SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Terry Bollinger's job calls on him to work with families at their most grief-stricken.
Bollinger's 38-year career as a mortician is much more than a 9-to-5 job. He often is awakened at night to pick up a deceased person or finds himself working around the clock planning one of the more than 100 funerals he directs each year.
Bollinger, a licensed funeral director, has more than three decades of mortuary experience and has owned Good Shepherd Mortuary in South Charleston since 1989. His staff of five has worked hard to make families' bad times slightly easier.
"I love what I do," Bollinger said. "Funerals can be difficult times in peoples' lives and it is my job to make that time a little easier. I've always enjoyed helping people."
Bollinger, 56, is detail oriented and has an authentic personality. He's an active community member and former police commissioner with a strong desire to better the South Charleston community.
He and his wife Patricia, son David and daughter Ann Marie belong to Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Charleston and have been part of the congregation since 1978. They have actively assisted with a plethora of civic activities.
Bollinger is the church organist and says music has been an important facet in his life.
Bollinger is not just an instrumentalist, he's also a vocalist.
He has traveled and sung with musician Squire Parsons and his classic southern gospel quartet. He also sings with the Kingsmen Quartet in North Carolina.
Parsons, who is a West Virginia native and wrote the popular song "Sweet Beulah Land," first met Bollinger in 1979 when Bollinger was singing with the Jim Humphrey family. Parsons met Bollinger through the Humphreys.
"He was driving a black Caprice with a funeral home insignia on the side," Parsons said, laughing. "I grew to love Terry. We both loved to sing gospel music and we idolized some of the same groups."
Parsons also was part of the Kingsmen Quartet before branching out and doing solos. Throughout the years, however, the southern gospel singer has been inviting Bollinger to join him and others as a quartet.
"When I'm in West Virginia and Terry is not busy, we form an on-the-spot quartet," Parsons said. "He is an excellent bass singer . . . and a superb community leader. I can always count on Terry. I have seen him grow as a musician and I have the utmost respect for him musically."
Bollinger has never sung at any of his funerals. He employs someone for that.
"I am not a soloist," Bollinger said. "I do better in a quartet."
Bollinger readily offered a tour of his funeral home. Located on Fifth Avenue, it used to be a doctor's home through the 1930s and early 1940s. It was then converted into a funeral home in the late '40s. Bollinger bought the family-owned business in 1989 and has added to the structure throughout the years, including the addition of a chapel in 1997 that can seat nearly 300 people.
Bollinger is a 1984 graduate of the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. He said morticians in West Virginia must have completed one year of apprenticeship, two years or 60 hours of college credit, as well as completion of a program that specializes in mortuary science.
Bollinger said the largest funeral he has directed was that of a former chief of police. The most difficult funerals are those of children.
"We typically get a lot of older folks, but there are times we get a call in which a child is involved," he said. "At those times, we have to stay focused for the families and not let our emotions get to us."
He also has been in charge of the funerals of people he has known personally.
"It can tear you up, but it's important to stay strong," he said.
Good Shepherd Mortuary features a casket selection room in which the families can choose from an assortment of caskets or urns. If families are not happy with the selection, they can choose from a catalog full of specialty caskets.
There's also a closet full of clothing that families can select if necessary — tuxedos for the men and gowns for the women.
"Usually, the families will bring an outfit for us to put on the body," Bollinger said. "There are no restrictions of what we can put in the casket with the body. We've had people bring pictures, dolls and other mementos. We've even put a brand-new shotgun in a casket before. It just varies."
The embalming room is located near the garage. Embalming is the first step in preparing a body for viewing. Bollinger said the next steps include dressing, styling the hair and applying makeup.
"One of the greatest compliments an undertaker can receive is when someone tells you that their family member looked great," Bollinger said. "We always ask that the families bring in a photograph so we can mimic how they looked. We want to get it right."
Bollinger also arranges for cremation when the family requests it, though that is done at another site.
Over the years, challenges have included making arrangements for a 700-pound man who was so large that a backhoe was used to place him in his casket, and making arrangements for a man from Tunisia — extensive planning was required to ship his body back to his homeland.
Good Shepherd Mortuary can accommodate four funerals at once, although that rarely happens. Its hearse is one of a few hearses with an electric table and cost $109,000. Its limo, which is made of commercial glass and considered a presidential limousine, is also rare and cost $90,000.
"Our hearse is pretty neat," Bollinger said. "It has an electric table that allows for easier access for the pall bearers. Our limo can seat up to eight people and transports the families to and from the cemetery. Only four limos like this exist on the East Coast."
Bollinger said he has been interested in the funeral home business since he was 6 years old.
"I guess my initial interest stems from the ambulances that funeral homes had," Bollinger said. "It used to be that if you needed an ambulance, you would call a funeral home."
Bollinger used to be the proud owner of a 1976 Cadillac Lifeliner ambulance he found on eBay for $10,000. The 21-1/2-foot-long, 7-1/2-foot-tall ambulance made two siren sounds and had a 500-cubic-inch engine. He has since sold it.
"From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a funeral home director," Bollinger said. "People thought I was weird but I sincerely love my job."
Contact writer John Gibb at john.g...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1796.