A final act of love
WITC-Rice Lake student builds casket for dying grandfather
(12/15/11): The wood technics lab
at WITC-Rice Lake was quiet as Will Janssen applied the final coats of lacquer
to his project. With no class scheduled that day, Will was able to concentrate
on the task at hand.
The wood gleamed with a shine that rivaled the finest-made
furniture. While itís common for students in the program to construct tables,
chairs and cabinets, Willís project was like nothing else in the lab. He was
building a casket for his dying grandfather.
spending six years on active duty in the Air Force in North Carolina, Will moved
back to his hometown of Webster, Wis., last year with his wife and two
daughters. He put his veteranís benefits to work by enrolling in the two-year
wood technics program at WITC-Rice Lake this fall. With a background in wood
working, Will had discussed with a funeral director friend the idea of starting
a business constructing caskets. Little did Will know that the first casket he
would build would be for his grandfather.
William George Janssen, Willís grandfather, was born in 1930. He served in the
U.S. Armed Forces and then worked for the U.S. Post Office and machine shops
until retirement. William George married Doris Niemann in 1957, and raised seven
children in Webster. The couple was blessed with 29 grandchildren and 22 great
spring, not long after his 81st birthday, William George was diagnosed with
pancreatic cancer and given six to 12 months to live. In the summer, as his
health gradually deteriorated, Willís grandmother asked Will to build a casket
for his grandfather.
one thing to build a casket for someone you donít know, but when itís your
grandfather Ė you donít like to think about what it means,Ē says Will.
keeping the hands busy can be good therapy.
found plans for building a casket, searched out the required hardware and got to
work in his garage. He used the basic plans for a starting point, but then
brought some of his own design to the project.
in September, William George was moved to hospice and Will had to hurry to
finish the project. Hearing of the situation, WITC wood technics instructor
Chris Harder granted permission to bring the casket into the programís lab to
finish. The building of a casket actually related to the type of projects that
students build in their first year in the program. When Will graduates from the
wood technics program, he aspires to turn his experience and training into his
own business designing and building caskets and burial urns.
October 21, the wood was stained using the labís spray booth. The next day Will
didnít have class, but he and his brother decided to go to the wood technics lab
and put the last coats of lacquer on the casket. Just a short time later, Will
got the phone call he was dreading, but had been preparing for. His grandpa had
the days leading up to the service, Will had enough time to complete the last
few touches to the casket, adding the lining, throw and pillow. His grandmother
had seen some photos of the casket, but didnít see it finished until the
funeral for William George was held October 29 in a church filled with his
children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, other relatives and friends. All
were impressed and proud of the labor of love that had gone into the finely
crafted casket that Will had built in tribute to his grandfather.