Mortuary Science Major Inspired by Mother’s Passing

Rachael Kriger, Cal Times Staff Writer

   Walking into room 233 of Smith Hall on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania is like walking into a room of opposites. On one side of the room, there are colorful Disney posters, vibrant pillows, and stuffed animals. On the other side, there are posters of skulls, Star Wars memorabilia, and gothic designs. That side of the room is Cheyenne Probst’s.

   Probst’s room might giveaway her darker persona. She is a self-proclaimed morbid adult. That morbid persona is a reason why Probst, 20, decided to attend Cal U for mortuary science. According to Probst, the career idea was always something in the back of her mind.

    “I was always a very morbid kid and I thought about maybe being a psychologist or going into history, but then I finally decided that I was going to go into funeral service,” she said.

Probst went to her first funeral service when she was seven years old. Her mother Nancy unexpectedly passed away. Her cause of death was viral pneumonia.

   At the time, Probst was very sick, as well as her mother. Her mother had a dry cough. She was taking care of Probst and the one day she just wasn’t feeling well. Nancy’s sister Lori came over and picked her up to take her to the hospital. “On the drive there, she just went completely downhill. The next day, she was dead,” Probst said.

   That was her first experience in being in a funeral home and going through the entire funeral service. “My mother’s death has definitely been a major influence in my life and I’ve always kind of played around with the idea of being a funeral director since then,” she said.

   When Probst was 17-years old, she got her first opportunity to work in a funeral home. A close friend of the family is the local funeral director Charles O. Diamond, the owner of the Charles O. Diamond Funeral Home Inc. Probst said he was, and still is, very well respected in the community, so she called him and asked if she could job shadow.

   “I even asked to wash his windows” she said. “I just wanted something to get my foot in the door. I ended up job shadowing with him for a few days the summer after my tenth grade year and then they brought me back a paid intern/funeral assistant.”

   Probst still works at the funeral home in the same position she started. For her job, she does paperwork, helps in the preparations room, does the makeup, and even drives the hearse. Or basically “I do everything,” she said.

   After finishing up high school, she knew that mortuary science was definitely the road she wanted to go down. She made the decision to attend Cal U over Point Park University and Gannon University, which are the only other two schools in the state that offer the program. However, she won’t be finishing her schooling up at Cal U. Beginning in the fall of 2017 semester, she will attend the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, where she will still graduate in the spring of 2018.

  Probst is ecstatic to get started at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. “I’m excited about doing the reconstruction, which is reconstructing people’s faces that need it,” she said. “Like say if someone got in a car accident or had jaw cancer and half of their face is missing. You pretty much have a picture of the person and then you have to recreate their face.”

   Even with her absence from Cal U and home, which is Sidman, Pennsylvania, Probst’s family and friends are excited for her opportunity. “I will miss her but I know she’s doing something she loves, so I’m happy,” says roommate Kelley Milavec. “I’m going to miss her a lot, for sure, but this is her career, and I’m happy for her.”

   Probst is excited about her future in the mortuary science industry. She said in the next ten years she’d like to be settled in Pittsburgh, hopefully married to her boyfriend, whom she met at Cal U, Josh Kovel, and working at the Green Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Also something she wants to see happen in the next couple of years is her relationship with her dad to improve.

    Even before Probst’s mother died, her father was distant. According to her, he has always been quiet and reserved. “I’d like him to be more open with me,” she said. “I’ve tried. We would be at the dinner table and I’d try to start conversations and it would be like I was talking to a brick wall.”

  However, Probst isn’t giving up on working on her relationship with her dad. “Each time I go home, I try to communicate with him better,” she said. “It’s a work in progress, but I think it will come to fruition.” Although she said it’s hard for the two to be close to each other due to his anti-social persona, Probst’s hopes her career could help.

    “I want to show him I’m independent. I want him to be proud of me,” she said. Through the good and the bad, Probst is proud of how far she has come and is excited for what the future will hold for her both personally and career wise. “I want to be independent and successful. More importantly, I want to be happy. I always think, ‘I wonder if my mom would be proud.’ I want ot make my mom proud, even if she’s not here.”