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2024 Cornerstone Founder Award - Craig Rushnell Belleville Chamber of Commerce - 160th President's Dinner Celebration

The FOUNDER award is presented to a Chamber member who has built a business from its beginning or expanded an existing business that enhances the reputation of Belleville as a place where business can come to grow.

Craig Rushnell knew from a young age exactly what he wanted to do with his life and for a living. He just didn’t necessarily know how much that path would grow once he stepped upon it.  “I was very fortunate to have great parents and a great business to follow into, following my father’s footsteps,” says the president and owner of Rushnell Family Services.

He says he knew from the time he was a teenager that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.  “I don’t look at it as a vision or a plan. It was something I was introduced to at a young age and that I have loved my whole life.”

Craig’s father, Doug, started working for Jack Bush at what was then called the Belleville Burial Company when he was 14 years old. He went to Toronto for his education and training before returning to Trenton in 1960 to open the funeral home and ambulance service with his wife, Mary.

Craig was raised over the funeral home in Trenton and says he used to follow his father everywhere he went. He recalls in particular after his father bought Bush Funeral Home in 1974 following his father around Belleville, stopping at Reid’s Dairy for a shake then talking about the funeral business.

“I was big into hockey then so my goal was to be a hockey player in the winter and a funeral director in the summer,” he says. “My idol in hockey was always Ken Dryden. My dad … I held him up to that standard as well.

“I remember following him around and he would just talk about funeral homes and growing up and him saying ‘You never know, maybe someday we will have one there or have a couple… one there for you or your other family members, you never know.’ Those were the best days.”

Craig recalls going out on night calls with his father as young as 12 years old and finding the adventure in a job where every day is different.  He said he could see the passion his father had for the work and it was something he wanted to follow.  “There was a lot of hands-on work, a lot of work behind the scenes getting somebody prepared and I really fell in love with that when I was young,” he says.

“You could see the before and after … what a difference you can make for the people coming in to have a proper funeral. That is what I really became interested in.”

Despite reaching the Ontario Hockey League level, Craig decided his future lay not on the ice but in the business his father was running, so he enrolled in Humber College. After Humber he retuned to Belleville to apprentice and get his license.

He says at that time that some funeral owners in Belleville were ready to retire as Rushnell was looking to expand as Craig became part of the business.

“I think I brought that energy where I would say to my dad, ‘So and so called they were wondering if we are interested, what do you think?’” Craig says. “And he was always behind me and supporting me. And it just became one of those great opportunities.”

He says to this day he still appreciates how so much of the positive traditions about the business remain, despite the advances in technology and growth of corporate funeral homes.

He says Rushnell remains committed to providing personal and personalized service to people in what is one of the most difficult times in their lives.

“Growing up in Trenton/Belleville this is where we hang our hat,” he says. “Chances are when someone passes away we have dealt with that family in the past. And it’s nice that someone can call you up and you don’t have to worry about it being a business transaction or anything. It’s ‘We will look after things.’”

He says he learned the importance of that from his father, when he would go to visitations and see how appreciative people would be when they would come in and everything had been looked after, they were being taken care of.

“It’s so stressful,” he says about funerals. “There are a hundred different things you have to think of and it’s nice if someone is there to walk you through that. It’s a nice feeling to give people knowing they don’t have to worry, we will look after things.

“It’s just one of those things -- you are available 24/7. When someone passes away that you know, that you can help, whether it’s family or friends, that’s important to us.”

That approach has contributed to the Rushnell success and recent growth.

Craig estimates the business has doubled in size in the last four years with Rushnell doing 1,700 calls a year among what is now 10 funeral homes. As well, Rushnell owns a crematorium, Go Cremation and A1 Limousine Service.

Much of that growth has occurred since 2019, starting with the purchase of funeral homes in Picton, followed by purchases of McConnell Funeral Homes in Madoc, Marmora and Tweed, Cassidy Funeral Homes in Tweed, Northcutt Elliott in Bowmanville and D.E. Allison Funeral Home in Port Hope.

