Longtime funeral director 'a genuine, caring person'

John Fusselman Licensed in 1949, he opened a funeral home in Louisville in 1953.

A Syracuse man who was Nebraska's longest-active licensed funeral director — for more than 60 years in Cass and Otoe Counties — died Tuesday.

John Fusselman died of pancreatic cancer. He was 88.

After serving in World War II, Fusselman went to mortuary school in San Francisco, obtaining his license in 1949, said his son, Jon Fusselman.

John, who was raised in Bristow, Nebraska, moved to Louisville to start a funeral home from his own home in 1953. In 1967 he purchased a funeral home in Syracuse and operated both businesses for decades.

Doug Allen worked with him for about 30 years and said he was a supportive friend to grieving families.

"They always felt he was part of their family after they worked with him," Allen said.

Jon Fusselman said that over the years his father knew nearly every family in a 30-mile radius.

"He was such a genuine, caring person that didn't have any pretense," Jon said. "People sensed that and were automatically drawn to him and had a lot of trust in the business."

John usually did his job correctly, but decades ago the Syracuse newspaper ran a headline: "Funeral director buries wrong cat."

John's daughters had cats that lived at the funeral home, off Nebraska Highway 50. When the Fusselman family returned home after a Christmas church service, a neighbor told them that their cat had been run over by a car.

The daughters were distraught. John held a funeral for the cat, digging into the frozen ground to bury the cat with its Christmas presents.

Three days later, the daughters' real cat appeared.

"It was not quite a scandal but a little bit of a local joke," Jon said. "It became a little bit of a local celebrity story."

John is also survived by daughters Marcy Wilcke of Clinton, Iowa, Alice Perry of Syracuse, Laurie Shultz of Omaha and Mary Arnold of Lenexa, Kansas; eight grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and two sisters.

A visitation will be today from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Fusselman Allen Harvey Funeral Home at 644 Park Ave. in Syracuse, and the family will greet friends from 5 to 7 p.m. The funeral will be Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Luther Memorial Church at 1162 Mohawk St. in Syracuse.

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