Jacob’s work in the funeral profession began at age 16, at a small-town funeral home in northwest Iowa, where he washed cars, cleaned, and did lawn care. One day, the owner (his mentor, Dan Ciha) took him to buy a suit, dress shirt and tie, so Jacob could help with visitations and services, putting him on the path to becoming a funeral director and funeral home owner. He can’t believe that was 30 years ago!
Jacob says, “From the moment of the first call, I am 100% focused on helping a family face the worst day of their life. As one of the owners, I love collaborating on new ways to serve families, finding the careful balance between technology and the importance of personal service in our work. I also get to share my vision with an amazing team of professionals.”
He believes it’s crucial to gain an appreciation of what a family has been through in the days, months, or even years before the death occurred, to help them visualize what goodbye looks like for them while embracing their family traditions.
Jacob has lived in Iowa his entire life (except for mortuary college), and now with funeral homes in both urban and rural areas, he enjoys meeting those they care for and care about. Jacob serves the funeral profession as a Secretary/Treasurer for the Iowa Funeral Directors Association. “It is a true privilege to represent funeral directors, working in collaboration with colleagues from around the state,” he says.
Jacob values doing his part to help with issues in the community, and his involvement with the Rotary Club of Linn County is one avenue for this. He also fomerly served on the board of directors of Central Furniture Rescue, an organization that helps families transition from homelessness to home stability.
Jacob is married, and lives in southeast Cedar Rapids, centrally located between the two Stewart Baxter locations. There you’ll find him tending to his houseplants, feeding the birds, and relaxing on the deck with his two dogs.
After losing his older brother as a teenager, Scott switched paths, from landscape architecture to funeral service. He became co-owner of Stewart Baxter in 2008, allowing him to use compassionate understanding with people while celebrating their loved one’s life.
A proud graduate of Bowling Green State University and the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, Scott serves as Community Care Director, guiding families with preplanning, bereavement resources, and grief care programs.
“My first experience with grief was when I was eight years old, when I lost my grandmother,” Scott recalls. “My first time being in a funeral home was exciting, but scary. I was very inquisitive about how and why everything worked the way it did.” Using his personal experiences, and those he observes, helps Scott better understand how the grief process is different for each person.
“Living here is amazing, because you get to live a small community life in a larger one. It’s great having access to nature and all the amenities one needs, plus the ability to travel to larger cities within a few hours,” Scott says.
Scott is a Rotarian with the Rotary Club of Linn County, and a certified lay missioner through the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, previously serving churches in eastern Iowa. He loves to be on water, or working in his large floral and water garden, cooking, refinishing old furniture or repurposing things, and enjoys almost all genres of music. Along with spending time with family and friends, Scott likes to play with his dogs, Frank and Frenchie.
Nick’s first memory of a funeral was when he was around seven years old. He was fascinated and wonders now if in that moment he had an inkling of his future career.
Nick’s naturally calm demeanor helps him in all aspects of funeral service, from taking care of families, embalming, and day-to-day operations. He grew up with a funeral home in his backyard. He started college at the University of Northern Iowa as a music education major. Over the summers, he worked at the city cemetery mowing, helping dig graves, and setting headstones. He soon realized instead of teaching; he’d rather pursue a career in funeral service. After he got his BA, he moved on to Mortuary School through Des Moines Area Community College, receiving his full funeral director’s license in 2020.
When Nick and his wife, Creigh learned they we were moving to the Cedar Rapids area, they immediately fell in love with Fairfax. Both had grown up in small communities, and they knew this was home.
“We have felt very welcomed by everyone, and enjoy all the opportunities for being active outdoors,” Nick says. He plays tuba in the Southeast Iowa Symphony in Mt. Pleasant, and they enjoy fishing, kayaking, visiting state parks, going to flea markets, antiquing, spending time with family and friends, and going to record stores.
As a young child, Randy attended funerals for elderly relatives, and remembered how peaceful they seemed after illness. He noticed then how funeral homes helped families during difficult times.
