by Peggy Schooley
Jo Lynn Fisher
Some years ago, our son passed away from cancer. I say that to explain how I met Jo Lynn Fisher, and why I know she is an amazing person. Every day she deals with people who are like I was that day. Devastated, overwhelmed. Not sure of what to do or how to do it. And she was the life ring God threw to my family. She has a huge, caring heart, and means every word she says to you. She connects people who would otherwise not know one another, allowing people to offer a hand up to others going through tragedy. It is not an easy job, even when you are called to it, as she is.
My first question to her when we met recently was “How does a girl from Lancaster, Texas end up in Boerne, Texas owning a funeral home? A life like that is obviously different than most!”
Jo Lynn’s story is wonderful, tragic, scary, amazing. She begins, “Lancaster is about 15 minutes south of Dallas. It is a poor town, and we lived near the projects, so I grew up amid diversity and cherish those memories. My parents were older, and I was an only child. I didn’t lack for a wonderful childhood, and ultimately I went to college at Abilene Christian.”
Fisher moved on to college, and immediately excelled. “I graduated Magna Cum Laude and went right into teaching. And, as things happen — Dusty and I met at some friends’ wedding. He was raised in Brownwood, and was managing a ranch in San Saba. I was a bridesmaid and Dusty was hiding in the back of the room, and one thing led to another. Dusty had recently broken up with a girlfriend, and she had managed to get both his refrigerator and his truck. So, when a nephew told him ‘you better go meet Jo Lynn – she drives a truck AND has a refrigerator!” he stepped into action! That’s an ongoing joke in our family!”
After marriage and graduation, Fisher moved into her career path of teaching. She continues, “I taught at both at the elementary and junior high level, and absolutely loved every minute of it. But one day Dusty, who graduated from Texas Tech in Ag Communications, and then earned his Ranch Management credentials from TCU, got a job running a huge ranch in Corsicana. Life there, on the ranch and in Corsicana, was really, really nice. Our ranch home was wonderful, we were close to my parents, the schools were fantastic, and Dusty truly loved every moment of his life on the ranch.”
However, tragedy was soon to strike, and it would propel the family in entirely new and different directions. “To fast forward to how we ended up in the funeral business means we MUST look back on my husband, Dusty, and his experiences that brought us here. It truly isn’t just my story, but a partnership over years and through a lot of change! One day I had won $100 on a scratch off ticket, and I was so excited! I immediately called Dusty to crow about it, but he didn’t answer until I’d tried a few times to reach him. When he did answer, he sounded ‘not like Dusty’ and said “I can’t talk.” His friend and ranch hand had just died. He hung up on me and so I rushed to the ranch, completely confused and frightened. There were emergency vehicles everywhere, policemen, firemen. They tried to keep me away, but I needed to be with Dusty and to find out what had happened, so I pushed my way through. I found my husband devastated that he had been unable to stop the terrible farm machinery accident that took his friend’s life. That accident changed everything. Dusty, me, our ranch life. Everything. And it led us to where we are today.”
Jo Lynn goes on to explain to me how she and Dusty were acquaintances of the local funeral directors. During Glen’s funeral, Dusty had many, many questions for them about the details of Glen’s funeral — “Dusty would ask ‘Is this the best he can look? Is this the way it always is? Is it hard to do?’ We also saw how their sincere concern and attention made such a difference to our friend’s family and friends.”
Fisher appreciated Dusty’s questions as they came from the caring portion of who he is, but she was soon to learn that the experience had really shaped Dusty and was altering his plans for their future. She adds, “I sort of thought that would be the end of his questions, and life would return, as much as it could, to normal. But, as time passed, Dusty became more and more interested in the role our friends in the funeral business played in people’s lives, and he began asking to help them in various small ways — delivering flowers, for example. Slowly they asked him to help with more and more of the work they did, both with the families and the deceased, and he really had found his calling.”
In listening to Jo Lynn’s story, it becomes so apparent that people find their callings in ways they never expect. It clearly demonstrates that we should keep our hearts and eyes open to really see what we are meant to do. Who would have thought that the local ranch manager’s path was to become a funeral home director and owner?
With Dusty’s increasing involvement with the funeral business, the owners and the Fishers began to see that this was a path that Dusty should pursue. She explains, “Our friends realized that Dusty was on his path, and they felt strongly they were called to help him — so they did. Within about four years after Glen’s death, Dusty had completed mortuary school – with our friends’ help – and completely traded in his spurs and boots to ties and suits!!”
Jo Lynn tells that, at that point, Dusty left the ranch management position he’d held and they moved into Corsicana proper. “I was happy with it all. The move brought us into a home that was very close to my parents’ home. Everything was as it should have been!” However, a few short months later, my dad died. Dusty made all the funeral arrangement and it was God sent that we had moved closer to them.”
