OSAKIS, Minn. -- During a time of uncertainty with the coronavirus pandemic and Minnesota's stay-at-home orders, businesses have had to change how they operate. Some have had to close while others have become creative when offering their services.

One Alexandria-area funeral home came up with a unique way for families and friends to pay their respect -- a drive-thru visitation.

Last Friday, April 10, the Roy-Hetland Funeral Home in Osakis set up what they called an “auto viewing” for Osakis resident Judy Thornbloom, who passed away unexpectedly on April 5. Thornbloom owned AJ’s Cafe with her sister, Alice, for many years, she worked as the head cook for Osakis Public Schools for 12 years and most recently, she worked in food service for Nelson Gables in Alexandria.

Family and friends, while in their vehicles, could pull into the driveway at the funeral home, drive through the garage where Thornbloom lay in a glass casket, and pay their respects. Picture boards and flowers, just like at a normal visitation, were also on display. And, there was also a drop box for cards.

A drop box for cards and memorials was set up outside the Roy-Hetland Funeral Home during a drive-thru visitation. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)
A drop box for cards and memorials was set up outside the Roy-Hetland Funeral Home during a drive-thru visitation. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

“It went wonderful,” said funeral director Dana Hetland, owner of Roy-Hetland Funeral Home. “We received emails, phone calls and texts from people thanking us for doing this. When people were exiting, they had tears. They needed this.”

Hetland and his wife, Ginger, came up with the idea for the drive-thru visitation after hearing about a funeral home in Indiana doing something similar.

“We thought we could do one step better and it just snowballed from there,” he said.

Hetland also said that people were given a note that they could drive by the Thornbloom residence in Osakis afterward and honk to show their support for the family. The funeral home did not give out the address, but anyone who knew where the family lived was encouraged to do the drive-by.

“When I spoke with the family, they were so impressed and so thankful that so many people drove by,” he said.

Because the drive-thru visitation worked so wonderfully, Hetland said the funeral home will be offering it to all of their customers until they can resume normal services. He also mentioned that a traditional Celebration of Life for Thornbloom will be held at a later date.