Over eighty years ago , John F. Donovan founded Donovan Funeral Home in downtown Kalamazoo, and years later, moved the business to a historic mansion at 447 W. South Street. Roy Betzler purchased Donovan's in 1975, working with John's nephew, Charles. Ten years later Roy moved the business to the current, modern, single-story facility on Stadium Drive. In 1991, Roy's son Scott joined the firm. The family expanded their service to the community in 1999, when they bought the Thompson & Hawley Funeral Home in Paw Paw, and renamed it the Betzler & Thompson Life Story Funeral Home. In February of 2006 the physical form of The Life Story Experience was built – The Life Story Center. “It’s truly an extension of your home and doesn’t feel or look like a funeral home”, says Scott Betzler. This unique space allows families to hold services and receptions all under one roof.
Roy BetzlerLife Story Funeral Director
As the oldest of six boys, Roy kept himself busy in his youth by cutting lawns, running errands, and delivering newspapers around Detroit. His delivery job at The Detroit Times ended when the newspaper went out of business, and Roy's next job foreshadowed his life to come. At 15, Roy began working for the neighborhood funeral home, washing cars, cutting grass, and doing general maintenance in and around the building. He kept this job throughout his school years. After high school, Roy attended the Detroit Institute of Technology and Highland Park Community College. He went on to attend Wayne State University, graduating with a degree in Mortuary Science. He had chosen this field for one simple reason: he wanted to help people.
To be better able to do this, Roy wanted to establish his own funeral home. After 15 years of working for someone else, Roy moved to Kalamazoo, where he purchased a preexisting funeral home of his own. By 1986, he had the means to move the Betzler Funeral Home to a new building on Stadium drive. And in 1999, Roy purchased a second chapel in Paw Paw.
The business aspect of Roy's life continues to be successful, but this is only because of his emotional commitment to helping families in their times of need. "It's one thing to take care of all the details in a professional setting," says Roy, "and quite another to be involved emotionally, like I am, while providing those functions." Roy's empathy for families stems from his own personal experience. He felt the loss of his father at the young age of 17, an event that was incredibly traumatic: "I still miss [my father] . . . He never saw me graduate from college, marry, buy my first home, have a family, or start a business. I know what it feels like to experience that loss." In honor of his dad, Roy has become somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to his work. He spends whatever amount of time and effort are necessary to give families the kind of services they deserve.
Roy’s son, Scott, followed in his footsteps, adopting his father’s same commitment to giving grieving families the best service possible. Besides Scott, Roy has another son, Bruce, and two daughters, Trisha and Laura. There are eight grandchildren in the family, and Roy likes to visit them as much as he can. He also enjoys spending time with his wife, Rosalie, whom he married in 1997.
Roy Betzler successfully built his business from the ground up. What makes it a continued success, however, is the fact that he genuinely cares about the people he serves and making sure they will receive the best service now and far into the future.
Scott BetzlerLife Story Funeral Director
Though he was born in the Detroit area, Kalamazoo is the place Scott Betzler calls home. He moved there in 1975 at the young age of five, accompanied by his parents and his elder siblings. The family lived above the Betzler and Donovan Funeral Home downtown on South Street, where Scott's parents ran the business. However, his primary interest as a young man was not the family business; instead, it was the game of golf. Scott played throughout his high school years, the freshman year of which he spent at Hackett Catholic Central. He then transferred to Kalamazoo Central High School, graduating in 1988. At Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Scott earned an associates degree, continuing to work on his golf game with the KVCC team.
Although Scott had grown up surrounded by the funeral profession, it was not until he began working for his father at the age of 18 that he really began to take interest in it as a career option. Working part-time at the funeral home allowed Scott the chance to witness exactly what it was that his father did. He flooded his father with questions, the answers to which inspired him to follow in the same direction. Scott decided to put his golf clubs into storage (temporarily) to pursue a degree in Mortuary Science from Wayne State University. By 1991 he had graduated, and was eager to begin his professional career.
