In 1969, spurred on primarily by some members of the Unitarian Church in Urbana, a group of local residents formed a branch of the Chicago Memorial Society. These were the times when Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death was widely read and discussed. In 1975, the organization established itself as the Champaign County Memorial Society, the only such organized, independent group downstate. Initially, its main objective was to contract with a single funeral director who would provide dignified, inexpensive funeral and burial services. When the first (and only) willing provider could not afford to continue, the Society re-focused its action on providing vital information on variety of topics enabling members to make well-informed decisions among end-of-life choices.
The Champaign County Memorial Society was part of a nationwide alliance known as Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, FAMSA. Among the topics addressed by experts, both within and outside the Society, were: hospices, final arrangements check lists, funerals and memorial services, cremations and burials, fees and services of local funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries; advanced medical directives including living wills, durable powers of attorney for healthcare, patient directives re withholding, withdrawing or terminating life-sustaining treatments, polices and practices of local health care providers, organ and tissue donation; self deliverance and assisted suicide; information about relevant legislation.
Several years ago the national organization changed its name to Funeral Consumers Alliance and urged all of its member organizations to change their name to Funeral Consumers Alliance of ______. In our case, following the urging of the national group, we voted, on April 23, 2001, (with reluctance on the part of some members), to change our name to Funeral Consumers Alliance of Champaign County. When we did that, we also decided to apply for 501 (c)(3) status with the federal government. In going through this process, with the help of the Law Clinic at the University of Illinois, we discovered that for a few years, a form required by the State of Illinois had not been filed and our incorporation had been terminated. By paying a small fee, we were able to regain our incorporation retroactively and change our name. Also, we were granted 501 (c)(3) status by the IRS, so donations made to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Champaign County may be deducted on one’s federal tax return.
Over the last many years, a biennial survey of local morticians, crematoria and cemeteries has been conducted by our organization and is printed in the annual newsletter. As the population ages and people have more options, candor increasingly characterizes considerations of end-of-life choices, and both membership and attendance at annual meetings have seen a large increase as people seek reliable information. By whatever name, the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Champaign County will continue to provide important information to the membership.
Hiram Paley & Susan Stone