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Hillside Quarterly Vol. 1, Issue 1 – May 2022

Manager Spotlight: Rafael Ochoa

Upcoming Events

Hillside Stories: Von Livingston

Get to know your Mortuary Department

Employee of the Quarter

Hillside Event Photos

How you could be a part of our next issue

Manager Spotlight: Rafael Ochoa – General Manager

While we all know Rafael Ochoa as Hillside’s General Manager, some of you may be surprised to learn that he is quite the prankster! So, if you happen to hear loud, angry cats fighting in or around your workspace one day, think twice before calling for help – things are not always what they may seem to be!

19 years ago, Rafael first started at Hillside within the Accounting Department! Had Rafael not found his way to Hillside all those years ago, he shared that he would have loved to have become an educator – particularly in Finance where he would hope to bring a level of comfort by breaking down larger concepts in an otherwise intimidating or uncomfortable subject.

When asked to share a memory from his early days at Hillside, he recalled one morning when exchanging hello’s, Jacque La Deau grabbed a bottle he was holding and opened it and rubbed the contents directly on to her arms -They both burst into laughter when she realized it was hair gel and not lotion!

Apart from his numerous memories, we also discussed his favorite personal items. A beautiful collection of family photos and mementos on the bookshelf behind him that he lovingly refers to as his “Family Shrine”. They are a daily reminder of what fuels him and drives him to always be the best version of himself.

We asked Rafael, if he could invite one person to dinner, dead or alive who would that be? His immediate response was one of Hillside’s former General Managers, Mark Friedman. Rafael fondly remembers Mark as a consummate professional, mentor, and always sharing the best practical and personal advice. Mark Friedman was a true mensch and while most of us did not have the opportunity to meet him, we are fortunate to see many of his characteristics live on through Rafael, both personally and professionally.

Hillside Stories

Vonciel Livingston or “Ms. Von” as we have all come to know her by, joined Hillside 47 years ago on March 3, 1975. Born and raised just outside of Biloxi, Mississippi, to a large family with 11 siblings, she shared that she has always wanted to work in a Funeral Home. Growing up, Von recalled that she would frequently visit a local Funeral Home that was around the corner from her neighborhood playground where she played as a little girl. She remembers visiting there frequently and always found it to be beautiful and peaceful. After graduating from High School in Mississippi, Von moved to Chicago where she enrolled in Business College. Soon after, her journey continued to Los Angeles where she eventually made her way to Hillside. Some may be surprised to learn that when Von first joined Hillside, she started as a bookkeeper and many years later, eventually transitioned to the Front Desk where we have been so very lucky to have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing that wonderful voice we have all come to love and associate with Hillside. “It has been a true blessing being here” stated Von. When asked what her favorite part of being at Hillside has been, Von considered this for a moment and said her ability to have a work/life balance. This has allowed her the flexibility to travel throughout her tenure and has been a wonderful gift. Ms. Von expressed that above all, she feels so very lucky to have found her way to Hillside.

Mortuary… It’s really not the end of the Road


There are so many intricate elements and working parts that it can be challenging to pinpoint where exactly the process begins considering the Mortuary is obviously known to begin at the end (of life). As with every great team, each member’s contributions are vital in the creation of a Funeral Service and it truly “takes a village to make all this magic happen”, Jenna shared when describing the delicate balance of how valuable each role is in contributing to the overall Mortuary department.

“…It’s shocking and yet beautiful to really consider all the people it takes. I am extremely grateful to be a part of this organization.” – Jenna

Let’s meet the team that makes the magic happen…

Embalmer/Apprentice Embalmer – The Tangible Difference. The Prep team is responsible for successfully providing a full range of embalming, restorative, and reconstruction processes to prepare the deceased for funeral services. Additionally, they prepare unembalmed decedents by providing the services of bathing, setting features, dressing, and casketing. Courtney Allen, Funeral Director and Embalmer, shared that she always treats every person as if it’s a family member and always keeps the thought in mind that “this is somebody’s someone”.