As a welcomed addition to his father's funeral home, Scott was given the responsibility of managing both the funeral homes. One event that helped Scott identify with grieving families was the death of his close friend, Don Stone. Not only was the loss of his friend (who had been his golf partner and attorney) an emotional experience for Scott, it was also a life-changing event. It allowed him to truly see himself in each of the grieving family members he met. Scott still thinks of Don often, and his appreciation for life has inspired him to make his work more about the celebration of life than the loss of it.
Scott has seen the healing effect the Life Story Network® provides. It has completely changed the way he himself is able to serve grieving families. The positive reactions he receives from those who use the Life Story service are overwhelming, and give him the kind of reassurance he needs to work continually in an emotionally sensitive field.
Outside of his time as a Life Story Funeral Director, Scott remains committed to serving the community. He has sat on the board of directors and volunteers with the Kalamazoo Humane Society and is the founder of Precious Pets, Pet Cremation & Burial Services. Scott has a faithful companion (a Golden Retriever) named Hollie, who accompanies him daily to the funeral home as a therapy dog.
Scott and his wife Julie, who works as a RN, live on Paw Paw Lake in Mattawan with their two children: son Cooper (10) and daughter, Camryn (5). As a family they enjoy spending time on the water, exploring the outdoors and wilderness, bonfires, and snow skiing. And of course, Scott spends any of his remaining time at his second home - the golf course.
Joe BuysseLife Story Funeral Director
Joe was born at a very early age in Lapeer Michigan, but family lore has that he was found in an old chicken coop down by the creek. His childhood was pretty normal for being the youngest of five: survival, and trying to figure out which nickname he currently was required to answer to from his siblings. He has been working since the age of 12, and fate had it that on his last day of high school, he landed a summer job at the local funeral home taking care of the grounds.
During college, Joe landed employment at a funeral home and earned his cub-undertaking badge from a very caring and patient man who had schooled many young people over the years in the art of small town funeral directing. He eventually earned a Bachelor's degree from the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. While living in Cincinnati, Joe met the future Mrs. Buysse. She was young, artistic and had the looks of the "little red headed girl" from the comic strip Peanuts. He eventually won her heart over and swept her off her feet to a storybook wedding on July 2, 1988.
Joe and his wife Jenny have lived in St. Bernard, Ohio, Columbiaville and Lapeer, Michigan and since 1997 in Portage, Michigan . His family also includes their son Adam and their daughter Emily-Jo. Because of the long and sometimes "non traditional" hours required by funeral service, much of Joe's free time is dedicated to being at home with his family.
Joe believes in giving back to the community in which he lives and that is one of the reasons he belongs to the Kalamazoo Sunrise Kiwanis. He is also a member of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church.Life Story Funeral Homes® has given him the opportunity, or permission, to serve families in a creative way that makes the funeral experience more meaningful and helpful to individuals and the communities in which he serves.
One of the best parts of Joe's job is inspiring people to take control of the funeral of their loved ones and making it personable and meaningful to them. If he fails in this task, all of the wonderful things that Life Story Network® provides would not have the same impact. Being a funeral director is a sacred job and Joe takes all of his responsibilities with utmost importance. He is very passionate about funeral service and has great enthusiasm for the path that Life Story Network® is taking to shape the future of the funeral profession. He is proud to be a Life Story Funeral Director® and to work for Betzler Life Story Funeral Home. Life Story Network® will only enhance Joe's abilities and talents to help change the outlook and future of funeral service, one family at a time.
Tami PennyLife Story Funeral Director
Tami was born on a cold February night in Minot, North Dakota and at the age of two, moved with her parents and younger sister to the small town of Martin, Michigan where her mother had grown up and where she later gained a baby brother. She attended East Martin Christian School, rode the “Martin Bus” to Kalamazoo for four years, and graduated from Kalamazoo Christian High School. Later, she attended Davenport College for a short time. Her first “real” job as a teenager in the small farming community was weeding onions for the local onion farmer. She came away from that experience with a good work ethic, a great tan from working in the “muck”, and a lot of fun summertime memories.
