ONE-ON-ONE WITH Kelly Martin, Family Services Counselor at Fernwood Cemetery and Funeral Home.

Interviewed by: Danna Lewis


On a recent Sunday morning Kelly Martin took me on a tour of the grounds and sat down with me for a great conversation. It was one of the most peaceful and exquisite pieces of land I have ever been on.

Danna: Hi Kelly, it’s so nice to get to sit and talk with you. And, since our story centers around Marin and Mill Valley, how did you end up living here? 
Kelly: I was living in South San Francisco and got lucky to find a place in Mill Valley which was more affordable than where I was living. And, I couldn’t do 19th Avenue one more day. Now my commute is two minutes. I grew up in South San Francisco and I still bowl in Daly City but it’s getting to the point I don’t even want to go over there anymore, the traffic and people just aren’t like they are here- kind, considerate, and polite.

Danna: So you ended up here because of your job, how did that happen?
Kelly: I worked with the Fernwood Funeral Director at my previous company. He reached out to me with an opportunity, and I drove up here to meet with him. He gave me the tour and I resigned from my current job at 5:08 the following day. I started working here as a Family Service Counselor and I’ve been here for two years. Soon after joining the company, our Director asked me to get things going with the Chamber again, our membership had declined. I joined the Chamber representing Fernwood and then recently became an Ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce as well.

Danna: I have to ask, how did you end up working in funeral homes?
Kelly: I worked for Samsung Electronics selling memory modules, I commuted to San Jose everyday from San Francisco. I went through a lot of layoffs and after being laid off for the sixth time, I was done. I took some time off, went to Miami for four months then Italy and France, and then my sister passed away. That changed everything. I had just taken another electronics job when my sister passed. What happened was that while I was meeting with the funeral director regarding my sister’s funeral, I got a call from a funeral home for a sales job- this came through a recruiter. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. It was four miles from my house and I just knew that’s where I was supposed to be. That’s how (and when) I made the switch from tech.

Danna: Going from electronics to funeral homes, were you nervous or anything?
Kelly: No, I landed in electronics and I wasn’t partial to it. I was trained well for my role at the funeral home and I was comfortable with the transition. A lot of people feel weird around death. When I started I was working for a cemetery, not a funeral home, so I never saw the bodies because the caskets were closed and locked. By the time I got to Fernwood, five years later, I felt comfortable with the funeral side and open caskets. I don’t believe in ghosts- I believe in energy and a person’s energy goes back to energy.  I’m more scared of the living than the dead.

Danna: What’s surprised you about working here?
Kelly: How people can do such terrible things to one another when someone passes away and how conflicts are usually about money.

Danna: What would you like people to know about funerals, funeral homes, and cemeteries that you wish more people would know? 
Kelly: People tend to think that making pre-arrangements is morbid but it’s actually the most responsible thing you can do for your family. You get what you want and your family is relieved from having to navigate during their time of grief. Our most cost-effective funeral with burial is $25k. If you finalize and pay for it ahead of time, it’s considerate and there’s no running around for your family.  Additionally, instead of using life insurance for a burial, it can be used for life, which is what it’s supposed to be used for. 

Danna: What’s different / unique about Fernwood?
Kelly: Fernwood opened in 1891 by the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company, later purchased by the Daphne Family in 1973, and then by the current owners, Forever Enterprises in 2004. Fernwood encompasses 37 acres- we are land stewards, we are a wildlife habitat. We are untouchable, we will never not be a cemetery. Our certification cannot be taken away. We are adjacent to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and even have hikers and picnickers come onto the property and we love that. When people come here, they want to take pictures and walk the land. It’s an uplifting place. I enjoy my days off but I don’t mind coming here, it’s beautiful and serene. We’ve been offering the most natural burial possible since 2004- to be buried in a cotton shroud and covered with pine needles. Most people that come here know exactly what they want, but if they don’t know, we will walk them through the process and their options.
Natural burial means no embalming and only biodegradable unfinished wood, wicker, or corrugated fiberboard caskets are allowed for burial. Bamboo or cotton shrouds are also welcome. According to the Berkeley Planning Journal, conventional burials in the U.S. use 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde, to embalm, every year. Additionally, the U.S. puts 30 million board feet of hardwood, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 104,000 tons of steel, and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete in the ground each year. Traditional cemeteries waste hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to keep their grass green.  At Fernwood, we are land stewards. We allow our grass to grow naturally and only use a watering system in our historical section.

Danna:What does community and small town business mean to you?
Kelly: The Fernwood logo represents three parts- ecology, community, and remembrance. To me, this is what Fernwood offers and what Marin County focuses on.  It’s a priority here in Mill Valley to recycle and mindfully use our natural resources conservatively, like Fernwood. 

Danna: What are three things about your personal life that bring you joy and or inspire you that customers/people may not know?

  1. Bowling- I love bowling. I still bowl in Daly City at the bowling alley that opened when I was kid. My dad got my son into bowling and my son and I are on the same bowling team now.
  2. I love live music. I go to concerts often. I saw New Edition recently and have Janet Jackson and Madonna coming up.
  3. I like basketball. I’m a huge Celtics fan and catch a lot of flak for it.

And, I’m also the office DJ. Lately we’ve been listening to airline music from the 70’s, it’s really fun music. Fernwood also sponsors live music in the summer, every Friday in August at the Community Center.

Danna: Is there a business within Mill Valley that you’d like to give a shout out to for a great experience you’ve had? 
Kelly: We eat at Good Earth all the time because they make the best food. Their taco salads and olive selections are the best in town. Their cheese options are equally as fabulous. The people are so nice and they donate raffle prizes for events at Fernwood so generously. I love that they don’t have trash magazines, but instead have health and wellness magazines. Shout outs to California Girl Jewelry and Tina Foselli Pottery.  They also made generous donations for the Mill Valley Chamber Mixer we held here at Fernwood.

Danna: And for our Marin Neighbors, is there a business in Marin you would like to give a shout out to?
Kelly: Bella Luxe Catering owned by Lisa Hines in Sausalito- she catered the food at the Mill Valley Chamber Mixer we hosted here at Fernwood and caters many of our funeral services.

Thank you so much, Kelly, for the conversation and for the tour of the grounds. You have completely changed my orientation and perspective of funeral homes and cemeteries.

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