From Guantanamo Bay to Waupaca
By Angie Landsverk
Derek Reser’s introduction to what quickly became a career direction for him happened by chance.
“I was sitting at a barbecue restaurant and overheard two gentlemen say they needed extra help because they were so busy,” he said. “I introduced myself and offered any assistance that I could be for them, because I was actually looking for a job.”
During that conversation with the two men, Reser learned they needed help at a funeral home.
“They asked if I had a shirt and tie. I said, ‘No. But I can have one by tomorrow,’” he said.
Reser went shopping that evening and bought a shirt and a tie.
“I showed up at the funeral home the next day,” he said. “I knew the minute I walked into the funeral home that that was where I was supposed to be.”
It was 2008 and Reser was fresh out of the U.S. Navy.
He began working part time at Crafton Funeral Home, in Franklin, Kentucky.
Until then, Reser had no interest in funeral service.
“It was never on my radar. It just happened,” he said.
During his first day working there, Reser began learning the ins and outs of the business and worked at visitation.
He quickly realized how rewarding it is to help people.
Reser apprenticed with Crafton Funeral Home for one year and then went to Mid America College of Funeral Service, in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
While going to mortuary school full time, he also worked full time in Louisville and had a newborn at home.
He graduated in 2009 with an associate degree in the applied sciences of funeral services and returned to working at Crafton Funeral Home.
Reser worked there about a year and a half before he decided to return to his Wisconsin roots.
He grew up in the Berlin area, and joined the Navy after graduating from Berlin High School in 2003.
“It was after 9/11,” he said. “I had made my mind up that that’s what I needed to do.”
While he signed up for four years, he served five years.
Reser did two deployments to Guantanamo Bay.
“I was doing correctional work there. It was tolling,” he said.
After he moved back to Wisconsin, he managed Kuehl Funeral Home, in Gillett, for three years.
From there, he went to Hayward Funeral Home.
Now Reser is a funeral director at A.J. Holly & Sons, in Waupaca.
He began working there in early May.
“I came here to get closer to home,” he said.
When he left Berlin after high school, Reser felt he needed to get away from home.
After seeing different parts of the country and world and becoming a father, it gave him a new respect for family and community, he said.
“I felt it was important for my boys to experience central Wisconsin,” Reser said.
He has two sons: 9-year-old Bryce and 5-year-old Dax.
Reser’s significant other, Ashley, has two daughters: 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old Genevieve.
He enjoys spending time with family.
“One of my biggest passions is ice fishing,” Reser said. “We love to camp. I’m a huge Packers fan, Brewers fan.”
He loves his job.
“There are so many different aspects to it. Every day is different,” he said. “But most importantly, I just love serving families, and I’m thankful to the staff of Holly Funeral Home for the opportunity to be here.”
When Reser thinks back to that day in the barbecue restaurant and how it resulted in a career opportunity for him, he says, “I feel like I was meant to be in that place at that time. I truly feel that this is a calling for me.”