The Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science has been providing training for students entering funeral service for over seventy-five years. When first established in 1939, the new training institute was known as the Pittsburgh School of Embalming. The co-founders included three educators, Dr. Otto S. Margolis and Professor John Rebol formerly affiliated with the Cleveland School of Embalming, and Dr. Emory S. James, Instructor in the Anatomy Department of the Ohio State Medical School in Columbus, Ohio.
In completing final arrangements for the new school in Pittsburgh, Mr. John A. Freyvogel, Sr., a funeral director was most helpful. He was the Western Pennsylvania representative for the State Anatomical Board and his contacts in the business community as well as at the University of Pittsburgh were constructive in finding a location for the school, securing furniture and equipment, and in selecting additional faculty members. Mr. Freyvogel served as the first President of the Pittsburgh School of Embalming.
The inaugural class of sixty students enrolled for a nine-month curriculum September 18, 1939 and graduated June 23, 1940. The excellent dedication and cooperation of the students, which still exists today, resulted in outstanding academic achievement as well as the completion of several traditional projects for the new school. These endeavors included the development of the logo or school seal, school motto, and the Alma Mater. The Motto, “Scientia, Sollertia, Servitium,” translated from Latin means, “Knowledge, Skills, Service,” which expresses in part the objectives of the Institute. The lyrics of the Alma Mater were written by a student, Geraldine K. Johnson from Berlin, Pennsylvania, and the music was composed by her uncle, Alfred H. Johnson, a member of the faculty.
The curriculum for the second class was increased to twelve months to conform with the change in licensing requirements. During this year, 1940, faculty members attended the first of the teachers’ institutes and committee meetings dealing with curriculum and course development. The second teachers’ institute, which included representatives from all the approved schools was hosted by the Pittsburgh School of Embalming.
The many modifications in the mortuary science curriculum, as well as the broader objective and increased responsibilities justified the change of the name from the Pittsburgh School of Embalming to the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in 1945. The Pittsburgh Institute remained as a private educational institution.
A separate corporation was formed for a new school in 1947, The American Institute of Cemetery Administration. Dr. James was the Dean of the new school which operated for three years and graduated thirty students. Some of these graduates are still active in the management and operation of cemeteries.
In 1952, the Pittsburgh Institute purchased the American Academy of Funeral Service in New York City, and Dr. Margolis assumed the duties as Dean. A few years later the decision was made for Dr. Margolis to remain with the American Academy with Professor Rebol and Dr. James remaining in Pittsburgh.
In 1953, when the Cleveland College of Mortuary Science was discontinued, the Charter was purchased by the Pittsburgh Institute. All of the student records were moved to Pittsburgh and services are rendered to the Alumni of the Cleveland College from the offices of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.
The charter of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science was changed in 1967, to a non-profit educational institution.
A history of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science would not be complete without mentioning Mrs. Jean C. Rodak, (Jean C. Coyne), Treasurer of the Institute and former Registrar. She is the only person with 50 years of continuous service beginning with the preparation for and founding of the Pittsburgh School of Embalming in 1939 until her retirement in 1990.
William J. Musmanno served as Dean of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science from 1966 until his death in 1978. His undergraduate degree was from the University of Pittsburgh and he later graduated with his masters degree in pharmacology from Duquesne University. In March 1961, he graduated from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and later joined the faculty. It was under his direction that the Pittsburgh Institute became known as the “Flagship Station of Mortuary Education.” Dean Musmanno originated the Clinico-Seminarama continuing education programs, sponsored jointly by the Pittsburgh Institute and the Allegheny County Funeral Directors Association. These programs were offered in the spring of each year for seventeen years.
Many graduates of the Pittsburgh Institute have continued their college training for other fields. These fields include medicine, dentistry, electronics, teaching, law, research, public relations, sales and the clergy. In 1987 the first graduate of the Pittsburgh Institute, Mr. Glenn G. McMillen was installed as President of the National Funeral Directors Association. He is currently a retired executive from Service Corporation International.
There are many alumni that have entered the political arena in their home states as well as on the national level. Many graduates have served as officers of their local and state funeral directors associations as well as their respective state boards.
In 1983, The Institute developed two cooperative baccalaureate degree programs with California University of Pennsylvania and Point Park University. Additional cooperative programs have since been developed with Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania and Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Students now have the opportunity to continue their education for the B.S. Degree in Mortuary Science or Business Administration while obtaining credit for professional studies at the Pittsburgh Institute.
