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A final act of love

WITC-Rice Lake student builds casket for dying grandfather

With a background in wood working, Will Janssen had considered the idea of starting a business constructing caskets. Little did Will know that the first casket he would build would be for his 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.

After 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 grandchildren.

This 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.

ďItís 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.

But keeping the hands busy can be good therapy.

Will 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.

Then 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.

On 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 passed away.

In 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.

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.