If you live on Whidbey Island, there is a good chance you’ve encountered this businessman at least once. Maybe at a Rotary Club event, at a city council meeting in Oak Harbor, at the North Whidbey Help House, or during one of the worst days of your life.
Still, most people who cast their vote for Best of Whidbey particularly dig this man and his business.
Bryan Stucky has been crowned best business person of the year, and Wallin-Stucky Funeral Home was voted best business in Oak Harbor at the Best of Whidbey awards.
Stucky isn’t the stereotypical funeral director depicted in the media — somber, boring and greedy. To someone who has never had the chance to meet a funeral director, his energetic and outgoing character might be surprising.
After 13 years of dealing with death nearly every day, Stucky’s comedic side is still alive and well. When taking care of a deceased who’s had a long, happy life, he likes to crack a joke to ease some of the family’s pain. Even one smile can make a difference, he said, and families appreciate it. But there’s more to him than just being humorous.
Part of being a funeral director entails being a grieving family’s rock, so emotional strength is a must. Stucky said he has the natural ability to set his emotions aside at work, and although sometimes it can be difficult when he envisions himself in a young parent’s shoes, he is able to keep his composure while showing compassion. Often, the deceased is someone he knew.
“When someone loses a loved one and they come here, I think we do everything we can to make them feel like friends and family and not just a number,” he said.
Taking care of the dead is one of Stucky’s ways to serve the Oak Harbor community, which he quickly grew to love ever since he moved to the island with his wife in 2016, when he joined Wallin Funeral Home & Cremation — at the time owned by Gary and Martha Wallin.
“I have been so blessed with the opportunity to own this funeral home that I feel like I need to do all I can to give back to my community,” said Stucky, who is also a city council member, a member of the North Whidbey Island Sunrise Rotary and the vice president of the North Whidbey Help House. “I’m not in this for the money.”
Island County’s medical examiner, for example, conducts body examinations at the facility in Oak Harbor, free of charge.
Wallin-Stucky’s team of funeral directors work on call, for death does not care about business hours. To be a funeral director, Stucky said, one needs to be willing to give a part of themselves to others, even at the cost of family time.
“If it’s Christmas and you’re opening presents with the kids and someone passed away, you go. If it’s your wife’s birthday and someone passes away, you go.”
Thus, the funeral world isn’t for those who are merely fascinated with death. Rather, it’s a mission to help others — regardless if they’re breathing or not — that entails more managerial work and communication than embalming and cremation.
Stucky was never part of that crowd — or the “death groupies,” as he called them.
“I actually had never stepped foot in a funeral home until my first interview,” he admitted. He also saw a deceased person for the first time during another job interview.
It was only when he laid his restaurant manager career to rest that Stucky first considered joining the funeral industry, in hopes of finding something more fulfilling. His mother came across a funeral director job advertisement in a newspaper, which he found compelling. Though he did not land the job, he applied for every funeral home in Washington, eventually getting hired. At the age of 23, he became the youngest funeral director in the Seattle area.
He hadn’t even experienced grief until his boss, Gary Wallin, passed away unexpectedly in 2017 — just 10 months after he welcomed Stucky into the team. The following year, Stucky bought the business from Martha Wallin, who is still involved, and added his last name in 2020.
The funeral home offers a wide range of services including embalming, human and pet cremation, green burials, and even newer body disposal options such as aquamation — the dissolution of a body into an environmentally friendly liquid — and human composting through partners in Seattle. Stucky said he is looking for a plot of land in South Whidbey that would be entirely dedicated to green burials, away from the jet noise.
People can also decide whether they want to be transported on a hearse or a van, and choose to rest in a colorful casket, a book-shaped or motorcycle gas tank-shaped urn, an elaborate glass keepsake, or more.
Currently, the facility in Oak Harbor features an on-site crematory (which Stucky said is one of the few in the area that can fit people weighing over 500 pounds), a walk-in cooler that can fit up to 20 bodies, a chapel that seats up to 150 people, a reception center, a kitchen and the only pet crematory on the island.
Stucky recommends people to prearrange their funeral or talk about what they want with their family members and is open to hearing people’s ideas, even the extravagant ones. He recalled a beach-themed event, for which he had a truck bring in sand.