Mortuary Services Administrator/Mortuary Support Coordinator – The Heart of the Department. Mortuary Services manage communications, speak with physicians, hospices, and hospitals, file death certificates, create mortuary files and documentation for services as well as providing all administrative support for the mortuary department. Machele Evans, Mortuary Services Administrator, shared that along with being the “communication hub” of the department, something that many would also be surprised to learn, is that this department is very well versed in various medical terminology. “…in our line of work, the more familiarized we are with medical related diagnoses, the process to file the death certificates becomes a lot smoother and efficient.”

Family Service Concierge – The First Impression. The Concierge manage communications, greet visitors, direct traffic and parking, provide outstanding customer service, and maintain the confidentiality of Hillside and family information.

Mortuary Assistant – The Can-do. The Mortuary Assistant is responsible for helping the Mortuary with removal of remains including, picking up and dropping off remains at the Crematorium. They also make trips to the Registrar’s Office, perform work-related errands for the department manager as well as others at Hillside and assist with funeral services.

Funeral/Service Directors – The Presentation. The Directors are responsible for conducting multiple funeral and memorial services from set-up to completion. This includes setting up flowers, chapels, programs, music and video selections, caskets and attending to family members, ensuring a meaningful service for the family and their guests.
Brandon Smith, Service Director, shared a story of a service that deeply resonated with him and exemplifies the beauty within this profession. “…I truly got to understand a spirit at peace and take part in the celebration of a woman who I will always remember and who I will look forward to meeting again when my time comes.”

Family Service Counselors – The Family Lifeline. Counselors present funeral options to families on an at-need basis, as well as work closely with Rabbis, florists, and other service vendors to ensure the experience of each family is attended to, customized and tailored to their traditions, values and requests. Jennifer Simon, Family Service Counselor, shared what keeps her motivated throughout her many years at Hillside. “While most of us at Hillside go about life a little differently, I have come to realize that I am often intrigued by the lives of the families we serve through their history and stories and one of the greatest gifts that I hold in my daily thoughts is gratitude for my life and my family.”

In the end, Russell’s mantra best describes the overall mission of the Mortuary department – “Each person and each family encounter grief differently – and it is our responsibility to engage this grief with sensitivity, compassion, and thoughtful awareness. This can be mentally, physically, and spiritually trying — so take good care of one another, support each other, remember we are all on the same mission. By being good to each other we can collectively be great to the families in our care.”

Employee of the Quarter

Courtney Allen – Quarter 3, 2021

Courtney Allen is Hillside’s Employee of the Quarter for the 3rd quarter of 2021!
On May 7, 2018, Courtney started at Hillside as an Intern and has learned and developed her skillset through her dedication and commitment to this industry. She has obtained her Embalmer and Funeral Director’s licenses throughout the last four years and has become a very integral member of the Mortuary department’s team.

Although Courtney embraces all of Hillside’s core values, she especially exemplifies Respect. In her role as Embalmer, Courtney embraces each decedent with dignity and respect and provides comfort and care to each family during their time of sadness and loss. Congratulations, Courtney!

Jason Mueller – Quarter 4, 2021

Jason Mueller is the recipient of Hillside’s Employee of the Quarter for the 4th quarter of 2021!

Jason joined Hillside on December 14, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and has been an amazing asset to the Marketing team and Hillside as a whole. He is an excellent team player, and his ability to successfully collaborate internally and with outside partnerships has enhanced Hillside’s design elements and presentation. Jason truly exemplifies Quality with his artistic eye for creativity and level of detail, lending itself to the beautiful work he creates and produces for the entire organization. Congratulations Jason!

Nina Walker – Quarter 1, 2022 

Nina Walker is Hillside’s Employee of the Quarter for the 1st quarter of 2022!

Nina joined Hillside on August 11, 2019, and we would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not hear, see or interact with her multiple times a week. Nina is instrumental in connecting the families Hillside serves to the appropriate department and staff members. Whether she assists in connecting families to other departments during their time of need, researching property location inquiries, or processing requests for information, Nina handles it all with the highest level of professionalism. She truly exhibits Hillside’s core value of Kindness.

Event Photos

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