Despite the growth, though, Craig insists Rushnell Family Services continues living by the standards and practices started by his father and which he continues to follow.

“There are other funeral homes that have sold to corporate and we all know how corporate businesses are run,” he says. “I think it’s important to keep the family business – the only family business – to carry on.

“It’s one of the few businesses where you can still go in and go over things and make arrangements and do a handshake and walk out the door and you don’t have to worry about anything.

“That is how it used to be and that is how it still is.”

Craig’s children have chosen to follow in their father’s footsteps as well. Ashley, Jerrett and Meaghan are all part of the business now which has both enabled and inspired the company’s significant growth.

“It was the opportunities came up, and as well my whole family is now involved,” Craig says. “I certainly can’t do it without them. They bring the energy to carry things forward. They are third generation and I want them to have the same opportunity that I had.

“It is nice that they always have my back – we have each other’s back. We are all there for one another. And it is nice to know they are going to carry on.”

Ashley says it was never really a question of whether she would follow in her father’s footsteps – it was always going to happen.

She recalls following the death of her maternal grandparents in a car crash watching her father and grandfather working to ensure she and her siblings could say a proper goodbye.

“If we didn’t have family members in this industry who cared so much about what they did, we may not have been able to say goodbye to them,” she recalls. “That was the first time I really appreciated what they did so we could say goodbye.

“We were never sheltered from this. We always knew what my father and grandfather did. But this really opened my eyes and gave me an appreciation for what they did. After this I really didn’t want to do anything else.”

Ashley notes that having started working at Rushnell at 14 years of age she has had a front row seat for the growth and expansion of the last few years.

She notes in particular that becoming the first family-owned funeral home to own a crematorium was a “huge” step for the company.

“It’s been quite the thing to see what it has grown into,” she says. “We can take care of everything. And a lot of people take a lot of comfort knowing that we are the ones that are looking after them from start to finish.”

Ashley notes that as society changes – becomes more corporate and less personal – Rushnell continues to stress the importance of treating people right, no matter who they are or where they come from.

She says her grandfather stressed that lesson from an early age – that people are entitled to dignity and respect regardless of their walk in life or their social status.

“My grandfather used to say to us, every day go out and meet three people… and remember their names,” she says. “That is how important people were to him and that’s how we were raised. No matter who you meet you treat everyone the same and you give the same type of dignified service no matter who they are.

“We are living in a different world now, but our values are the same. In a world where things are becoming less and less sensitive it’s important to keep the same traditional values and family morals that we have. “

“It’s what stared our business back in the ’60s,” Craig adds. “It’s about people you know and you got involved in the community and you looked at people more as friends and acquaintances rather than a number.”

Craig says despite the growth and even with his kids being more and more involved, he still loves what he does. And while he gets offers “a couple times a year” to sell, it’s not something he is interested in or foresees happening any time soon.

“One day there will come a day, but that will be up to my kids,” he says. “I still love doing what I do.

“It’s kind of humbling to think about this. You know I don’t think that I grew this all on my own or anything like that. I didn’t. It was my parents that provided the path for me and thankfully my kids are following in my footsteps now.”

 

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Jesan Property Maintenance - SAVE 10%
NRG Alternatives - 10% Discount
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Parsons Cleaners Member offer - 10% OFF
Papa Johns Pizza Member Offer- 25% off
Body Systems Nutrition - 15% OFF purchases.
Cloud Bookkeeping Services - 10% OFF
Jesan Property Maintenance - SAVE 10%
Esso Chamber
Superior Propane - Save 5% on fixed price propane
NRG Alternatives - 10% Discount
Dinkle,s Restaurant - 10% OFF
Allen Insurance - Exclusive Chamber Member Rates
Be Prepared First Aid Traning - 15% off