Tami worked in the funeral profession for several years as her children were growing up and she found her passion in assisting families in the planning of personalized funeral services and celebrations of life. After taking some time off to be home with her children and run a home-based business, Tami decided to return to school once her children were a bit older and more self-sufficient; mortuary school and becoming a funeral director was her goal. Her love of funeral service was once again fueled by the death of her good friend’s brother and she enrolled in school in January of 2013. She graduated from American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in New York City in December of 2015. Her reward for getting through school as an adult online learner was two weeks in New York City during the beginning of the holiday season in which to finish her requirements and enjoy all that the city had to offer. She then decided to take her education a step further with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology through Grand Canyon University in Arizona.
Some of the things that Tami enjoys in her spare time are spending time with her family and friends, reading for fun instead of education, attending local theater productions at the Civic where she is continuously amazed by the talent in the community, and traveling when she gets the chance to get away. She has a grown daughter and two sons who live in the area (her youngest son is still at home and keeps her busy with his activities) and her bonus daughter and family who serve in the United States Marine Corps. Tami has been involved in the Kalamazoo Junior Golf Association, mostly as the unofficial golf and water/snack/iced towel mom with her youngest son for several years; she enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer her time with the KJGA this summer and looks forward to doing so in the future. Tami lives in Portage with her family that also includes her dogs and a cat, who is the self-proclaimed ruler of the household and dog wrangler.
Tami came to work at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes in July of 2013 as an apprentice. She was completely taken in by the vision that Scott Betzler began in which the funeral home is an extension of one’s home and includes the sharing of memories with laughter and tears over food, drinks, and music. After all, her kitchen has always been the gathering place of her own home, filled with kids and their friends; there was even a time she enjoyed live music while cooking, as her son and his band practiced in the basement. Tami continues her work here today, committed to assisting families in telling the unique story of their loved one and creating true celebrations of life which reflect that story. Her favorite part of being a funeral director is talking with families and getting to know someone through the stories shared by their family and friends.
HollieRegistered Therapy Dog
September 2001 - February 2018
As far as Therapy Dogs go, Hollie was a born natural. She lent her sweet temperament to anyone needing a friendly paw. If you ever visited Hollie at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, you probably know she was the first to greet you at the door…and the first to show you her favorite treat jar. As a Therapy Dog, she brought comfort to our entire community, and in those moments, she soothed the souls of special individuals. You could say that her family was much larger than the Betzler’s. It was everyone! She never said no or acted out. Hollie knew her mission was simply to love everyone and love often. In her younger years she was quite the ball of energy, enjoying afternoons Captaining the boat with dad or leisurely picking up rocks found just about anywhere. Later, as she gracefully aged, she did what any good retiree does. She kept coming to work every day. After all, she had to train her baby sister, Ellie. Together, they made quite the pair weaving through peoples legs at visitations, enjoying plentiful belly rubs, and bringing calm and comfort to those who needed them most. Kids and adults all showed their affection. Hollie was a local celebrity in her own right. But for a special few, she was family. Hollie was the oldest daughter of the Betzler’s and helped look after Cooper and Camryn. She took her baby sitting duties very seriously, almost never laying down on the job unless it was under a crib during nap time. She’d play dress-up, even at work reluctantly, but no matter what she did Hollie made sure everyone was smiling while doing it. This Golden beauty, a part of so many lives with a heart unmatched in love, leaves a legacy like no other. All of our love goes with you Hollie. Thank you for the 16 unbelievable years!!!
It’s been said that there’s nothing like a sweet little puppy to warm your heart on a cold day. And that’s exactly what I was, the last one and the smallest one to be born in a litter of ten beautiful English Golden Retriever puppies. It was February 21, 2015, a cold winter day in Lansing, MI, the Capitol City in the middle of Michigan’s great ‘Winter Wonderland’. It was an exciting day for me and my parents. My dad was Sir Brody Maximus and my mom was Lady Lily of the Valley.
