Herbert Kaufman, longtime funeral director, dies at 94

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
Herbert Kaufman

Herbert Kaufman, owner of the Ira Kaufman Chapel, a funeral home that serves Metro Detroit's Jewish community, died Wednesday, April 11, 2018 on his 94th birthday.

Kaufman was a funeral director at the chapel his father, Ira, started on Detroit's west side, on Dexter and Edison, in 1941.

Herbert took the reins in the 1950s and moved it to Southfield in 1961. Today it is run by son-in-law David Techner, husband of his daughter Ilene, and grandson Chad Techner. 

The funeral will be held Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Ira Kaufman Chapel on West Nine Mile. He will be buried at Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Birmingham. 

Ira Kaufman, Herbert's father, died in 1986 at the age of 90. 

Herbert never believed he'd live that long, jokingly telling the Techners that he wouldn't "be in their hair" at that age.

On Herbert's 91st birthday, David called him.

"You know you're a liar, right?" David said.

"I've never lied to you!" Herbert said, offended.

"You said I wouldn't still be dealing with you by now," David said. Herbert got and appreciated the joke.

On Wednesday, Herbert's 94th birthday, David said: "I won't make this call next year."

It was part of the family's effort to let Herbert go. 

Herbert had been "devastated," David said, by the 2012 death of his wife, Babs, who died when they were on a cruise ship en route to Uruguay. He was also preceded in death by a daughter and a granddaughter, and spoke of hoping to see them again.

For about the last decade, Herbert used a walker to get around, and in recent years he battled multiple myeloma, which the American Cancer Society defines simply as a cancer of plasma cells.

But his spirits were lifted by spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

And by the work of the chapel, which Herbert still kept daily tabs on.

"Anything new overnight?" he'd ask David, every single day. Sometimes David would have information to share, sometimes he'd have to gather it first, but the call would come in daily just the same.

Next week, Herbert was to be honored by the Michigan Funeral Directors Association for 60 years in the business. He earned his mortuary license in 1958.

Techner, a past president of the association, said Herbert planned to be in attendance. The association gives pins for 20, 30, 40, 50 years of service but, Techner said, "we don't do a lot of 60s."

Techner estimated the chapel has handled about 450 funerals per year, which comes out to about 35,000 since 1941. 

"This is not a sad occasion," Techner said. "This is a celebration of a life well-lived."