Ryder Funeral Home customer says 'accumulation of oddities' raised suspicions about state of business

Last modified: Wednesday, June 18, 2014
SOUTH HADLEY — When Stephen Formanski worked to arrange his mother’s funeral in May with the Ryder Funeral Home, things seemed amiss. The business was unable to accept a credit card, messages were not returned, the funeral director missed an appointment and a death certificate was not sent out as promised.

“I said, ‘Clearly, something’s not right here,’” Formanski said.

When Formanski learned that the Ryder Funeral Home’s license was suspended, it confirmed his suspicions.

Formanski, a clinical psychologist who lives in Mickleton, New Jersey, had honored the wishes of his late mother, Edwina, 89, of Chicopee and arranged her funeral with Ryder in South Hadley.

An inspection at the funeral home May 28 found nine bodies, in various states of decomposition, that were improperly stored, improperly embalmed or both. William W. Ryder’s license to operate the home was suspended May 30.

While Formanski said he and his family have not decided if they will take legal action, at least two family members of people whose funerals were handled by Ryder have already contacted attorneys.

Reached at home Tuesday evening, David Weise of South Hadley said the remains of his wife, Debra Dudrick Kelly, were among those mentioned in the inspection report.

According to her obituary, Kelly died May 22. Her funeral was held at Ryder May 29 under the supervision of Jay Czelusniak, funeral director of Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton. Czelusniak assisted with services in progress when Ryder’s license was suspended.

Weise said he has contacted an attorney, but declined further comment.

Carol Paquette of South Hadley said she has also contacted an attorney and declined to speak of the case. Ryder handled the funeral arrangements for Paquette’s husband, Ralph, in April, according to his obituary.

Ronald Tetrault of Granby said his son Shawn’s wake was scheduled for May 30 at Ryder, but was abruptly canceled the evening before. “It may have been just as well he didn’t go there,” Tetrault said.

Tetrault said Thursday he still hasn’t been given a reason why the service was canceled and hasn’t been contacted by any representatives from Ryder.

He said he called Ryder twice May 30 and reached the home’s answering service both times. Tetrault was told the messages would be relayed and he should get a call back.

“I was going nuts,” he said. “How can a funeral home just shut down?”

A family member made other arrangements with Nowak Funeral Home of Springfield to step in, Tetrault said. “They went out of their way to accommodate us,” he said of the other business.

The rescheduling of his son’s services added to an already long wait to lay him to rest, Tetrault said. He said his son died shortly before the three-day Memorial Day weekend and Ryder didn’t take possession of the body until May 29, one day after the inspection, when the home was instructed not to accept any more remains.

Tetrault said it wasn’t until last Saturday — 10 days after his son’s death — that he was able to be buried. He does not blame Ryder for the entire delay, saying, “It just came to a boil at the wrong time for me.”

Tetrault said the family isn’t considering legal action at this point because they suffered no financial loss as a result of dealing with Ryder. “Maybe a little more emotional distress,” he said.

Left to wonder

Stephen Formanski, the New Jersey psychologist, says he has no evidence his mother’s remains were mishandled, but given the state’s inspection report, he cannot be certain. “My first thought was, ‘Is that something my mother was subject to?’” he said. “I don’t know for sure.”

He said working with the funeral home was difficult and recalled “an accumulation of oddities.”

Edwina Formanski’s funeral was held May 12, according to her obituary, one of the last to be held before the May 28 inspection.

Formanski said his mother had an open casket at her viewing and there didn’t seem to be anything visibly wrong with the condition of her body. Formanski estimated the funeral home was in possession of his mother’s body for about five days before her service.

He said he has not been contacted by the funeral home or by Ryder’s attorney, Paul Boudreau of South Hadley. He learned of the investigation when the Gazette contacted him.

Formanski said his mother died unexpectedly and arrangements for her funeral were made quickly, without the benefit of weeks or months of preparation.

Formanski said it took three phone messages before Ryder responded and made himself available for a meeting with the family — and then showed up late for that appointment.

Formanski said he and his family felt like they were guiding Ryder through the process of making funeral arrangements on their own, rather than the other way around.

At that meeting, Formanski said he offered a credit card to pay for the deposit, rather than the check Ryder had requested, but was told Ryder couldn’t process that payment right away.

Formanski said Ryder told him that his credit card reader was broken, but wrote down the information, saying he would process the payment later.

As of Tuesday evening, no payment had been processed, Formanski said.

These experiences are similar to those of others who recently arranged funerals with Ryder and were interviewed over the past week by the Gazette, including services that were billed for but never performed, such as limousine service, and death certificates not being sent out.

Gail Lombardi’s husband, Donald, had his funeral arranged by Ryder in March.

Lombardi, of Granby, said she was asked to pay for the services up front and said it appeared throughout her dealings with Ryder that the home was cutting corners.

One example she gave was being charged $100 for what she thought was going to be an ornate, decorative guest book, but turned out to be a “cheap” binder-style notebook.

Formanski said Ryder appeared agitated and fidgety at their meeting. Boudreau has cited Ryder’s “significant health issues,” but has declined to say more about what those issues are.

With the future of Ryder’s business uncertain, Formanski and his family are taking it upon themselves to get his mother’s affairs in order, including dealing with Social Security and insurance companies, with little guidance.

“We’re doing what we think needs to be done,” he said. “But, that’s not necessarily what actually needs to be done.”

Formanski said he and his family are taking a “wait-and-see” approach before deciding if they want to consider legal action against Ryder.

“Now that we’re aware if it, we’ll track it,” he said.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.