He graduated from Mid-American College of Funeral Service in Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1981. His first 15 years in funeral service focused on the funeral home aspect, then he became a hospital mortician for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics from 1997-2021. In 2022, Iowa Funeral Director Association recognized him for his 40 years in funeral service. Randy takes pride in his attention to details, and his empathetic approach with families.
In addition to his diverse work in funeral service, Randy is a talented 5-string Earl Scruggs-style banjo player. Scruggs was his close friend and inspiration. Randy has played banjo on radio, television, and other venues. He’s an eight-time Iowa State Fair banjo champion.
“The Cedar Rapids area is a good place for family, and it has lots of the same things larger cities offer,” Randy says. His family includes his wife Kay, who works for the Cedar Rapids School District, his two children, and one grandchild.
Melissa does a little bit of everything at the funeral home, from accounts payable to housekeeping, setting up for services, preparing and printing programs.
While attending Kirkwood for an Associate Degree in Accounting, Melissa worked part time for the funeral home’s previous owners and stayed on when they sold the funeral home to Jacob and Scott (Stewart Baxter).
When she was young, Melissa lived just two doors down from the funeral home and has vivid memories of a friend’s death at age 7 in a car accident. Two years later, Melissa’s great aunt died, and she feels these memories are most helpful to her when there are young children at a service.
Melissa lives with her elderly parents, ages 100 & 96, and a younger brother, with extended family in Cedar Rapids and outside Iowa. Her life beyond work revolves around family and church.
When Trey Wentzien’s father became ill and passed away, Trey recalls feeling lost in the dark, and very alone. Because of this, Trey wants families to find comfort at Stewart Baxter.
As an administrative assistant, Trey greets visitors, answers questions, and as an in-house graphic designer, he creates memorial folders for our families. He says, “I lost my father to cancer when I was 13, and I know first-hand how impactful it can be to have a loved one’s life truly celebrated, and how precious a memento can be in the time after they’re gone. It means the world to me to hear a family say that I have honored their loved one’s memory, and I hope that the work I do fills at least a small portion of the massive loss they have experienced.”
Trey is a community-driven person and tries to brighten the days of those he encounters.
“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but eastern Iowa. We have been through so many uncontrollable, natural disasters in the last few decades, and I feel like that has made our community stronger. I can count on my neighbor, and they can count on me. We have incredibly kind and talented residents, and we are willing to work hard for ourselves and for others.”
Away from work, Trey and his partner are avid cyclists and artists. They enjoy working on their first home, inside and out.
When Terese’s father died, she felt a special calling to help others who grieve. As a Family Services Assistant at the funeral home, and with her background in education and counseling, she can do grief counseling when the need arises. She also helps prepare visitations and funerals, greets the guests, and attends to details during and after the service.
Terese explains, “I feel that every time I go into a funeral home or service, I am in hallowed ground. I come from a big family, so I can relate to a variety of different people. I try to find a connection to others as I meet them. I have been to many funerals and services. None are the same.”
She’s one of 12 children, and away from work, Terese cherishes time with her nieces and nephews.
Patty’s prior career was in the field of educational administration, with 37 years as an elementary teacher and a Director of Early Education Department. She become involved in the funeral profession as an opportunity to give back to her new community.
As a Family Services Assistant at Stewart Baxter, Patty is usually positioned at the front door of the funeral home, to provide a warm, friendly greeting to those who enter. She handles various details during and after each service as well.
Patty recalls, “As an only child, I remember going to the funeral home when I was 9 years old, for my grandmother when she passed away. It was a very unsettling experience. I feel this helps me understand what the children might be going through during the visitation.”
Though she is relatively new to the community after spending 45 years in California, Patty loves the Mount Vernon area, and is amazed at the friendly townspeople. She has a part-time job at Kirkwood Community College, is a substitute teaches for Mount Vernon Community School District, and a Lector and choir member at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.