An Environmental Undertaking // Green Burials Come With New Ownership

By Banda Olney

Growing up above a Philadelphia funeral home, Tim Dinan didn’t think there was anything unusual about living alongside caskets and having the nickname Digger. Even when he realized his family was unique, he chose to embrace his birthright. Dinan, the newest owner of Bainbridge’s Cook Family Funeral Home, has made burial services his life’s work. And an impressive body of work it is.

Dinan has been in the industry for 32 years. Before that, he helped out in the family-run funeral parlor his great-grandfather started in 1890 that his family still owns, 129 years later.

The first funeral home Dinan purchased as a young man was on a quaint little island in New Jersey. Today, he and his wife, Alison, provide
traditional and innovative funeral services for Bainbridge Island and Kitsap residents.

It was while living in San Diego that Dinan first came upon the sale of the Cook’s business while browsing an industry magazine. He saw a small ad that described a “charming little funeral home on beautiful Puget Sound.” There was no phone number or email address. Instead, the ad required a written correspondence to the current owner.

Intrigued, he mailed off a letter of interest. “I’d taken a writing course in college and loved it, but I hadn’t had much occasion to write letters in the years since,” he said. After the Cooks had vetted the Dinans, determining they were the best fit to carry the business forward, Dinan learned that Dave Cook had been a journalism major and had stipulated the handwritten communication to see if anyone would care enough to write one.

It was fortuitous that Dinan did. Since purchasing the funeral home from Cook in 2018, the Dinans have honored the dedication to care and support that the Cooks valued, while also adding some environmenttohwe tally conscious services.

Among those are green burial options at Hillcrest Cemetery on Bainbridge which they acquired last summer making Cook the only funeral home in Kitsap County to offer a designated green burial site. “It’s for people who still want that ritual of traditional burial without the environmental impact,” he said.

Green burials differ from the more heavily publicized human composting process that was legalized in Washington state earlier this year. Composting is essentially an accelerated decomposition method and involves the use of fuel (such as wood chips or straw) and manmade equipment.

The remains at the end of the weeks-long process are soil that can be scattered much like cremated remains. In contrast, in a green burial, a body is simply buried in a biodegradable shroud or casket without embalming. Composting won’t be available until 2020 when the new law takes effect, so for the time being Dinan sees green burials as the best option for an environmentally conscious choice.

He doesn’t rule out offering composting services in the future. Because green burials do away with the formality of manufactured caskets, vaults and embalming, they have been largely ignored by funeral homes because they are seen as unprofitable. Dinan explained, however, that he is less concerned with making a buck and more in favor of letting families decide for themselves how they want to lay their loved ones to rest. “I’m not a salesperson, I’m a service provider,” he said. “I’ve found that when you care for people, the business takes care of itself.”

Cook Family Funeral Home continues to offer full conventional funeral services as well, for every religious denomination. In addition to traditional cremation, they offer flameless cremation, which uses 90% less fuel than the customary process. They are also making green improvements to the decades-old building they occupy on Wyatt Way. Dinan says this is the intersection where technology meets an industry steeped in tradition. He wants to be on the forefront of positive change.

In keeping with the generous customs inspired by their predecessors, the Dinans are dedicated to giving back, supporting island museums and events and hosting an annual Toys 4 Tots drive around the holidays. “The Cooks made this a very personal business and invested in the community,” Dinan said. “We now represent that family name and want to do it well.”

An Environmental Undertaking