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September 16, 2012

Hearse offers bikers the ultimate 'last run'

AKRON, Ohio — Meet Don Pucak, his big red Harley-Davidson and his motorcycle hearse.

The funeral director at Schlup-Pucak Funeral Home in Akron first saw a motorcycle hearse at a National Funeral Directors Association convention. The idea stuck with him.

He and his wife, Susy “wanted to do something different,” said Pucak, who has been in the funeral business for more than 40 years. But it’s in the past 10 years that he says he’s seen the most change.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, the U.S. cremation rate jumped from 26 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2010, a figure that’s only expected to increase. In addition, Pucak explained, families often want to make a loved one’s final sendoff more personal.

With the help of funeral home staff, including retired secretary Judy Heasley of Uniontown, Ohio, and neighbor Larry Pierson of Green, Ohio, the hearse was designed and hand-built.

“It was a labor of love,” Pucak said, grinning. “I wanted it to be in the Old Western style.” But instead of the antique-looking hearse that once was pulled by horses, “we pull it with a Harley.”

The motorcycle hearse, which was put in service about three years ago, is the only one of its kind owned by a funeral home in Akron — perhaps the state. That has prompted funeral homes from throughout Ohio to call on him, though no one in Akron has requested it yet.

Jeff Spence of Spence-Miller Funeral Home in Grove City, Ohio, telephoned Pucak after learning he would be holding a service for a motorcycle enthusiast.

The man, who died last fall in a motorcycle accident, loved the time he and his friends spent on their Harleys. There were some 150 bikes in his funeral procession.

When Pucak pulled the motorcycle hearse up to the doors of the funeral home, family members, who didn’t know that such arrangements had been made, were overwhelmed.

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