NextGen Professional of the Year
Past Award Winners
2013 - Neil O'Connor
Neil O'Connor manages O'Connor Mortuary, a four-generation-old family business established in 1898. Along with the chapel and crematory, O'Connor Mortuary also has two arrangement centers in San Juan Capistrano and Irvine. With his ambition, impeccable business sense and strong desire to reach out to his community, Neil has put his heart and soul into outreach that has generated some extraordinary results. For his firm, Neil has developed the Plan Well...Live Well Advanced Planning Program, created a Community Relations Department and increased employee retention through monthly employee educational workshops. He also has gone above and beyond for his community. He chaired the Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center Annual Gala for two years, raising more than $1 million each year, works with FADD (Friends Against Driving Drunk) by providing employees and a hearse for the "Every 15 Minutes" drunk driving reenactment at four Orange County high schools for the past 10 years, and served as the Master of Ceremonies for the Age Well Senior Services "Captain's Ball" which raised more than $130,000 for the Meals on Wheels program. In 2003, Neil met his wife Lisa while at a yoga retreat in Maui. Together they have a son, Jesse. Neil continues to practice Ashtanga Yoga and enjoys playing beach volleyball.
2012 - Claire Austin
Claire Austin is the tenth generation, and the first female, to run Austin's Family Funeral Directors. As the leading independent funeral directors in the county of Hertfordshire, England, Austin's has been established for more than 300 years; making it one of the oldest funeral homes in the United Kingdom. Austin's includes eight branches in North East Hertfordshire, arranging more than 1,200 funerals per year. Austin's also owns and operates a Crematorium and Memorial Gardens. Claire's staff most recently has been awarded the East of England Business Champions Award for Service Excellence and the Hertfordshire Medium Business of the Year Award.
2011 - Michael Schoedinger
Michael Schoedinger is President of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Services, Columbus, OH. He is a sixth generation owner of the firm, a licensed funeral director and embalmer. He has earned the Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) from the Academy of Professional Funeral Serve Practice and the Certified Preplanning Consultant (CPC) from the National Foundation of Funeral Service. He also holds an Ohio Life & Health Insurance License, Life Appreciation Training Certification and Notary Public, State of Ohio. He spearheads the company’s public relations, advertising and marketing initiatives as well as champions the power of community relations by encouraging the firm’s 150 associates to engage routinely in community and charitable events. Michael often serves as Schoedinger’s media spokesperson and has presented countless presentations at funeral profession and other business events.