Changing trends don’t scare this husband-and-wife team. Rather, this pair sees continuing opportunities to help families create a lasting monument to their loved ones.
After more than 20 years of working as a funeral director, Jennifer Muraski understands the difficult journey of saying goodbye to a loved one. More so, she’s seen how a grave marker or monument, created with compassion and care, can bring mourning families a comforting final closure. Today, this is what Jennifer and her husband, Bryon, provide at Muraski Monument Co.
“It’s projected that, by the year 2021, the United States will have a cremation rate of a little more than 55 percent – some states already have an 80 percent rate,” says Jennifer. “So, some people might think we’re crazy to start a business in the monument industry now. But we find that many people still want a physical place to visit and remember their loved ones, and we still strongly believe in the importance of that.”
The Rockford natives combined that belief with their skill sets and passion for operating their own small business. Muraski Monument Co. creates and installs a variety of custom granite and bronze memorials and monuments throughout the greater northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area. From final date markings to large custom memorials, each design is carefully made to reflect the loved one or idea it represents.
Using her years of experience at Olson Funeral Home, Jennifer heads the front end of the process by meeting and designing with families and clients. Bryon, who also is a Cherry Valley police officer, focuses on the installation of the markers. The couple meets with clients at their homes or communicates with long-distance family members to offer ideas and start the design process, using software.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working with families dealing with loss, so I know it’s not the time to create a high-pressure sale,” says Jennifer. “Very rarely does a family know exactly what they want right away. It’s a process to figure out how to best represent that person in a way that tells a story, whether that’s through a picture, favorite flower or whatever it may be. It’s not just a name and dates; I always like to help them personalize it.”
Often, the biggest challenge is working within a cemetery’s regulations. Many have height and width restrictions, others allow only bronze tablets, and some allow only flat markers. Families may also need to match the marker to the color or style of other family members’ markers, or add on to an existing marker. By working with select suppliers from around the world and local expert sandblasters, Jennifer and Bryon commit to finding a meaningful solution that meets each client’s budget and restrictions. Once the marker has been set, they send a photo of the finished product to the family.
“Mainly through word of mouth, we’ve built a reputation that we’re willing to try anything,” Bryon says. “Someone can come to us with any idea, large or small, and as long as it complies with the cemetery’s regulations, we’ll make it work.”
Their work ethic stems from their professional backgrounds. Both previously worked in family-owned businesses: Jennifer at Olson Funeral Home and Bryon at his parents’ property management company. When the opportunity came to start their own company, in August 2011, they were ready. They run Muraski Monument Co. from their home, which allows them flexibility to spend more time with their children.
“There’s no manual on how to start your own monument company, so we had to teach ourselves,” Bryon says. “It’s been trial and error, over the years, but we’ve learned a lot and have come a long way.”
The company has expanded its product line to include civic monuments and decorative pieces. It also offers cleaning and restoration services. Jennifer and Bryon directly oversee each project to ensure it’s done correctly and on time.
They understand how significant this is to customers. “We’re not just a machine here to crank out granite and bronze,” says Bryon. “We focus on each loved one that has passed and try to leave something that everyone feels good and comfortable with, something that’s special and significant to memorialize them.”
“Really, they only have one chance to do it,” adds Jennifer. “We want to make sure that we get it right.