Many ways to serve: New team at Weddle’s brings experience, ideas

May, 2018 Posted in Community, Your Health
Weddle pic

Natasha Tjaarda, Ryan Steele and their Boston Terriers Abigirl, Boston and Boogie. Submitted photo

By Mary Owen

Some 50 veterans got a helping hand from a less usual source recently when Weddle Funeral Service hosted a Veterans Information Seminar last month.

“As a combat veteran and someone who has worked for the Veterans Administration, I had access to many different entities to receive healthcare and benefits,” said Ryan Steele, who now runs Weddle with his fiancée, Natasha Tjaarda. “However, what I have realized is many veterans do not know where to start or what resources they are entitled to. In addition, to get that information people have to travel far or wait on the phone for long periods of time. It’s important for me to ensure that our Santiam veterans have these resources by bringing the sources to them.”

Representatives from 12 organizations came to the seminar, including Willamette National Cemetery, Willamette Valley Hospice, Marion County Veterans Services, Easter Seals, Blue Star Moms, the motorcycle groups of American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard, and the local chapters of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Topics included how to apply for health benefits, arranging care, organizations to join, and job searches. Steele, who served in the US Army for nine years, put skills learned from coordinating outreach at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland to good use.

“We took over Weddle in February and held the seminar two months later,” Steele said. “But it was a success, and we are already getting commitments for next April.”

Tjaarda, like Steele, has a background in helping others. At 16, she job-shadowed at the funeral home her cousin ran.

“I went on Saturdays, and really felt that was my calling to help people,” she said. She trained to become a funeral director and after graduating worked for a Portland company for 13 years before taking over Weddle. Frustrated by a lack of flexibility at her former job, she is working to ensure the Stayton business is family oriented.

“We just want to treat families the way they should be treated,” she said. They have upgraded the website, instituted new payment options, offered free video uploads and website obituaries, and are remodeling the building. They plan to carry forth the service Weddle has given in the past by “celebrating life and honoring legacy.”

“We personalize services for each family,” said Tjaarda, who is certified to officiate. “We ask people what their loved one’s favorite color and memory was and try to institute them into the service. We try to do whatever we can.”

Tjaarda also has volunteered with hospice and an organization that rehomes pets after owners pass away.

“We encourage families to call us any time, day or night,” Steele said. “When someone comes into our care, they’re in our care the entire time.”

Tjaarda, who grew up in Macleay, and Steele, who was raised in a small town, love Stayton.  “We use the walking trails with our three Boston Terriers,” Tjaarda said. “We’re close to my family. This is home for us.”

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