greater appreciation for what I do and how I can be there for families during their difficult time.”

Honquest is owner and funeral director of Honquest Family Funeral Homes with Crematory, with locations at 4311 N. Mulford Road, Rockford, and 11342 Main St., Roscoe, Ill. This year, Honquest is celebrating 20 years in business, no small feat in the competitive funeral industry. “Twenty years proves we must be doing something right,” he says. “I really enjoy helping people. This has always been my passion.”

Growing up, Honquest could have followed in his father’s footsteps. For 53 years, Richard Honquest operated a successful furniture business in Barrington. In fact, the younger Honquest spent many summers doing odd jobs around his father’s store.

But it turns out that Honquest had other plans, thanks to a conversation he had with a family friend who was attending mortuary school.

“I sat there Indian-style in the living room, intrigued by what he had to say,” says Honquest, who was 13 at the time. “I found it all very interesting – the making arrangements, working with families during a time in need. I really thought of it as a calling. I told my parents ‘that’s what I want to do.’”

Honquest’s curiosity only grew. Many days, he would come home after school, put on his best shirt and khakis, and ride his bike to the local funeral home to attend visitations he saw posted on the marquee.

“I didn’t know the family, but I would go through the line and tell them I was sorry for their loss,” he says. “Sometimes I would just sit in the chapel and observe all the people around me. I found it all very intriguing.”

After he graduated from high school, Honquest took a summer job at Ahlgrim Family Funeral Homes in Palatine, Ill., to gain a better understanding of the profession. He bought his one and only suit at Sears and wore it every day, helping with visitations and assisting with body removals at night.

Honquest went on to earn a business degree at Western Illinois University, where he also volunteered at a local funeral home. After college, he moved on to Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago, where he graduated in 1988.

The school set him up with Grein Funeral Home, a small funeral home near Wrigley Field that performed 80 funerals a year. Honquest lived in an apartment over the funeral home and worked there on nights and weekends. “My paycheck was $67.30 a week,” he says, “but I gained valuable experience.”

After mortuary school, Honquest came to Rockford, where he worked for two local funeral homes. He later worked at a funeral home in Wilmette, a Chicago suburb. But the commute proved difficult. “It was hard being gone from my wife and two young children,” he says. “I was hardly ever home.”

So, in 1995, Honquest opened a storefront on East Riverside Boulevard in Loves Park, Ill. “I think it was a good time for my business to open in Rockford,” he says. “My fees were $2,000 to $3,000 less than other funeral homes at the time, because I didn’t have the overhead that others had.”

In 1998, developer Kurt Carlson built Honquest a new facility on Mulford Road and rented it to him with an option to buy it in five years. Business was so successful that Honquest purchased it in two years. By 2005 he had outgrown that building, so he sold it back to Carlson and hired Carlson to build him a new, 8,000 square-foot building a block north, which is the present Rockford location.

In 2007, Honquest contracted with Landmark Development to build a second location, a 7,000 square-foot facility in Roscoe.

Last year, Honquest performed 360 services, between the two locations. Honquest also owns land in Belvidere, where he could open a third location in the future.

Honquest has seen many changes in the funeral industry during the past two decades. The biggest difference, he says, is the rising popularity of cremation. In 1960, only 3.6 percent of Americans chose cremation. This year, the cremation rate was 48.2 percent. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the cremation rate will continue to rise in coming years, with 55.8 percent of Americans expected to choose cremation in 2020 and 70.6 percent in 2030.

Reasons for the increase include environmental concerns, personal preference and cost, Honquest explains. The cost of cremation services at Honquest is $1,700 compared to a basic burial that runs between $6,500 and $7,000.

Another industry shift is the demand for personalized funeral services. A NFDA survey revealed that 62 percent of those wanting a funeral service preferred some form of personalization.

Some Honquest clients have requested that food and full-sized bar service be available in the funeral home, in honor of their departed loved one. “One family requested the use of a special favorite vehicle their loved one had personally customized, instead of a hearse. We were happy to accommodate this,” says Honquest. “Through personalized tributes, families can feel a greater sense of closeness to their loved ones. A personalized service allows the opportunity to talk about the life of the person they’ve lost.”

Honquest has a staff of 10 full- and part-time employees. His wife, Rachel, a licensed Realtor with Gambino Realtors, also works with the business. Honquest has two children – Zach, 23, who lives in Chicago, and Zoe, 21, who also lives in Chicago but plans to join the family business.

Honquest does more than oversee his business. He’s on call in the middle of the night, handles cremations and even plows snow in his parking lots. “I’m very hands-on,” he says. “I won’t ask my staff to do anything that I won’t do.”

It’s that commitment that impressed Torrie Gullikson, who worked with Honquest and his staff following the death of her husband. In 2014, Troy Gullikson was diagnosed with liver cancer and died seven months later. He was 49.

Before her husband’s death, Torrie, along with Troy’s mother, Janice, visited Honquest and knew immediately they had found the right funeral home. “Tim and his staff were so accommodating,” Torrie says. “They offered the support that our family needed during a very difficult time. They took care of so many details, which was helpful because I had so many things to worry about. They really put my mind at ease.”

Honquest knows the importance of being prepared. In fact, he has already made arrangements for his own service some day, including casket and burial space. He’s picked out his clothes and even penned his obituary.

Some people might find that mindset morbid. Not Honquest. It’s that kind of preparation, he says, that will help grieving loved ones during a trying time.

“Talking about death is still taboo for many people,” he says. “But I can’t tell you how many people are grateful when the time does come and they’re prepared.”

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