Steve and Cindy Pressly pose for a portrait in the Knox Chapel. The former owners of Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home and Crematory bought the neglected property at 7th Avenue and 21st Street in Rock Island in 2015 and restored the property to its former glory. The Presslys recently sold their funeral home business to longtime employees David VenHuizen and Joseph Perez.
David VenHuizen and Joseph Perez pose for a portrait in the lobby of Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home and Crematory in Rock Island on Thursday. VenHuizen and Perez are the new owners of the Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home chain.
ROCK ISLAND — Steve Pressly is at his best at the worst of times, serving as a burst of sunlight through the darkest of clouds.
It is a trait one cannot pluck from a tree or find in a drawer.
For 41 years, Pressly, the longtime owner/president of the Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home and Crematory chain, has offered compassion and caring to people who have lost loved ones.
He's not stepping down from that job, but he is selling his interest in the chain of area funeral homes.
"I believe I was called to do what I do, to be a funeral director,'' Pressly said in a recent phone conversation from his Door County, Wis., home. The lifelong Milan/Rock Island resident was in the middle of a getaway with his wife of 38 years, Cindy.
"It is an honor to serve the families we serve and get to know so many wonderful people,'' Pressly added. "I treasure the relationships formed through the years, the generations of families we have served. You form friendships that never end. You see how people care for each other, how they celebrate life, how they struggle with loss. You get attached.''
SELLING TO 'THE BEST'
After much thought and prayer, Pressly recently decided to sell his interest in the Wheelan-Pressly chain, a local fixture since 1889, to funeral directors David VenHuizen and Joseph Perez.
He will be passing the torch to -- in his words -- "two of the best at what they do.''
VenHuizen, a funeral director with Wheelan-Pressly since 1988, will serve as the company president. Perez, who began working with Wheelan-Pressly in high school, has been on the staff full time for the past decade.
Pressly will stay on as a funeral director for the next five years. He says Wheelan-Pressly, which has funeral homes in Rock Island, Milan and Reynolds, will not miss a beat with VenHuizen and Perez at the controls.
"I hope the two put whatever touch they feel is right on the business, but nothing will change as far as serving the community with compassion and care,'' Pressly said, praising the two men entrusted with carrying on a tradition of serving people in their time of need for almost 130 years.
"They are two of the finest people I know,'' Pressly continued. "They have a great understanding of their role in the community. I'm lucky; I have seen firsthand and up-close knowledge of just how great Dave and Joe are. They have established and fostered many great relationships through what we do. They have given their all to this and deserve the same opportunity I was afforded.''
VenHuizen said he learned the business from the best.
"What a great teacher,'' VenHuizen said of Pressly. "He has given us his time, his energy and his passion through the years. I cannot thank him enough for his foresight and vision, which has left us in a great position to carry on that tradition. We consider ourselves blessed to be involved.''
VenHuizen recalled the day Pressly and the late Robert Wheelan asked him to join the team.
"I was a scared kid, nervous like anyone in that position,'' he said. "They were so great in sharing with me the tradition that had been built and how we all could go forward and have success.
"It's been amazing to watch Steve and his approach all these years. I truly believe there is no one who has walked through our doors he doesn't know. We are so lucky he has decided to stay and share the ride with us.''
Knowing decision-making for Wheelan-Pressly will stay in the community has eased the transitional burden for Pressly. He has long taken pride in being involved and giving back to the community.
"We went through a trend where other funeral homes sold out and turned to conglomerates,'' Pressly said. "I struggle with decisions that are so important to a family being made by people not from that community. Not every situation is the same, but decisions in our business need attention from someone you know and trust.
"You will always have that with Dave and Joe. It was the right time for me to do this. If I waited, it might not have been the case.''
PROUD OF COMPANY'S GROWTH
Pressly, modest to a fault, takes pride in the company's growth under his leadership. Its first funeral home, at 322 20th St. in Rock Island, was founded in 1889 by Charles R. Wheelan. In 2002, the Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home was built in Milan. In 2007, the company moved its main location to 3030 7th Ave. in Rock Island, and after that, it opened another outlet at 801 W. Edgington St. in Reynolds.
In 2015, the former Knox Mortuary at 2106 7th Ave., Rock Island, was added to the chain. After the addition of a crematory at this site and many renovations, the building was renamed the Knox Chapel of Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home and Crematory. It opened in 2016.
"All done to better serve the community,'' Pressly said of the company's expansion. "The commitment to each family is the same as it was when Charles Wheelan started, and as it was with William and Robert Wheelan. It has to be that way; it's what people deserve. It was a lot about need, making sure we were in places that could make a difficult time easier for people.''
FAMILY HELPED HIM SERVE
When a pretty emergency-room nurse was drawn in by the charm of a young ambulance driver and future funeral director nearly 40 years ago, both knew what the future held.
A nurse works long hours, and a funeral director's day is never done. There are middle-of-the night calls, and tragedy and sadness at most turns. Long days turn into even longer nights and shorter mornings, but Steve Pressly is lucky. He knew Cindy Pressly -- and his children, Nicholas, Christian and Sarah -- understood.
"My family -- Cindy especially -- has had to deal with me being gone quite a bit through the years,'' said Pressly, a Worsham's School of Mortuary Science graduate. "I have missed some things that if I were in a different line of work I would not have missed.
"But thanks to Cindy and three wonderful children, I have been allowed to continue to serve. The business -- in addition to many other things -- has benefited greatly by Cindy's flare for decorating through the years.''
Though his calendar now has an open date or two, don't expect Pressly to "slow his roll,'' as they say. He will work, and he and Cindy will travel. There could also be more Lutheran Church pastoral calls for him to answer.
"My duties with the church have been rewarding,'' Pressly said. "And there will be opportunities for other adventures, but I still look forward to going to work. I believe it is what I was meant to do.''