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Our Staff

Our staff's commitment to you

Our staff is committed to providing support, compassion, information, and direction as needed to all members of our community, their families, and friends who are dealing with loss and grief.

 

Click an Image for Biography

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Frank Van Steenhuyse
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Gail Wood
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Rich Farmer
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Roger Witt
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Bill Ortgiesen
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Dave Pladsen
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Jim Russell
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Pam Claassen

Frank Van Steenhuyse

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Frank Van Steenhuyse has been a licensed Funeral Director since1994 and has been a resident of Benton County for most of his life. He grew up on a farm near Mt. Auburn and graduated from Vinton’s Washington High School in 1967. After graduating from Loras College with a degree in biology, Frank spent two years in the Army and a year in Washington D.C., working for the Food and Drug Administration.

He and his wife, Kathy, moved back to Vinton in 1975 to raise their family. Frank became a Funeral Director later in life after deciding he wanted to be a caregiver to his friends and neighbors in Benton County. To that end, he attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science, graduating at the top of his class in 1994.

Frank is active in community life, being a member of the Vinton Country Club, the Viking/Vikette Booster Club, past president and secretary-treasurer of the Vinton Lions Club, and longtime member and past Director of Vinton Unlimited. Frank worships at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vinton, where he has held numerous offices, taught religious education and is an active lector and communion distributor and a Knights of Columbus member. Frank and his wife Kathy have three children: Todd, Kate and Mark.

Gail Wood

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Gail was raised in La Porte City. In 1999, she graduated with honors as a member of Pi Sigma Eta National Morticians’ Honors Fraternity from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago, Illinois. She also graduated cum laude from Upper Iowa University with a BS in Psychology in 2010.

Gail returned to her hometown and completed her internship at The Kearns Service in Waterloo. She became a licensed Iowa funeral director in 2000. Shortly after completing her internship, Gail moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, and worked for Allnutt Funeral Service. While in Colorado, she served on steering committees and a community panel for AARP and was a community advisor for The Compassionate Friends. She returned to Iowa in 2003 and worked for Dunn’s Funeral Home in Des Moines.

Gail accepted a position with Russell Funeral Home in 2006. She is a certified eye enucleator for the Iowa Lion’s Eye Bank, a member of the Iowa Funeral Directors Association, the National Funeral Directors’ Association, Vinton Unlimited, Vinton Lion’s Club, the Mt. Auburn American Legion Auxiliary and First Christian Church in Vinton.
Gail lives in Vinton with her husband, Scott. They enjoy fishing, gardening and traveling.

Rich Farmer

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A Washington High School and University of Northern Iowa graduate, Rich has been a lifelong resident of Benton County, living in Belle Plaine before moving to Vinton at age 7. He worked as a teacher at the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School and Vinton-Shellsburg schools for 34 years. Upon his retirement in 2003, Rich began working as a funeral director assistant. 

Rich has been a very active volunteer, participating in City Council, Electric Board, Knights of Columbus and the Palace Theater. Considering himself a local historian, he’s been active with the Vinton Railroad Depot and Museum, Benton County Historical Society and the Benton County Courthouse 100th Anniversary Committee. He loves giving historical tours of Vinton and the cemetery. He is also an active member of St. Mary’s Parish in Vinton.

Rich’s family consists of his wife Nancy, 5 children and 13 grandchildren, with whom he and Nancy love spending time.

Roger Witt

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After graduating from Garrison High School in 1969, Roger went on to graduate from Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis and worked as a radio broadcaster in Jacksonville, Illinois. Roger returned to Vinton in 1972 and worked for McDowell’s and the City of Vinton. 

For 35 years he worked for Benton County, as the county’s Information Technology Department Systems Administrator and Manager’s Assistant. He retired from that position in 2010.

Roger’s family consists of his wife Mary, two sons, Aaron and Thad, and two grandsons, Tavish and Brandon. Roger volunteered many years for the local ambulance service, the county’s Rescue 6/Jaws of Life team. 

Woodworking is his passion, and he stays busy with numerous projects in his shop. Roger and Mary enjoy time each year at the lake in northern Minnesota. The highlight of the trip is Mary out-fishing Roger. 

Roger began his work in funeral service in 2006. His compassion for family, friends and the community make this profession a perfect fit.

Bill Ortgiesen

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After growing up in northern Illinois and graduating from Freeport High School, Bill spent two years in the United States Army. Following this service, he began a career in retail, first for a Midwest shoe store chain. During this twenty-three year association with Leslie Shoes in Illinois and Iowa, he was later assigned to California, where he opened 10 stores, five in the Bay area and five in the San Diego area.


Moving back to the Midwest, he purchased the Florsheim Store in Westdale Mall then opened William’s Shoe Box. When he decided to retire, he closed William’s Shoe Box in Cedar Rapids, ending 50 years of success in the shoe retail business. Years of customer relations have served him well, in addition to all the customers he has had the joy to assist.


Bill is an active member of the Vinton Lions Club, Vinton Country Club and Wildcat Golf Course. He attends St. Mary’s Church in Vinton. He and his wife Margie enjoy community events and getting together with their five children and families.

Dave Pladsen

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Jim Russell

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im graduated from high school in Jefferson, Iowa, and attended the University of Northern Iowa for three years. He graduated from mortuary science school in Milwaukee in 1965. He joined the United States Air Force in July of 1965 and served in the USAF and Iowa Air National Guard until 1978, working in air traffic control as a training officer.

Jim moved to Vinton in 1971, joining Howard and Mildred Campbell and later purchasing their business in 1976. Jim expanded his business in 1977 with the purchase of funeral homes in Blairstown and Belle Plaine.

He served Benton County families until 1992 when the Overton family purchased the business. Jim has worked as an Education and Marketing Director in the burial vault industry, serving central Iowa funeral directors for the past 15 years.

He was honored at the 2007 Iowa Funeral Directors’ Association annual convention for 40 years of funeral service in Iowa. Jim has served on church boards and has participated in numerous civic and community organizations in both Vinton and Panora, Iowa, throughout his life, including three terms on the Panora School Board.

Jim and his wife Pat (Kearns) have 5 children: Daimon, Matt, Alexa, Luke, Jessica and their spouses; and 9 grandchildren.

Pam Claassen

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Sadly, Pam passed away March 9, 2016. She was an extremely kind lady, and her warmth and friendliness are greatly missed. We were blessed to have known her.

Pam was born and raised in Benton County and graduated from Garrison High School in 1963. She worked for McKesson Drug Company for 22 years, 7 of which were in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She joined our staff in 2006. 

Pam was active in the Van Horne Lions Club, Floralia Arrangers Garden Club and the Van Horne American Legion Auxiliary. She was also active in the Salem Methodist Church in Van Horne.

She and her husband Otto loved spending time with their family and friends.