GREEN BAY — The quarterly newsletter published by Proko-Wall Funeral Home and Crematory is fittingly titled “Tomorrow.” For owner and licensed funeral director Robert “Bob” Walczyk Jr. and the staff, the walk with families continues long after the funeral service.
“We have a lot of aftercare following the funeral,” said Walczyk. “We always deliver things to people’s houses, so they don’t have to come back here. We developed the newsletter in 1996. We print a couple thousand and it’s available online. We have two bus trips a year for widows and widowers. It costs them nothing. We’ve gone to Brewer games, the Fireside Theatre, antique shops in Door County, the train ride in Laona. They are able to invite a guest and spend the day with other people going through the same thing.”
Proko-Wall also offers a holiday support program in December and a spring flower planting where families arrive with gloves and shovels in hand.
“The children get to paint rocks,” said Walczyk, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Bellevue. “We have cookies, lemonade, water and a dove release. We usually have one of the local clergy say a few things. It’s just a nice event in the spring to bring people back here for something positive. Hopefully we made a terrible situation in their life bearable and turned that into something positive as a way to remember.”
Walczyk has been with the funeral home since it was built by his father, Robert Walczyk Sr. and the late Gerald Proko nearly 50 years ago.
“Since the plaster was on the wall, I was here,” he said with a laugh. “I used to cut the grass as a kid. I cut all the grass in the front, the back, the sides. I got a buck and a half for doing all that. By the time I was done, it was time to start doing it all over again.”
Walczyk grew up as a member of St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Green Bay and attended the parish school. He was an altar server during his youth.
“Half the teachers were (religious sisters). I spent a lot of time writing ‘I will not …,’” he said with a smile.
Joan Faltynski, his principal at St. Mary’s School, worked in the office at Proko-Wall following her retirement from education.
“When she came over, I said, ‘Now understand, you don’t get to use a typerwriter. You are going to write everything 500 times like I had to.’ We always had a good laugh about that,” he said.
Walczyk said that he never felt pressured to follow in his father’s footsteps in the business. He became the sole owner 14 years ago. Robert Sr. still assists when he is in the area. He now spends winters in Florida.
“I don’t know if my dad ever asked me if I wanted to be a funeral director,” said Walczyk. “I enjoyed being here and find it rewarding. When I was working with my dad, he actually fired me twice and I had it coming. He gave me my job back, but I had to call him.”
The tough days as a funeral director for Walczyk include situations when family members of the deceased are not communicating with one another, funerals for people he knows personally and funerals when a young person dies.
“I’ve had to excuse myself from arrangements,” he said. “Especially when you have kids of your own and you get a teen suicide, leukemia, cancer or a birth defect, those are tough. I had met with four or five people who had young people in their families die in a four-week period. We had another one come in and I couldn’t do it. I was emotionally drained.”
The absence of a religious service can also be a struggle, he added.
“‘Mom was a member of St. Philip for 70 years and you don’t want a Mass?’ I also see families that choose to do nothing. They tend not to be strong in their faith at all and they tend to have more issues later on,” said Walczyk.
Proko-Wall, which has 25 full- and part-time employees, serves more than 300 families a year. Walczyk encourages staff members to be involved in their churches and the community.
“I want to be an asset for the community,” he said. “I just don’t want to be a funeral provider. I want to be a partner to parishes, a partner to the homeless shelter, the hospitals and nursing homes.”
Walczyk gives back to the community by donating to more than 50 charities. He has served as a board member for the National Railroad Museum, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Optimist Club and My Brother’s Keeper. His parish involvement at Prince of Peace has included working at the pancake breakfasts and other activities through the Holy Name Society. The uncertainty of his schedule makes it difficult to be involved in some ministries, he said.
Walczyk and his wife, Annette, have two adult daughters, Sarah and Emily. He encourages employees to make family a priority.
“My dad always said that the funeral home comes first, but we have a bigger staff now,” he explained. “If you need a couple hours to be with your family, I try to push that.”
Proko-Wall has grown physically over the years. The first addition was made in 1980. The casket room was added with the crematory in 1990. The special programs have also expanded. In May, Proko-Wall will host a free workshop for caregivers. An appreciation event for veterans, first responders, firefighters and police officers will be held, for the second consecutive year, in the fall.
“We did it at Josten Park. We had about 100 people there,” said Walczyk. “We had hamburgers, brats and hotdogs, and music by Jerry Voelker.”
Grade school students made thank-you cards for the guests of honor. The cards were wrapped in sets of three or four and distributed by members of local youth softball teams.
“My dad still shakes his head and says, ‘I can’t believe where we started from such humble beginnings to where we are now,’” said Walczyk. “The goal is still ‘How can we take care of people better?’ What can we do to help alleviate some of their stress and pain so they can focus on their family, focus on healing, and grieving.”
To recognize those in business who promote the common good, The Compass invites leaders and parish leadership to nominate candidates for the fifth annual “Faith That Works” Awards. Click here to learn more.