Life celebrations at Macken Mortuary, an alternative to the traditional


Celebrating one’s life and finding closure when one passes is a private and reflective moment. Rockville Centre’s Macken Mortuary is looking to enhance this experience and has started to offer “Life Celebration” packages.

Anchored next to Saint Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre for nearly a century, with a second location in Island Park, Macken Mortuary carries the weight of time and unchanged tradition that 36-year-old owner Michael Noll seeks to innovate and revitalize. Teaming up with the funeral creativity service, Life Celebration, Noll imagines accessible avenues for customizing family services that clear away tainted business taboos of an industry shrouded in stigma.

“The idea of this life celebration program is really to get to know that person who passed away and what they mean to the family,” Noll said. “And to create a memorial that is representative of who they were as a person.”

Implementing Life Celebration initiatives during primary arrangement conferences with the recently bereaved, Noll details how Macken funeral directors place business in the backseat, and instead gather the deceased's life story “from the family members’ eyes.”

Stories are translated into engaging materials and crafts intended to make sentimental connections and give comfort to family members outside the scope of traditional memorial services.

“Closure, fond memories, and healing,” said Macken office manager, Margaret Edwards. “What I do is I get information about your loved one and I will do photo books, slideshows, bookmarks, and various different things so that when you come in for your visitation, there’s all [these other things] that shows who this person was.” 

Established by funeral directors, and co-operated by graphic artists, Life Celebration is a third-party, team-based training organization designed to be sympathetic to the family experience while grieving the loss of a loved one. Utilizing their design software and printing services, funeral directors from across the United States can provide customized memorabilia to comfort families and aid their healing process.

Where Life Celebration provides the tools, Noll and the Macken team conjure their own forms of creativity, pushing Life Celebration concepts past the envelope.

“If your grandmother passes away and she loves to bake and you hear a story about how she always made chocolate chip cookies, we could have traditional prayer cards, but we could also have a card that has a cookie or has her chocolate chip cookie recipe,” Noll said. “It's something special to show people that we’re actually trying to go above and beyond because it really means something.”

 Noll said today's funeral industry environment is detached and “sanitized,” with a population of people who became less traditional, paired with an unaltered business landscape that tends to be “stuck in time.” His recent creative approach rewrites these static notions of the past and sometimes surprises families seeking service. While asking more in-depth questions about their passed loved one, some are taken aback by the direct personal approach.

“It’s baby steps for sure,” he said. “Some people like the more traditional way of doing things, but I think overall the reception has been very positive and rewarding for people.”

Noll always sought innovation for the family business, acquired by his father, Joe Noll, from Joseph Macken and Thomas Macken in 1993.

“It's hard to modernize the industry,” Michael said, recalling that some minor tasks still utilized a typewriter until 2017.

Founded in Brooklyn, by Joseph S. Macken Sr. in 1909, Macken Mortuary found its current Rockville Centre home in the early 1930s. An actual house, the Keckenhaussen family sold the property to Macken after the death of their 9-year-old daughter. Her funeral was held at their home, making it the first-ever funeral held within the Rockville Centre property before donning the Macken name.

 Noll completed mortuary school in 2012, learning the trade and dreaming up new ways to improve it. An effort of fortunate timing allowed Noll to digitize mortuary paperwork in 2019 just before the Covid-19 pandemic. Simultaneously, he also established a sister operation to Macken called New Leaf Cremation, streamlining online forms of modern funeral services for a less traditional consumer base. With these new tools, the spike in deaths from the pandemic became more manageable, and Macken Mortuary was able to deliver services to families in need.

“People were getting turned away from 10 or 20 funeral homes,” he said. “We didn’t have to turn anyone away because we had this more updated software to manage the caseload.”

In 2021, Noll endured the hardship of his father’s death, directly experiencing the emotional conditions of his clients. His services were performed at Macken.

“It was the first time I got to see what it is we do from the other side of the table,” he said.

 Entrusted with a century’s worth of tradition, Noll picked up the torch as the owner of Macken Mortuary, keeping the idea of the family experience to heart. He’s now based in Nashville Tenn., but remains integral to the Macken Mission with the help of dedicated team members like Edwards, and faithful funeral directors, Roger Smith and Jeffrey Schroder.

As difficult as funeral arrangements can be for families and loved ones, Noll and the Macken Mortuary team hope to continue building celebrations of life.

Michael DeMarco is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook Univesity’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.