It seems that Jo Lynn’s life with Dusty and her family is Corsicana was pretty idyllic. I asked her how she ended up in Boerne, what with her Corsicana life being as good as it was. She explains, “Funeral directors have continuing ed courses to take, and Dusty attended one where he met John Grimes from Kerrville. I think that was in 2006. They struck up a friendship and remain friends today. Then one day Big John Grimes called Dusty and asked “If you are serious about wanting to own your own funeral home, I know who you should talk to.” He told him that Sonny Ebensberger was looking for a buyer. “We had everyone we knew praying that if this was for us, that it would be clear. And boy, was it! Not just clear, but doors and windows started flying open for us. One day, during one of our last discovery trips to Boerne, our son Mixon, wo was eight, asked Sonny “So, you think we can make a go of this?” And as they say, the rest is history.”
But now that I had the ‘how did you get here” story ironed out, I asked her how she ended up being the partner, the face of the company, the big-hearted person that carries a whole community’s burdens right alongside them.
She answered in a bit of a way I wasn’t expecting. Fisher said, “Well, at first we were living in a mobile home here at the funeral home, Me, Dusty, kids, dogs. Small mobile home. Quite the picture, huh?! Originally the plan was for me to get a teaching job, but we had a huge job of remodeling the old building and bringing it up to code and updating so many of its infrastructures. That fell to me to oversee, and being close – in the mobile home behind the building – really helped with that. I didn’t know a single soul here, or anything about the schools. Nothing. I was a complete stranger trying to figure out things like ‘where is the grocery store?’ while at the same time creating advertising, upgrading systems, finding people to do the necessary remodeling. Yes, it was a crazy time, as you can imagine. But I was the one that answered the phones, set up the meetings, handled finances with our clients, and met with families. You know, somebody had to do it, and so I did, and discovered that this was MY calling, too.”
As you can imagine, Jo Lynn has had some really hard, emotional days during those early months. She continues, “How in the heck did I end up going from teaching little ones at school to standing in the casket display room with our son Mixon playing hide and go seek? Oh my gosh! I admit that I had a little cry and thought ‘It’s my birthday, I turned around and my son is under a casket and my cowboy is working a funeral. What happened to my life?’ It’s funny now, but it was a big adjustment period of life.”
“I remember that George Ebensberger’s funeral was the first one we handled as the newly minted funeral home owners. The hardest thing from those days,” Jo Lynn said “was simply juggling it all.” In 2016, my mom moved in with us. Wow, just thinking back on it makes me wonder how we did it!”
Recalling my own experience in working with Jo Lynn and Dusty, I was curious about how she handles the grief and sadness everyone has when they meet her.
“As I said, my dad has just recently passed away when we came here, so I was working from my own experience during his funeral. I had been treated as if I were a member of their family, their empathy was strong enough to carry me when I couldn’t do it alone. So that is what we try to do. We truly do feel what you, and all our clients, feel. Our family prays about your families at our dinner table at night. We talk about you all, we want you to feel that this last time to be with your loved one is in a place of care and love. Whenever very young ones pass away, those are the most difficult, but I want those moms and dads to know that a mother, me, was looking after their little one and loved them as if they were mine. It is important. It really is a calling.”
I asked her if she had any lessons she would like to make sure she passed along to us. There were four:
1. TALK about death and funerals with your loved ones. What do they want or hope you will do for their funeral. That people die isn’t a surprise. Sometimes the WHEN is, but never the fact that it will occur. Talk about it.
2. Know how will you PAY for it and how much you can spend. It is devastating for us all when people come to us and want a large, formal funeral, but have no money to pay for it at all. There is no good ending to a situation like that, so prepare for it as best you can.
3. Live every moment you have fully.
This is a “before the end comes” admonishment. There are so many little signs and memes all pointing to ‘be present’ or ‘realize your moments’ and the like. But do any of us really, really do that? Jo Lynn told me that one of her biggest goals is to point people to a place of where they can “Make Your Moments Matter.” As she explained to me “Don’t ever waste a moment of time with your loved ones. Hear them, look them in the eyes, hold them close every time you can. Each various moment is special, a treasure, and is to be guarded carefully”
She continued by reminding me that “wherever you are, be THERE. Don’t think about what to fix for dinner that night or about how you want a Starbucks. Be there, in that moment and that place, for the time you are blessed to be there. It’s important!’
4. Learning through a very demanding work/growth period in her life taught Jo Lynn the fourth lesson: Whatever you hate most that is one your to-do list…do that FIRST!”
And what is the future for the Ebensberger-Fisher family? “We are completely outgrowing our current location. It was built in 1937, and served such a small population! Boerne is certainly changing from that situation — and so we just bought property on North Main and Albany! We anticipate completion sometime during 2021.
Jo Lynn and Dusty, and their boys Mixon, 19, and Jaxson, 14, are truly Boerne-ites now. “I have wonderful friends…and I know where the grocery store is!” Mixon just received his first permanent duty station here in the US, and Jaxson is in his first year in high school. He is very involved in mixed martial arts and is a really busy kid.
Jo Lynn’s involvement in the community far exceeds that of ‘business owner.’ While she is the General Manager and serves as a Funeral Director’s Assistant, which seems a lot for most folks…she has also co-led and sponsored local grief support groups, served on the United Way of Kendall County Board of Directors, she is a Graduate of the Greater Boerne Area Chamber of Commerce 2010 Leadership Class, served on the Chamber’s Leadership Council and Scholarship Committee, and Chaired the annual Gala Awards. She currently sits on the Chamber’s Board of Directors.