(Originally published in the Telegraph on 11/3/08)
As the president elect of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, certified funeral service practitioner (CFSP) Chris Wooldridge has risen through the ranks all the way to the top - almost.
"I am now becoming very involved in the (National Funeral Directors Association), where I sit on the committee," Wooldridge said. "I'm now judging funeral homes and making sure they're fitting all the criteria. If I like being on the national side of it, then I'll try to climb up the ladder."
The 41-year-old lifelong Brighton resident and co-owner of Targhetta and Wooldridge Funeral Homes Inc. will automatically assume the role of president in 2009. His term will last one year, after which he will remain on the association's Executive Committee as the immediate past president.
Before entering the field of funeral directing 14 years ago, Wooldridge worked at Alton Memorial Hospital as a paramedic - a job that left him dissatisfied.
"I needed a career change," he said. "I was getting burnt out on EMS, and it was time for me to step out of the field."
Wooldridge decided to retrace his roots.
"I actually worked as a kid for the firm that I'm a partner with now. I grew up around this funeral home since I was in kindergarten," he said. "I always had the inkling in middle school that I would get into funeral service. When my grandmother died, I started getting really interested in it."
A counselor's discouragement prevented Wooldridge from entering his field of choice earlier.
"Whenever I was a senior in high school, my guidance counselor told me I wasn't smart enough to become a funeral director," he said.
Wooldridge feels vindicated by his success, which stands as a testament to the power of achievement through determination, he said.
"You are the only one that can determine your destination," he said. "I always had goals for myself, and as time went on, I could see that the goals were obtainable. And whenever I meet goals in my personal life or business life, I use them as stair steps. Once I reach that stair step, then I reach another goal. It drives my wife crazy sometimes that I'm not satisfied with anything, and I always try to better myself."
Leading the association as president is "a strictly volunteer job," Wooldridge said. "We do a lot of legislative work, and we help pass laws that protect families."
He also serves as the Jersey County deputy coroner and Jersey County mass fatality coordinator. Wooldridge held the positions of vice president and Region 5 director prior to his presidential election at the Illinois Funeral Directors Association's 128th convention in Schaumburg this June.