They say I was special from the moment I was born. Of all of my siblings, five brothers and four sisters, I was the baby. Plus, I was tiny. There was something else about me, too, so I’m told. My sisters and brothers didn’t quite know what it was about me but they all felt I was exceptional and bound for a career of service to others. The breeders at the kennel nicknamed me “Tink”, short for Tinkerbell. My sisters and I were all named for Disney Princesses! I like thinking I’m a princess.
As soon as I was old enough I became part of the Betzler family. Julie, Cooper, and Camryn searched for me, found me, and gave me to Scott for his birthday, eventually renaming me Ellie. And thus, a new legend of Betzler family lore began. I love my family, and I especially loved my big sister, Hollie. I started going to work at the funeral home with Hollie and Scott every day, either to the Kalamazoo location or the Paw Paw funeral home. I learned from Hollie how important the work of a therapy dog is. Hollie showed me the ropes and taught me the tricks of the trade, hoping that one day she could retire feeling good about me taking over her work.
I would sometimes I have trouble paying attention, but I learned fast—especially where the treat jar is! And that being cute gets me more treats! I completed my training, but I learned so much more from Hollie about what is expected of me at the funeral home and how important good behavior is! Basking in the attention I get from families and guests at the funeral home is one of my favorite things. Scott teases me about that.
You’ll notice I’m whiter in color than Hollie was. That’s because I’m an English Golden. People tell me our personalities are the same, though! I think they mean I’m sweet, patient, gentle, affectionate, outgoing and social. I enjoy making friends and I do try hard to please them. I hope that I will be a caring and uplifting presence for people at the funeral home. Though I have a lot to live up to, I think Hollie would be proud of me.
Sue WunderlichOffice Manager
Service is defined as helping, assisting others. For Sue Wunderlich, there is nothing more important than provide the highest level of service possible. Working for Life Story Funeral Homes – Betzler gives Sue the opportunity to offer grieving families the caring service that they need.
Sue’s story begins in the town of Paw Paw, Michigan, where she grew up as the youngest of four children. With three older brothers and just four years separating them all, Sue learned at an early age that sports were going to play a big part in her life. Her dad was the president of the local Little League and coached all four kids on their baseball teams and taught them all to play golf. For Sue, just being outdoors was fun. From climbing trees, wandering through the woods and swimming at “the lake” in warm weather to sledding and snowmobiling in the winter, Sue was always on the go. Nowadays, she’s found a new hobby (or fetish), collecting Longaberer. Sue has her mother to thank for that. The two take bus trips every-other year to Dresden, OH (“the Longaberger capital of the world”) and shop ‘til they drop!
From 1985 to 1989, Sue attended Paw Paw High School graduating in 1989. While in high school she was immersed in sports. Those four years were filled with studying, playing basketball, softball, and running track. Davenport University was the next stop on Sue’s path where she earned her degree in Accounting.
The year 2000 found Sue achieving a new goal, starting as secretary/receptionist for Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes. According to Sue, “In funeral service no day is ever the same, with more experience - the more knowledge I have”. Sue is now the office manager.
All of this experience and knowledge is what makes Sue the caring person that she is. Her mission at Betzler’s is to do as much as she can for each family, so that they may grieve in their own personal way. With honesty and integrity, Sue does just that. She appreciates that Life Story Funeral homes celebrate the life that has been lived, honoring the memories and legacies that will be passed down from generation to generation.
Sue now lives at Eagle Lake in Kalamazoo with her life partner, Margo, and her two cats, Birdie and Homie. Sports are still a big part of her life as she plays golf every week and she takes great pleasure spending time with family and friends. Oh yes, and cheering for the University of Michigan Wolverines and enjoying a good tail-gate party.
