‘Unsung hero’: Ebensburg undertaker Tim Houser shares generous spirit with community
Every community should have a dozen Tim Housers,” said Ebensburg Mayor Randy Datsko. “More things would get done and get done with a joyful spirit.”
Houser and Datsko have been friends since Houser moved to the borough in the early 1980s.
Houser, a Blair County native who grew up in Tyrone, threw himself into his new community — as a volunteer with the Dauntless Fire Company, director of a church choir and as owner of the Askew-Houser Funeral Home in the Ebensburg Business District Authority, predecessor to the Ebensburg Mainstreet Partnership.
He was named the 2019 Volunteer of the Year by the Ebensburg Mainstreet Partnership.
Community Development Director Danea Koss said Houser cited Marjorie Moore’s quote on volunteerism, and it has resonated with her for a year:
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
In recalling his reaction to the annual award, Houser said, “Honestly, when they told me, I was shocked. I hadn’t realized I had been so busy within the community until they reminded me that I was. I was just enjoying working with the others and seeing things run well. Also, as they say, ‘It’s amazing what can be accomplished, when nobody seems to care who gets credit for it.’ It was humbling and sweet.”
Given Houser’s many years in business leadership, Koss said she’s found him to be an excellent information resource and reliable event volunteer.
“Tim is one of the people who goes to all the events,” she said. “He’s a volunteer, a sponsor, a donor, and he rolls up his sleeves and gets involved. He and his family are there at 6 a.m. to help with Potatofest. He is this wonderful, jolly guy who announces our Christmas parade, too.”
Houser, 62, is well-known for his dry sense of humor and not being the stereotypical, dour undertaker. Koss said she admires his “sense of humor and his sense of style and his big personality. … He is always sharply dressed and can wear a bow tie better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Pastor Rob Osborn called Houser “magnanimous” in helping people navigate economic realities when planning funerals.
“I absolutely respect him a lot,” Osborn said. “He’s also able to joke about himself. … You don’t always see that in his profession.”
Osborn, pastor of the Lakeside Community Church of the Nazarene, said Houser “can strike that delicate balance between the season of mourning and honoring people at the same time. These days many people prefer to have a ‘celebration of life’ when a loved one dies. He’s able to stand in those two worlds and mourn their passing and still be celebratory.”
How his family dealt with the deaths of his uncle and grandparents while growing up in Tyrone also influenced his career choice, as did the funeral coverage of President John F. Kennedy, which he reenacted with his toys weeks later.
“Our family handled all of those losses together, including all of us, no matter the age,” he said.
His father assisted at the local funeral home as a driver and maintenance worker on his days home from his job as a freight conductor on the railroad.
“In my teen years, I would occasionally get drafted to assist him,” Houser said. “So, I was exposed to funeral service since I was very young. Even as I studied to be a teacher, it was something that seemed plausible as a career choice. It just took me a few years to settle in on the idea.”
Two years into a teaching career and working toward becoming a principal, Houser changed direction and went to mortuary school.
“I like people,” he said. “A death is very sad and scary, but I like to think that I can be an encouraging little voice that says, ‘We will get through this.'”
He serves grieving families by “holding hands and delegating their worries away. I tell our staff that people may not remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
When Datsky’s family endured the shock of his 6-year-old niece’s death in a car accident many years ago, he remembers Houser’s “calming force. He was a real blessing for us in that hour of need.”
Today, his son John Paul works with him in the funeral business and serves as president of the board of the Ebensburg Main Street Partnership.
“I consider him the boss around here,” the elder Houser said. “It’s wonderful watching him grow some of the ideas I’ve always had about funerals and make his own mark on the family business and our community.”
In addition to John Paul, the couple’s other children have taken to heart their parents’ message to serve others. Daughters Cecilia Houser-Farabaugh serves on Borough Council, and Claire Lowmaster is production manager at Cresson Lake Playhouse.
“One of the things that they heard constantly from me, was the reminder that ‘Much is required of those with much.’ If you are fortunate to have a nice community, great neighbors, caring family, a roof over your head and food to eat, you have much … and in that, you have the duty to share the same with others. It wouldn’t surprise me if my kids end up putting that quote on my tombstone.”
While others toast Houser’s leadership for
the success of the community’s signature event — Potatofest — Houser deflects credit to business owner Duane Mohney.
“Duane and I co-chaired the event in the early years, and upon Duane’s retirement from the group, I was fortunate to chair it for a few years before our present chairwoman (Carol Rummel) was kind enough to come in and take the festival to where it is today,” Houser said.
From a one-block 17-vendor event, the festival has grown to 250 vendors, attracting 40,000 visitors from a tri-state region. The festival has been canceled this year due to coronavirus concerns.
“Great leadership, great cooperation of local government and an awesome pool of community volunteers assisted in growing this event to what it is today,” Houser said.
But Datsko sees it differently.
“I remember years ago a group of people decided the festival wasn’t going to happen. Tim almost singlehandedly kept it going, and it gained in popularity from then on. If not for Tim, it would have died,” Datsko said, crediting Houser’s commitment to making Ebensburg a better place, adding, “He’s an unsung hero. I don’t think people fully appreciate all that he does behind the scenes. He’s been a driving force through the years.”
Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.
The Houser file
Name: Tim Houser
Family: Wife, Marianne (McNulty); four children: sons John Paul (Vanessa) Houser, Joseph Houser, daughters Cecilia (Chris) Houser-Farabaugh, Claire (Tim) Lowmaster; four grandchildren.
Occupation: Funeral director, owner/operator of Askew-Houser Funeral Homes in Ebensburg and Nanty Glo; formerly a music teacher, taught two years at Bishop Guilfoyle High School before changing career paths.
Education: Bachelor of Science in music education K-12 Penn State (1979) with additional studies; diploma/certificate from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Sciences (1982).