A hometown man will soon own Nishna Valley Funeral and Cremation Service in Shenandoah.
Nishna Valley Funeral Home director Pat Leece said the process of purchasing the business from Scott Erickson began last October and expects the transaction to close in early March.
Leece was born in Millard, Nebraska, and moved with his family to a farm west of Essex in 1980, where he grew up graduating from Essex High School in 1989.
In 1990 during Leece’s freshman year of college at Northwest Missouri, he accepted a two-week job from Fred Hackett, setting stones for what was then Hackett Funeral Home. It turned into a summer job for Leece taking care of the yard at the funeral home. The following summer Leece was asked to come back and continue lawn care.
By Leece’s sophomore year of college, he knew he was interested in becoming a funeral director. Thirty years later, he purchased his own funeral home.
“As a senior in high school, I would have never dreamt that I’d ever be doing something like this,” he said. “I truly believe we are led down a path. I don’t think it’s our own. I feel it truly is a calling actually to be doing what I’m doing. It’s been a very fulfilling journey, especially coming full circle here.”
Leece later transferred to the University of Nebraska and received a degree in animal science as he originally set out to be a veterinarian. He then continued his education attending a year of mortuary school at the Dallas Institute of Funeral Service in Texas. Leece returned home and started his apprenticeship at Hackett Funeral Home, where he remained as a funeral director until January 2016 when he made the move to funeral director for Nishna Valley Funeral Home.
“When I made the move there was that caveat that they would at some point possibly want to sell it,” said Leece. “It’s been a very positive experience, and I’m grateful to Scott.”
Leece said when Erickson hired him, he was entrusted to run the funeral home as he saw best.
“I’ve become reinvigorated in the profession coming on board here having that opportunity to run things myself,” said Leece. “I feel funeral services are a branch of ministry, and it’s been very fulfilling.”
Leece said he would continue to provide the same quality service the community has come to know and trust. He prides himself in going above and beyond to help those that turn to him.
Leece said Nishna Valley Funeral Home helps individuals heal and move beyond their loss. He said the goal of the funeral home is to be there for families before, during and after offering a variety of pre-planning services
“I try to encourage people to be proactive rather than reactive,” said Leece.
Leece said pre-arranging your own service would help ease the burden of your loved ones.
“We focus on having people at least make some kind of plan,” said Leece. “At least know whether they are looking at cremation or a traditional service. The more you can do ahead of time the better and just to have that plan in place is a gift to loved ones and is very important.”
Leece said adding the crematory in December 2017 is a unique service the funeral home can offer versus having a loved one sent to another location.
“Now I can without a doubt share with that family they’re in my care the whole time,” said Leece. “It gives me peace of mind that I can provide that service for families.”
Leece said people have the option to pre-fund their funeral service or just put plans in place and he will help them walk through the whole process. He said he also understands everyone is on a budget and will work through what is best for everybody financially.
Nishna Valley Funeral Home desires to make end of life planning easier by being a one-stop location providing all the services you desire. Being a full-service monument company, they provide headstones at competitive rates. Leece said they are also available to assist in communicating with cemeteries and helping with insurance policies.
“After a death, we follow through for the first few months making sure everything goes smoothly,” said Leece.
Leece said a care letter from the funeral home for the 12 months after the loss of their loved one emphasizes a different topic each month.
“When somebody calls upon me, I take that as a personal challenge to make it perfect for them,” said Leece. “I want to provide the pinnacle of service to where they don’t have to worry about anything.”
Leece is known for incorporating personal touches in the services.
“I try to personalize and customize everything to the uniqueness of that person,” said Leece. “I try to make everything unique and the best possible service.”
Leece said a personalized plaque is provided for a cremation and a custom blanket that optimizes that person for a traditional funeral service.
Nishna Valley Funeral Home was designed as a funeral home and provides easy access having everything on one level. Leece said a future project might repurpose a room to be used for luncheons after a service.
Another future plan Leece has is the addition of a retort for cremating pets. Leece said he receives calls once a week, inquiring about cremations for pets.
“There are so many people that don’t have children, and their pets are their children,” said Leece. “I want to provide that service to families also.”
Nishna Valley Funeral Home employs eight people in addition to Leece.
“I have what I consider the best staff around,” said Leece. “They fill the gaps for me.”
Leece said it is a unique business that is virtually always on call. He commends his wife, Carrie, for being so understanding of the demands of the profession.
Leece has two older sons Colton, 21, attending college in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Cade, a freshman at Shenandoah High School. Together with his wife Carrie, they have Addy, a sixth-grader, Lynlee, who is in preschool and 2-year-old, Lincoln.
Leece said the name of the funeral home will remain the same.
“I’m of the feeling that it’s not about any one person,” said Leece. “I think it’s just about providing a quality service. So we don’t need any more name changes.”
Leece looks forward to being able to give back to the community.
“With our son Lincoln the community was so supportive of us during that time,” said Leece. “I want to focus on giving back to the community.”