A Life of Serving Others: This Medal of Honor Recipient Shares How He Became a Funeral Director

Posted March 3, 2021

5 min read

Stories of heroism, courage and sacrifice can be incredibly inspiring.

Retired Colonel Don “Doc” Ballard’s story is just that.

In our last blog, we covered how during the Vietnam War, Ballard threw himself on a grenade to protect his fellow Marines.

The grenade miraculously didn’t go off, and Ballard was able to throw the grenade before it exploded, an instant later. In the process, he prevented possible injury or death to his fellow Marines.

Because of his selflessness and valor, Ballard was awarded the highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, among other accolades he received during his time of service.

Today, Ballard is a Funeral Director and owner/operator at Chapel of Memories Funeral Home and Swan Lake Memorial Park Cemetery in Missouri alongside his wife, Virginia Ballard.

Although he’s looking forward to his upcoming fourth retirement, keep reading this article to uncover the story of how Ballard ended up in funeral service after 30 years of serving our country.

Career After Military

After serving for about three decades in a career that included time with the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Army, Ballard worked as a police officer for seven years and a fireman for 20. As someone who enjoys staying busy, he was also a successful real estate developer/builder.

When he eventually retired from the Fire Department as a Captain, he increased the amount of time he spent volunteering. After all, he still had the spirit of someone who simply loved to serve people.

While volunteering at the local VA Hospital, a patient with severe burns told Ballard his dying wishes. “He was a burn victim. And before he died, he said to me, ‘Please don’t let them cremate me. I don’t think I can handle it again.’” Struck by the encounter, Ballard started getting in touch with funeral homes to ensure the man’s wishes could be honored.

The man had no family, so the task was a challenge. At the same time, Ballard scrambled to try to raise money for funeral expenses—but during that short window of time, the man had already been cremated. “No family and no person had claimed the body. So, within 48 hours, he had been cremated. But I didn’t know anything about the funeral profession at the time or the process,” explains Ballard.

Looking into the Funeral Profession

Ballard was lamenting about the situation with one of the female veterans at the VA. Hoping to learn more, they started talking about the profession. “We thought, ‘What does it take to become a Funeral Director?’ Nobody knew.” Ballard started researching the process and the role of Funeral Director and he became interested—very interested.

“I think you get into the funeral business or the funeral business gets into you. Both apply to me—and I enjoy helping people,” he explains.

Energized about the idea of serving people in the community, Ballard started taking courses.

He then received an opportunity to start working at a nearby Funeral Home. Ultimately, that family-owned Funeral Home sold the business to Ballard since no one in the family wanted to take on the business after the owner died.

Since taking it over—with the help and dedication of his wife, Virginia Ballard, and his long-term staff which he gives much credit to—Ballard has evolved the firm’s focus. The emphasis is now on supporting all types of service people: firemen, policemen, paramedics, EMTs, clergy, doctors, nurses, members of the National Guard, reservists, veterans and others who serve their communities and deserve the discounts. “We make it our mission to give people what it is they want. I’ve got a sense of purpose, and I have motivation to take care of these public servants, and to serve the community,” says Ballard.

Ballard has also spent time building an organization for public service providers—from Funeral Directors to veterans—which offers its members deep discounts on services, vacations and inventory. Services and products are often reduced as much as 50% for members.

What’s Next

All in all, Ballard enjoys helping people take care of their family. “That is where the healing has to start, right there. We’re there for them,” he says, adding that his wife and his long-term staff have been integral in taking this approach with families.

Ballard says he’s extremely grateful for his team’s work over the years, and he’s enjoyed his time as a Funeral Director alongside his wife, but he’s also looking for his next act. “I’m a military guy and I believe in exit strategies. I’ve retired three times and I’m now looking to retire for the fourth time,” he says with a laugh. That’s why he’s currently in the process of selling Chapel of Memories Funeral Home and Swan Lake Memorial Park Cemetery.

About Chapel of Memories Funeral Home & Swan Lake Memorial Park Cemetery

Alongside his wife, Virginia Ballard, who he credits for much of his success in serving families, Ballard is owner/operator of Chapel of Memories Funeral Home and Swan Lake Memorial Park Cemetery. Located in Grain Valley, Missouri, Chapel of Memories Funeral Home is deeply committed to serving families in the community.

To learn more about Chapel of Memories Funeral Home and Swan Lake Memorial Park Cemetery, visit https://www.chapelofmemoriesfunerals.com/ or call (816) 463-4030. You can also connect with Ballard on LinkedIn here.

Come back for part three in the series where Ballard shares lessons he’s learned over a lifetime of serving others, including now as a Funeral Director.

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