Wherever Amy Tezak-Rodrigue goes, the memory of her grandmother is with her. For Tezak-Rodrigue, this is not just an ethereal thing.
"I have a bracelet that I wear that was made from the roses of my grandmother's funeral," she said. "I wear it every day.
"It's kind of become a testimonial on my end."
Tezak-Rodrigue is the fourth generation in her family to operate the family business, . She is the owner and business manager and is going to school for her funeral director license.
She admits that the business is part tradition and part forward-thinking, sometimes way ahead of the curve.
"I'm very lucky," she said. "My dad was very much an innovator; he still is."
Both Rodrigue's father and uncle are still involved in the business, although they are semi-retired. Jack Tezak and Richard Tezak are both listed as owners and are both funeral directors.
In addition to traditional burials, Tezak's offers cremation and sells shrouds for green burials.
"We had the first crematory in Will County back in the 1980s," she said.
But the innovation at Tezak's is about more than just what services they offer. When you enter the "casket" room at the "Home to Celebrate Life," you are greeted with more than just rows and rows of caskets. The makings of a traditional burial can surely be found at Tezak's. But the business also carries a variety of containers for cremains, green burial shrouds and a variety of jewelry and other mementos that can contain a part of your loved one.
On the wall closest to the door are teddy bears on a shelf. Recently, the Tezak's served a family who, when the father died, left behind a wife who was 9 month pregnant with their baby. That man had chosen a traditional burial. But the home gifted the family with a teddy bear with a lock of the dad's hair inside to give to the baby when it was born.
Tezak's works with Joliet artist Sue Regis, owner of Regis Glass Art, to produce one-of-a-kind jewelry that can accommodate ashes of a deceased loved one. Some of the glass uses the ash of a loved one in its creation, some accommodates ashes in a small section of the glass memento. In addition to glass jewelry, the company has many styles of charms that hold creamains inside as well as a variety of containers that float on water and eventually sink, for those who want their ashes to be put in the sea.
Carrying products to memorialize a loved one is nothing new for Tezak's.
"We've had this stuff for, I'd say, about ten years now," Tezak-Rodrigue said.
In fact, none of Tezak's clients leave without a memento of their loved one. After a viewing is over and the family is witnessing the closing of the casket, they are presented with two glass hearts, that were created by Regis. One of the hearts goes in the casket with the loved one. The other remains with the family.
The Tezak family began in the funeral business in 1908 in downtown Joliet. John and Jean Tezak, Tezak-Rodrigue's great grandfather and great grandmother began the business. And if you look in Tezak-Rodrigue's office, or any of the other offices in the home, you will notice the rows upon rows of salt and pepper shakers. The collection, which numbers around 3,300, was owned by Jean Tezak.
The Tezak family would like to expand their business in the future. The land adjacent to the existing building on Route 30, they would like to see become a memorial for those who have been cremated.
Tezak-Rodrigue envisions a community garden with a park for children to play in and glass blocks created by Regis to serve as memorials. In addition to the neighboring plot of land, Tezak-Rodrigue said the Tezak's hope to buy a large plot of land further west to create a green cemetery. In order to be a cemetery, that land would have to become a land trust.
"It would be a prairie restoration project," Tezak-Rodrigue said. "The hardest part is getting the land trust.