Bryan Foster, president and CEO of Foster Funeral & Cremation Service, never doubted himself when he became the first African-American licensed mortician to open a funeral parlor in Madison two years ago.
“We are doing really well right now. I’m very happy so far,” Foster tells Madison365. “To be honest, I didn’t think when I first started that we would have expanded so fast in just two years.”
Foster Funeral & Cremation Service serves the diverse population of south-central Wisconsin and beyond. Foster’s is located at the former Spherion Employment Agency building on Luann Lane just off the Beltline and Fish Hatchery Rd.
It’s the first mortuary on the south side of Madison — the most diverse zip code in the state – and the first multicultural funeral home in the state.
“We want people to know that we honor people’s traditional religious faiths, regardless of what your faith is,” Foster says. “I think other funeral places are slowly starting to incorporate the multicultural aspect because of what they see around them. People want somebody to look like them and to be represented in the service. In order for you to truly be multicultural, you have to be multicultural from the inside out; not the outside in.”
Foster Funeral Home has an extensive Latino and Hmong funeral packages. “We have a Muslim funeral package,” Foster says. “When they come here, we know exactly what they need and we honor their faith and their traditions.”
“We are seeing more white and Latino then we are blacks,” says Dawn Adams, Chief Operating Officer and Funeral Director at Foster Funeral & Cremation Service. “I’d say right now that the people we serve are close to 50 percent white. We’re starting to get more Muslims and, of course, we’ve had Asian [clients].”
Early last year, Foster expanded his enterprise when he started his second Foster Funeral & Cremation Service in Beloit.
“That is going really well. We’re averaging 2 or 3 funerals out of there a month and that is what I projected — doing 25-30 a year. We just did our 27th,” Foster says. “The word is starting to spread and we just want to keep offering that same great services to give families what they want; not what they have to settle for. We are looking at a few other areas in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
“We are shooting for the south of Milwaukee next … towards the West Allis area and then Minnesota,” adds Adams. “We have people asking us to come from various states. We just have to see if it fits into what our plan for serving families is.”
Foster Funeral & Cremation Service has more than 20 different packages to offer its guests — all of them at very affordable prices. Packages cover various things like the basic professional services of the funeral director and staff, removal and transfer to funeral home, embalming, dressing, cosmetology and casketing, hair care, visitation, funeral service, funeral coach, limousine service, register book, and more. “Because of the high cost of cremation, last week we just opened a separate company called ‘Compassion Cremation Services,'” Foster says.
Foster Funeral & Cremation Service has special packages for military veterans whom Foster holds dear to his heart. Foster’s 20 years of patriotic service included two combat tours including Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. Sergeant First Class Foster’s military awards and decorations are too numerous to list.
“Through every stage of the military, I worked at funeral homes. I couldn’t get away from it,” Foster says. “The army brought me here to Madison. When I came here, I saw that families had to settle for stuff that they really didn’t want. I said, ‘I would love to open a funeral home here where the families don’t have to settle … where they can actually have a service that they want with the class that they desire.’”
Adams made history in 2014 becoming the first African American female to become a funeral director in South Central Wisconsin.
“Coming from emergency medicine to this, it’s still feels great to help people but now I’m helping them in a different way,” says Adams, a former nurse for the emergency room (ER) at Meriter Hospital in Madison. “I think the best part is when the family says, ‘Thank you. Everything went so well.’ That’s just a great feeling for us. When people are pleased with what we have had to offer.”
Foster holds a master’s of science in human service specializing in health care administration, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree in general education and associate of arts degree in education from Columbia College. He also has an associate of science in funeral service from American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service. He worked at Cress Funeral Homes for a while before the idea came to him to open his own funeral home.
Becoming a funeral director has been a life-long dream for Foster. He has wanted to be in funeral services back in junior high. Foster was known as “The Undertaker” back in high school when he would get dressed up really nice and go to the mortuary after high school at East St. Louis High. Foster used to embalm deceased grasshoppers with Elmer’s Glue and make a little casket. He would use tissue paper as the flowers and perform mock funeral services.
“When I was a kid I knew it was something I always wanted to do from those grasshopper embalming days,” Foster remembers. “But I’ve learned a lot over the years – how to be compassionate to the family, how to serve them, and how to be there for them. It’s a business transaction at the end of the day, but we want it to be a home away from home.”
Foster knows that it’s important that the people know that he has everything covered and that they can trust in him.
“That means a lot. We don’t want people to have to worry about anything,” Foster says. “It speaks volumes when we take care of a family – and this has happened many times – who may be of a different ethnic background than us who loved their experience so much that they are referring other people to us.”
“People are very comfortable with us and we know that we are doing our very best for our families,” adds Adams.
Foster goals are to continue to serve the Madison and Beloit communities with his own unique personal touch that he has developed over the years. But his vision is much bigger than that.
“We want to have a Foster Funeral Services to be in every state so families can be served wherever they go. That’s a big goal,” Foster says. “We want people to develop a brand and let people know that they will get the same fine service wherever they may be in the United States. America is becoming a very multicultural country and we want them to know that we have their multicultural funeral home. We have to be ready to serve anywhere at all times … at any hour of the day.”