Patrick BauschkeFamily Services
Patrick takes advantage of opportunities. He'll tell you there are always unknowns, fears, and anxiety when you take a chance but that the best experiences of his life have been born from the most unexpected opportunities. Like the Marines, the Pentagon, Germany, and love. Pat says his life would be fine having said "no" to any of these, but instead, is significantly enhanced for taking a chance. Plus, by doing so he feels blessed for being able to positively influence the lives of others along the way.
When the offer to join Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes came along Patrick was the Branch Manager for Lake Michigan Credit Union's downtown Kalamazoo office. He says he never expected he'd join the funeral profession but is proud and excited for the opportunity.
Patrick's first job was working at Big Apple Bagel during high school. From there he moved on to First Community Federal Credit Union where he started as a teller and was promoted to Member Service Representative and then to Branch Manager. Patrick enjoyed the challenges of hiring, training and coaching a team for success.
Patrick was born and raised in Kalamazoo. He grew up in Parkview Hills where he spent a lot of time swimming in the pool, fishing in the lake, and playing pool at the club. He graduated with honors from Loy Norrix High School and went on to Kalamazoo Valley Community College. His real education, he says, came from the United States Marine Corps where he earned rank and recognition quickly. His first deployment was to Port au Prince, Haiti on a humanitarian mission. Then to Iraq where his mission was to provide route and convoy security. From there he was assigned to the Pentagon where he served as an event speaker with the ‘Why We Serve' program for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. That lead to an opportunity to be the Logistics Coordinator for a Joint Civilian Orientation Conference where he escorted 80 civilians and public opinion leaders on a tour of U.S. bases overseas, including stops in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Djibouti. During his time in Washington, D.C. Patrick had the honor of meeting General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and George W. Bush, President of the United States.
Patrick is a member of Southridge Reformed Church where he volunteers as a lighting designer for services. Christmas 2014 was his first major service to rig and program, which led to his friend and mentor asking if he'd join him on a lighting project in Germany. Patrick said yes, having no idea what it would entail, much less how to pay for. Three months later they were in Erfurt, Germany as part of the production team for a worldwide Youth Leadership Conference.
In his spare time, Patrick enjoys photography as a hobby and also "plugs away" at ancestry, saying, "that where we came from is important and helps us understand who we are and why." He builds on the research done by family members from previous generations, but today has the benefit of technology and the online availability of family records.
Patrick is definitely a "glass is half full" type of guy. "I try to live my life by simple rules," he says. "Do what's right, which is not necessarily what's popular. And treat others with respect." His granddad's mission in life was to make people smile. Patrick tries to live by that philosophy too.
Kristin WalkerFamily Services
Born on July Fourth, Kristin had no shortage of memorable birthdays growing up in Kalamazoo. A bookworm from an early age, her love of reading has remained a constant throughout her life. While attending Loy Norrix High School, she began her first job at Bob Evans Restaurant in 2005, where she befriended coworker John, whom she later married in 2014. Kristin went on to attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Western Michigan University and majored in Psychology and English. She enjoys music from the 1940’s to the 90’s, travels at every opportunity and researches her genealogy along the way. She lives with her husband Johnny, daughter MJ, and cat, Kitten, in Paw Paw. In her free time, she can be found reading, taking photos, and enjoying time at home. Her friends and family would describe her as a creative and enthusiastic french-fry fueled perfectionist who dances like Elaine on Seinfeld.
Kristin works primarily in the office; she began working at Betzler in 2017 but it didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to make it permanent. She considers it an honor to be in a position to serve families throughout their grief. She is passionate about helping others and enjoys every opportunity to use her creative skills. She appreciates that Betzlers continually breaks the mold and new ground by helping families honor their loved ones in a way that resonates with them. Everyone’s story has value and Kristin believes the Life Story experience is truly a gift to future generations. While researching her family tree she often thinks how incredible it would be to stumble on a Life Story of a great grandparent. “The team here does it so well, it’s really a privilege to be a part of the process.