In Handling Death, Longtime Funeral Director Focused On Lives Well Lived

John “Chip” Johnson recently retired after a four-decade career at Lind Funeral Home in Jamestown. Though his job centered on death, Johnson always sought to “acknowledge that life has been lived” in his capacity as a funeral director. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

John “Chip” Johnson can trace the roots to his impressive 45-year career as a funeral director to his eighth grade guidance counselor, Mr. Schwan, at Lincoln Junior High School in Jamestown.

It was at that school, conveniently located within walking distance to the nearby Lind Funeral Home, that Johnson was tasked with exploring potential occupations. He would soon venture over to the funeral business, which traces its roots to Bernhard Lind in 1941, and spoke to the then second-generation owners.

“I was impressed enough to spike an interest and just kept on that path all through high school and knowing what I wanted to do,” said Johnson, who admitted that his parents were “quite surprised” or perhaps even “quite shocked” when he told them his career plans.

“But once they knew that I was serious about it and I was definitely going to go that route, I think they were pleased to know I had a direction,” he recalled.

That direction included graduating from Jamestown High School in 1976, obtaining an associate’s degree in mortuary science from the State University of New York at Canton and then serving a year of residency at the same Lind Funeral Home he visited years earlier from the seed planted by Mr. Schwan.

John “Chip” Johnson is pictured with Gary Kindberg, president of Lind Funeral Home, on Johnson’s last day of work, capping a 45-year career. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

From 1979 to his retirement on March 31, Johnson held the same job as a licensed funeral director.

His civic resume is equally impressive, from his work with the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame and Jamestown Lions Club to being on the WCA Foundation board of directors. For 40 years he’s been with the Chautauqua County Baseball Umpires Association; he’s been with the Basketball Officials Association for 20 years.

But professionally, Johnson — who served as vice president of Lind Funeral Home — helped countless families in his beloved community for more than four decades.

“I’ve had a great experience as far as working for the Lind family,” he told The Post-Journal. “It’s been a great experience for me — it’s all worked out. Number one, coming back and working in my hometown means a lot, you know, so I was able to do that. And then just being part of the business-end of it, obviously made it a lifelong career.”


In a recent daytime interview and dressed in a casual sweatshirt and jeans — far removed from the pristine shirt, tie and jacket he’d wear for hours every day — Johnson described how he got into the business, the people he’d come to meet and how the industry has evolved.

Stepping into the job out of college wasn’t a big shock to Johnson.

“A lot of it was getting used to the things that you can’t teach in school,” he said. “Like the hours involved in the business — you’re on call 24/7. You have to be available for people at all times, so you’re working nights, weekends, holidays. You’re just always accessible.”

Then there were the behind-the-scenes aspects of the job — washing cars and vacuuming the entryway — that stood out to the young Johnson as he began his career. He’d come to understand that first impressions were most salient and that grieving families required tender care and patience.

“What impressed me was how perfect everything had to be; everything has to be just right, you know?” he said of his earliest memories at the funeral home. “And that’s a good thing because you only get one time to do this for everybody and you want everything to be right.”

Gary Kindberg, president of Lind Funeral Home, said Johnson has been invaluable to the family business. He alluded to Johnson’s dogged work ethic, present the day he started and lasting through his retirement.

Kindberg said being a funeral director sometimes means getting up in the middle of the night and going to the homes of strangers. Some deaths can be expected, but just as equally others come out of the blue.

Being on call can be taxing, which Kindberg said further highlighted Johnson’s loyalty to the business and those he assisted.

“Even though he was not a blood relative of our family, he’s been around so long that we’re proud to have him as an adopted member of our family,” Kindberg said.


As a longtime funeral director, Johnson conducted services attended by hundreds of people — both at the Lind Funeral Home and local churches.

He also recalled graveside services in which he and a minister were the only two present.

All were treated the same.

“You have to acknowledge that life has been lived,” Johnson said.

He accepted that dealing with the deaths of children was “always the hardest,” but said his goal no matter who walked through the door was to see that wishes were met.

“I consider it almost a privilege to be there to help them,” he said. “Over all these years, I’ve met a lot of people. A lot of families I have dealt with two, three, even four times over the course of 40 years. And you get to know people pretty well on a personal basis, and just knowing that you’re there for them means a lot.”

Indeed, on a personal level, Johnson noticed how pre-planning for death has changed over the years. He said more people are opting for cremation over traditional burial services.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, an estimated 63% of Americans will choose to be cremated by 2025. By comparison, the cremation rate in the country in 1960 was just 3.6%.

Johnson believes people are voicing their wishes more often to family members, making it known how they’d prefer arrangements to be handled.

To Johnson, honoring the wishes of families is just as key as honoring the person who died.

“I still think it’s important to realize that a life has been lived,” he said, repeating a belief of his. “It needs to be celebrated and needs to be acknowledged.”

Kindberg said Johnson’s attention to detail was “second to none” at the funeral home — a trait Johnson learned from Kindberg’s grandfather and uncle. That quality, coupled with Johnson’s infinity for being patient, was especially important working with grieving families.

“You get introduced to families that we serve in a very difficult time, and some really need handholding. Some really need you to lead them through this grief and this valley,” Kindberg said. “Like I said, ‘Chip’ did it. If there were going to be five people at a funeral or if there were going to be 500 people at a funeral, he didn’t waver.”


Johnson’s wife, Mary Beth, had an equally impressive career herself, working as a nurse at Jamestown’s hospital for more than 40 years.

“When we started our family, I took on more of an office role in the hospital because we wanted somebody home with our kids on the weekends and stuff like that,” Mary Beth said.

Together, the Johnsons have three daughters, Krista, Katie and Kelsey, and several grandchildren.

Kindberg was quick to praise Mary Beth, noting that being married to a funeral director isn’t always easy. At Johnson’s retirement party, one of his daughters reflected on seeing her dad in a suit in the back of the auditorium during a school performance or being on the sidelines at a soccer game.

“While maybe he couldn’t be there from beginning to end, they knew that he was there,” Kindberg said. “They saw him there. And but yet, we all end up teaching our kids that while our families are important, when somebody has a death in their family, they need dad a little more than the girls do. We can be thankful that we’re not in the shoes of those that have lost someone.”

A recent interview with The Post-Journal occurred on Johnson’s second full day of retirement.

What was his first day like?

“I got up just realizing that I now have the time to do whatever I want to do,” he said. “I’m not on a timetable or a schedule.”

He admits he plans to ease into retirement with his wife. They’re not “world travelers” as he pointed out, but they have several trips planned to visit friends and family.

“We’ll take different long weekends or a week or two away somewhere with close friends,” he added. “We’ll visit grandkids down in Pittsburgh a little bit more. But just to have the freedom to just say, ‘Oh, let’s just go today’ — just to be able to get in a car and go somewhere.”

Of course, he’s offered to help if called upon at the Lind Funeral Home. His home is two doors down from the business, within easy walking distance just as Lincoln School was.


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