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From horses to motorcycles – Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home prioritizes personalization

Above: Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home director Don Sciackitano greets Black, the horse he arranged to have present for the memorial service of a man who loved horses. It was a carefully planned surprise for the family, and they loved it. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

LANSING, Ill. (July 1, 2023) – As the Schroeder family arrived at Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home (no relation) to begin the memorial service for their dad, Ray, they were greeted not only by the warm smile of director Don Sciackitano, but also by the soft nicker of a horse.

The family gathered around the horse, appropriately named Black, and some wiped tears away as they thought of their recently-departed dad, who loved attending horse races and was a horse owner himself.

On June 23, the family of Ray Schroeder took an emotional moment to greet Black, a horse that reminded them of their dad’s love for horse racing. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
Black was the first horse to attend a memorial ceremony at Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home. The horse and its rider and caretakers were from Silver Stallion Ranch. Funeral Director Don Sciackitano said he had to call eight places to find someone who could help him make the memorial service extra special for the Ray Schroeder family. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

The appearance of Black at Schroeder-Lauer, Lansing’s only funeral home, was the idea of Sciackitano, who’s worked in the industry for 23 years.

Don Sciackitano adjusts a sign welcoming guests to the memorial service of Ray Schroeder on June 23. “In Memory of Ray, Who Loved Life, Horses, and Lansing,” the sign reads. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Moving inside, the Schroeder family walked through more remembrances of their dad — Blackhawks and Cubs jerseys, sports memorabilia, a variety of baseball caps, old photos, and programs from past horse races.

Ray Schroeder also loved Chicago teams, so some of his sports memorabilia was on display at the memorial service. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

For the family, the display was a meaningful way to memorialize their loved one, who passed away on June 11 at age 62. For Sciackitano, the walk-through was the culmination of hours of listening, arranging, and thoughtful planning.

The ministry of Schroeder-Lauer

“This is a ministry to me,” Sciackitano said. “I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t a ministry.”

That ministry attitude characterizes all the staff at Schroeder-Lauer. They work together to create as meaningful an experience as possible for grieving families. Like Sciackitano, Funeral Directors Jo-Ann Noort and Dan Hillegonds meet with families, listen carefully, and gently attend to details during services. Funeral Director Bill Byma handles the administrative particulars involved with death certificates. And Bob Cole, Funeral Director and owner of Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home, creates a culture that gives staff the freedom to go to any length to bless the families they serve.

“We try to make a very bad situation into a beautiful situation,” Sciackitano said. “We’re all a mere cog in the wheel — everyone is working hard. It’s really a ministry for all of us.”

A personal approach

With cremation becoming an increasingly popular choice for families, Sciackitano said the increased delay between death and memorial service — as well as the absence of a body — allows for more opportunities to create personalized celebrations of life.

“Our industry is all about personalization,” Sciackitano said. “And you really need to listen to your families in order to do this well.”

Though arranging for a horse at a memorial service is a first for Schroeder-Lauer, the funeral home has a history of unique personalizations. They displayed kitchen utensils at the visitation for an avid baker. They used mannequins to highlight the work of an accomplished crocheter and sewer. A golf-lover’s visitation showcased his 65 golf score cards and his clubs. Fishing lures decorated the casket of a longtime angler.

Schroeder-Lauer once incorporated a wheelchair and basketball into the memorial service of a departed para-athlete. (Photo provided)
For the family of a man who enjoyed making wine, the display at Schroeder-Lauer included grapes and a demijohn. (Photo provided)

Sciackitano remembered the service of a man who was part of a motorcycle club. The man had bought a new Harley Davidson but hadn’t had the chance to ride it before his death.

“We put that Harley Davidson right here up front,” Sciackitano said. “The florist draped flowers over the seat. That was so emotional. …The club all came in their colors, and as they processed past the casket, they touched the cycle. Talk about emotional.”

Don Sciackitano explains the importance of sight-lines and first impressions at a memorial service. Before the family arrives, he views the room from all angles to make sure the personalized touches are positioned to best effect. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Shepherding families

Schroeder-Lauer’s personal touch goes beyond the memorial service, however. They believe it’s the funeral home’s responsibility to shepherd families through the entire process, from the first phone call of a death to the final burial.

“It begins at the door and it ends at the cemetery. Everything in between is so important,” Sciackitano said. “As soon as you knock on that door, you have to be ‘on.’ People, they look at you coming to do a removal, in 30 seconds you have to really focus. It’s all for real; it’s not for show.”

Schroeder-Lauer’s goal is to arrive at a decedent’s bedside within 45 minutes of the family’s phone call, regardless of whether the person passed at home or in a hospital.

“I don’t want my loved one or your loved one to be in a hospital or morgue any longer than they need to be, and people appreciate that,” Sciackitano said. “When it comes to serving God’s people, that’s where I try to give back.”

Don Sciackitano searched online for a saddle to present to Ray Schroeder’s family. He found one in Hobart, Indiana, and drove there to pick it up. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

“It’s worth it”

Even as a longtime veteran of the industry, Sciackitano still lives for the thank-you’s he receives after he’s done his work.

“It takes a lot of time but it’s worth it. I know that [families] can’t give me anything except ‘Man, thank you. You made a hard time easier.’ That’s like having a million dollars in my pocket,” Sciackitano said.

“You get to do it once,” he added. “So you have to do it right.”

At the end of the day on June 23, with the horse back in the stable, the Cubs memorabilia carefully packed away, and the Schroeder family’s expressions of gratitude still replaying in Sciackitano’s thoughts, it’s clear that Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home has done it right again.

Families can learn more about Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home and the customized services they provide by reaching out in person or online:

Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home is located at 3227 Ridge Road in Lansing. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Word count: 1,100


Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.


  1. Bob Has a great staff ! Hats off to Don, Dan, and crew! Ray would have been proud !

  2. When my husband John passed away Don asked a lot of questions about my husband. He had us bring in everything that John enjoyed. He displayed all of his Cub’s, Blackhawk and golf memorabilia along with the pictures and ashes of his beloved dogs. I cried when I saw what a beautiful tribute Don had created for my husband. He made one of the saddest day’s of my life much more bearable.

  3. Don is the best. There is nobody better than him to console grieving families!! He definitely found his calling!

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