One by one, cars, pickups and SUVs passed through the parking lot of Hamlin-Hansen-Kosloski Funeral Home in a "drive-by" funeral visitation Friday, March 27, in Moose Lake.
Dozens of vehicles rolled by in a unique approach to mourning as people all around the U.S. cope with social distancing methods required to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The vehicles lined up to remember Charles “Chuck” Pace, 80, of Moose Lake. Pace died Sunday, March 22, at Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake. He had a number of health problems but his death was not related to COVID-19.
Funeral director Mike Kosloski used a gloved hand to pass out candy to mourners and accept cards for the family. Under the canopy, Pace’s wife, Nancy, their children and grandchildren chatted with their friends and relatives about memories of Pace from a safe distance.
Kosloski set up a small shrine remembering Pace with photos, a wooden urn Pace built for himself in his shop and chairs for family members to take a rest in from time to time.
Pace grew up in Mendota Heights and lived in Inver Grove Heights for 38 years. He owned Pace Tire and Service Center in West St. Paul — a business still owned and operated by his sons Robert and Kenneth — until he retired in 2001.
After he retired, Pace and his wife moved to a hobby farm in rural Moose Lake, where he enjoyed working with the land, tinkering with John Deere tractors and deer hunting. In 2010, the Paces were named “Conservationists of the Year” by the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District for their work to install an earthen dam to control the flow of water from a 15-acre pond on their property into a nearby stream.
Most of the family greeting the cars wore sweatshirts with a logo in the shape of Minnesota on it. Inside the map was a picture of one of the John Deere tractors Pace loved, and an “x” marking the spot of the Paces' farm in the state. However, Nancy wore a jacket from the tire and service center Chuck founded in 1960 with his father, David.
Pace’s granddaughter, Courtney Pace, helped get the shirts made by a friend for the family's Thanksgiving celebration.
Pace also worked as part of the “Spirit Crew” at the Moose Lake Golf Club — a group of volunteers performing maintenance and repairs on the course, according to Nancy. He loved playing in tournaments at the club and with his sons and grandsons.
Nancy said her husband was “hard working” and “supportive” of both his family and friends. He had an “infamous smile and a contagious laugh” that brought joy to everyone around him.
Kelly Annis, Pace’s daughter, echoed her mother’s thoughts, saying her father was generous and cared deeply for anyone he met.
“My dad had a heart of gold for everyone and anyone,” Annis said. “Whether a person did right or wrong, he always overlooked it and accepted them for who they were.”
The family intends to hold a small private service and a celebration of life this summer in St. Paul, but Kosloski was concerned many of Pace’s friends in the area may not be able to attend the services so far away.
“Chuck was a great guy and he had many precious friends in the area,” Kosloski said. “I just basically talked to (the family) and said that really doesn’t help us now. I know you guys need support now and there are a lot of friends in the community here who need to pay their respects now and may not be able to make it to St. Paul for a service.”
Kosloski said while brainstorming ideas he had remembered accounts of drive-by visitations and funerals in other areas of the country and he thought it might also work in Pace’s situation. Kosloski made a banner and planned to set the urn outside the funeral home canopy with a picture of Pace.
While out of the ordinary, the family believes it a good solution during a time when things are anything but ordinary.
“It was Mike’s idea, which we thought might be odd, but we knew that Dad knew a lot of people up there,” Annis said. "We just wanted to make sure people up there could pay their respects.”
With the COVID-19 crisis spreading across the country, funeral directors have increasingly had to cope with limits on the size of gatherings as well as dangers to older people and those with underlying health problems attending services. Kosloski said funeral directors have come up with unique ways to allow people to continue to mourn friends and loved ones without coming into personal contact. He said a fellow funeral director encouraged friends to purchase balloons or flowers to represent themselves at the service.
“Funeral directors often need to be creative, and they have to now in order to reflect the life that was lived,” Kosloski said. “For funeral directors across the country to come up with these unique ways, I sometimes just look in awe at this situation that we have been into.”
While this was an unorthodox solution to the social distancing measures required by COVID-19, Nancy was happy they were able to spend time with Chuck's friends in the area before the services in St. Paul.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Nancy said. “What a unique idea — it’s great to see all our friends, relatives and neighbors that made a special effort to pay their respects to Chuck.”
Minnesota Department of Health funeral guidance during COVID-19 pandemic
Descendants can be buried or cremated following current state requirements.
It is possible to have a funeral but attendance should be limited to 50 and the venue must be able to accommodate social distancing of 6 feet per person.
Services with more than 10 people where the majority of participants are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be postponed or canceled.
Funeral homes should discourage families from providing food or beverages.
A suggestion to the families could be to postpone the funeral until the restrictions on numbers of attendees are lifted; this might be for several months or longer.
Funeral directors could offer live streaming as an option for services and viewings.
There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19. People should consider not touching or kissing the body of someone who has died of COVID-19 so this can be a recommendation to the funeral attendees.
People who feel sick or who are part of an at-risk population should stay home per MDH recommendations.
Funeral homes should encourage families to practice social distancing at the service, wash their hands and cover their coughs.
Encourage families to scale back direct contact like handshakes, hugging and kissing at the service or funeral.
Funeral homes should supply tissues and alcohol-based hand rubs for the families to use.
Funeral homes should stock an adequate supply of soap and paper towels in the restrooms.