Amiottes create handcrafted pine caskets

"When I die, I want to be buried in a pine box," is a quote that's been heard for many years. These people were not likely granted that request. That was until Alan Amiotte of Interior said he wanted to be buried in a pine box.

Long before he was diagnosed with cancer, his family knew what he wanted. Asta, his wife, recalled the day her son asked if his dad would care if he made his casket. "I told him he'd love it," Asta said. "His dad would have been very proud. It helps in the healing when the family can take part."

Alan's son, Kyle, granted his father's request on July 25, 2002, the day the family laid him to rest in the family cemetery. All the neighbors and community were involved, helping to personalize Alan's pine casket with straw, a hide from a roping steer and more.

Last December Kyle was injured in a roadside accident when a driver smashed into his vehicle while he was outside helping a stranded traveler who was in the ditch. Kyle was not able to go back to his job of cable installation. With Kyle needing a form of income, Bear Creek Casket Company, LLC was started.

Kyle's grandfather, Jim Garner, who lived on Bear Creek in the early 1900s, made caskets. His daughter, Lonabelle Hercher, helped prepare the deceased for viewing.

The first casket sold was to the family of Lornce Grimes, another Interior cowboy and close family friend, who was recently laid to rest. These caskets are not sold outright; they can only be purchased through funeral homes. Rush Funeral Home of Philip made that first sale. Funeral homes in Sturgis, Belle Fourche, Spearfish, Martin, several in Rapid City and in Chadron, NE, have agreed to sell the handmade caskets.

A tag that accompanies each casket reads, "God put it on my heart to build this casket for another family to lay their loved one to rest in." Kyle is very proud that he can produce a South Dakota-made product. The pine comes from a sawmill in Custer and the cedar is purchased out of Newell. "I cut each board by hand, nothing is computerized," Kyle said.

All the hardware is purchased locally. Unique handles are made from recycled rope from area ranchers and attached to the steel frame. The handles have steel tubing for added hand protection. Don't expect to see plush velvet, silky satin or button tufting on the inside of the caskets. Asta is in charge of western design of the blue denim liners and pillow cases. One can see the overall picture; these caskets are designed so loved ones can personalize the casket in anyway they choose. "I don't want to make the family decisions," said Kyle. "We want to let the individual families do what they want."

After making that first casket for his dad, Kyle quickly learned that the overall size is very important. That took him straight to local funeral director Jack Rush in Philip where he learned all about dimensions. "Jack gave us some good guidelines to help us, so as not to make the mistakes other casket makers have made in the past," said Kyle.

"Practice makes perfect and Kyle has been able to cover all the

aspects," Rush said about the new product. Rush added he has heard several positive comments regarding the pine casket he has in the show room. "We feel good about carrying this South Dakota-made product," Rush stated. He likes the uniqueness and expects the caskets to sell, especially in the ranching/farming communities. Rush also noted the flat top of the casket style, saying it's perfect for displaying pictures, and personal items.

"Our goal was to try to provide an affordable, unique handcrafted item that the family can personalize," Kyle said. This is a family business. Kyle's wife, Tricia, is the marketing aspect of the business. She also has a full-time massage therapy practice. Things happen for a reason and Kyle's love for woodworking will help families find a satisfying closure for their loved one. For more information, see the website www.bearcreekcasketcompany.com.