On July 3, 1985, the Institute under the direction of Dean Eugene C. Ogrodnik was approved to grant the Associate in Specialized Technology Degree in Funeral Service Management. Additional course work in risk management, business management, gerontology, funeral service marketing, economics, death and children, and business English now enable students to earn a degree in this specialized field and prepare themselves for funeral service in the 21st century.
In February of 1991, PIMS lost an integral part of its history – Dr. Emory S. James. Dr. James was a co-founder and long-time president of PIMS. He continued his involvement for over fifty years and his contributions have been extensive. He has been very influential in the field of funeral service education and has positively impacted many lives.
On the weekend of August 19-20, 1989, the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science moved its facilities from its original site to 5808 Baum Boulevard, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the Shadyside area of the city. The new location remains within easy access of the various cultural opportunities which Pittsburgh presents.
The move has resulted in greatly expanded space which allowed for larger classrooms and library facilities, contemporarily designed state-of-the-art preparation room and restorative art laboratory, model casket selection room and funeral merchandise center and computer laboratory.
Two major events occurred in 1991 with respect to the program of study offered at Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. In November 1991, the Institute received the approval to grant the Associate in Specialized Business (ASB) Degree. In so-doing, the Institute is reflecting the current and future trend in funeral service education, which is moving from a focus primarily in the natural sciences to more extensive course content which recognizes the significance of business administration and psychology in today’s complex operating environment. The Associate in Specialized Business Degree replaced the degree offering which was approved in 1985.
With respect to its continual endeavor to provide the most well-adapted curriculum available anywhere, PIMS, in December 1991, received an approval to add an “alternative” trimester of study to its degree program. This trimester further augments the training specifically designed to prepare a well-rounded, well-informed funeral service practitioner. The student can now pursue its already comprehensive specialized associate degree in its entirety at the Institute in lieu of transferring 16 credits from another institute as was the past policy.
In 1992, an innovative approach to bachelor degree study was initiated between the Pittsburgh Institute and Point Park University through Point Park’s Capstone Program. In this novel approach, the student would matriculate into the five trimester program at PIMS and would subsequently enter Point Park University for an additional two semesters and complete the studies required for the Bachelor of Science degree in Specialized Professional Studies. With the successful completion of a total of seven semesters, the student now may be awarded the Diploma in Embalming and Funeral Directing, the Associate in Specialized Business Degree in Funeral Service Management, and the Bachelor of Science Degree in Specialized Professional Studies.
Distance educational resources were provided in 1994, as the Institute installed a satellite dish. All classrooms are now cable-ready to receive programming “downlinked” from elsewhere in the world to enhance the educational experience of both the students and funeral directors desiring continuing education.
Recognizing that some students have had a previous college educational experience without earning any award and also recognizing that funeral service is approaching a turning point with respect to educational requirements, the Institute developed a creative program leading to a new Associate in Specialized Technology (AST) Degree in Funeral Service Arts and Sciences.
The AST Degree was approved in late 1995 and requires the student to have completed a minimum of 60 semester credits from a regionally accredited college or university for admission. After successfully completing three trimesters of study in residence, the student is eligible to be awarded this Specialized Associate Degree.
May 1996 provided the Pittsburgh Institute with a presence in cyberspace. The first such institution of its type is now able to be accessed via the internet. PIMS’ home page address www.pims.edu now gives those who “cruise the 7 net” information relative to its programs, curricula, tuition, etc.
As Pittsburgh Institute entered the new millennium, a new initiative to reach out to the non-traditional student was announced. PIMS would be offering its core Diploma program “at a distance.” The student can now pursue funeral service education via the Internet. The first class of PIMS OnLine was admitted for classes starting January 29, 2001.
Construction was completed in September 2003 for the special events center at Pittsburgh Institute. A state-of-the-art auditorium seating in excess of 155 persons will accommodate the entire student body for special engagements and continuing education programs by notable speakers for the profession. Two additional classrooms and banquet facilities were also included in the design.
The fall of 2012 marked the beginning of a long term expansion plan at PIMS. Access was provided to the fourth and fifth floor of the main building, forging the way for future initiatives regarding the physical plant.
Change is no stranger to Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science as it continues into the twenty-first century updating its services to its public and to the field of funeral service. It continues to remain a model for other funeral service education programs to follow.