NextGen Professional of the Year
Past Award Winners

2017: Helen Loring Dear

David SpeaksHelen Loring Dear, President of Porter Loring Mortuaries, began her journey in the funeral profession at the age of 16 as a housekeeper at her family’s firm. Since then, she has worked in virtually every position within the firm, performing each role with the utmost compassion for the families she serves. “When I hear that Porter Loring Mortuaries and Helen are handling a funeral, I know my job on the pastoral team just got easier because Helen cares about the families as if they were her own,” said Reverend Michael P. Crocker of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church. Helen is active in numerous organizations in her profession and in her community, and her involvement in Selected has played an integral part of her development and growth. She is a Selected Study Groups participant and a graduate of Selected’s Leadership Academy, an intensive two-year leadership training program. Graduates of this program complete a Capstone project to demonstrate and apply the leadership tools developed over the course of the program.

The focus of her Capstone project was on teen suicide rates in the San Antonio area. She soon determined that there were few resources for teens in her community and wanted that to change. For a year, she worked with several local nonprofit directors to plan a Roundtable on Teen Suicide. The meeting resulted in the creation of the Alamo Area Teen Suicide Prevention Coalition (AATSPC).

“I have been personally involved with and marveled at the community commitment that Helen has made which resulted in establishment of the AATSPC. Helen’s leadership regarding this pressing issue has now evolved into a major effort with staffing, a Teen Advisory Board and participation by almost every school district in the San Antonio region,” said Marian Sokol Ph.D., Executive Director of the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas. “She has been recognized in our community as a dynamic young woman who is among the ‘Rising Stars of Texas.’” Helen has assumed a role as Honorary Chair of the AATSPC and the group continues to grow and impact the local community.

In 2016, Helen was chosen as one of San Antonio Business Journal’s “40 under 40,” honoring young leaders succeeding in business and contributing to their community. “Helen undoubtedly has a bright future and is a remarkable reflection on her family, her community, her business and Selected,” noted one judge on the Professional of the Year Award panel.

Perhaps Helen’s father, Porter Loring, III, put it best when he said, “Beyond the professional accolades is a devoted wife and mother of two young children, who ensures that she devotes time to her family as well as taking care of the business. Integrity and perseverance are at the core of everything that Helen does”.

2016: David Speaks

David SpeaksDavid Speaks is the Vice President/Director of Community Relations at Speaks Family Legacy Chapels. Since earning his license in 2003, David has demonstrated tireless commitment to the profession.

David is responsible for executing a variety of events in the community and continually finds ways to put a personal touch on every program. Since 2007, David has organized 14 grief conferences for professional caregivers with speakers such as Dr. Alan Wolfelt and Dr. Bill Hoy. He also organizes an annual service of remembrance and has executed three successful blood drives. At his first NextGen Seminar in 2006, David was introduced to the film series “Lest They Be Forgotten.” Using the films as inspiration, David developed an annual event that included a documentary shown at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. David expanded the reach of the messaging by bringing the film series to local nursing homes. In 2010, this event earned Speaks Family Legacy Chapels the ICCFA KIP “Keeping it Personal” Award for outstanding attention to veterans.

Over the past decade, David’s client family satisfaction rates have consistently ranked among the highest at his firm. David leads a team of six funeral directors and a large support staff, constantly training and mentoring them to achieve their best. He leads by example and instills a sense of cohesive teamwork among his colleagues. In his continued efforts to offer a more personalized service to the families he serves, David completed Insight Celebrant Training to become a Certified Celebrant in 2015.

David has attended seven NextGen Seminars and numerous other Selected meetings over the years. He served as a co-chair of the 2015 NextGen Seminar. David also was a member of the pilot class of the Selected Leadership Academy, a two-year program designed to strengthen and grow the leadership skills of funeral professionals.

Outside of work, David is the former Vice-President of the Evening Optimist Club of Independence, a group committed to making a positive impact on local youth. For over ten years, David has volunteered with Meals on Wheels, delivering hot meals to elderly residents of Independence every week. David lives in Independence, MO with his wife Jenna and two sons.

2015: Jason Goldstein

AnnYager McCroskyJason Goldstein is a fourth-generation funeral director and the Vice President of Roth-Goldsteins’ Memorial Chapel in Atlantic City, NJ. Jason’s commitment to the families that he serves and his community is immediately evident in everything he does. He has never ceased to give his time to a multitude of organizations and causes including the York Children’s Foundation and the Alcove Center for Grieving Children and Their Families. Jason also served as President of Kavod, The Independent Jewish Funeral Chapels, for a six-year term.

Jason has given much of his time and effort to the Seashore Gardens Living Center, an independent not-for-profit senior living community. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for several years, he was elected and installed as the youngest Chairman of the Board in January 2014. Jason and his wife, Jessica, were the first recipients of the Young Leadership Award for dedication and commitment to the Jewish community. Together, the pair co-chaired Seashore Gardens’ black tie event, the Black and White Ball, of which the proceeds support musical programs for the home’s residents. Jason is passionate about facilitating intergenerational programs that bring children to the home for the holidays to sing, read and play mini-golf with the residents.

Jason also has a passion for technology. Throughout his time with his firm, Jason has taken on a series of projects focused on keeping Roth-Goldsteins’ on the cutting edge of technology, constantly seeking innovations that will help him and his fellow funeral directors serve their families to the fullest.

Jason lives in Linwood, NJ with his wife Jessica, and their two sons, Samuel and Luke. In his spare time, he coaches his sons’ hockey teams.

2014: AnnYager McCrosky

AnnYager McCroskyAnnYager McCrosky is the fourth generation of funeral directors at Stith Funeral Home in Danville, Kentucky. After graduating from the John A. Gupton College of Mortuary Arts in 2001, she immediately took on a series of projects designed to enhance offerings and to better provide for client families.

AnnYager took the initiative to educate herself on green burials and is now considered a local expert, having exhibited at the Green Expo and given several presentations on the subject. At her insistence, Stith Funeral Home became the first Kentucky member of the Green Burial Council in 2008; the firm now offers one of the largest selections of eco-friendly urns, caskets and register books in the state.

AnnYager’s dedication to her community is immediately apparent in her involvement with a variety of local causes. She is a member of the Danville Rotary Club, having served as the chair of a program that distributes dictionaries to fourth grade students in the county. In addition, she is a co-founder of the Young Professionals group of the Danville Boyle County Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors Club, which bestows the “Rising Star” award, an award that she designed. As a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters for ten years, her passion for working with children is also evident in her efforts to improve and broaden a program the firm offers to families with children. She goes above and beyond to talk children through the process when a loved one dies, making herself available whenever she is needed.

AnnYager’s community focus extends far beyond the reaches of her own community. In the summer of 2002, she served as a liaison between the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the families of the victims of 9/11. She met with families on behalf of the medical examiner, answering their questions and escorting them to Memorial Park where they could leave flowers and mementos. In the fall of 2005, AnnYager volunteered in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She served in a Public Health Service captain’s position as the D-Mort liaison for the U.S. Public Health Service in Baton Rouge.

AnnYager has been the recipient of numerous awards throughout the years. Notably, in 2004, she was the youngest recipient of the Joseph W. Kelly Award from the Kentucky Board of Education, an award given to businesspeople who demonstrate outstanding leadership in promoting school improvement and equitable educational opportunities for the children of Kentucky.

An active member of Selected, AnnYager served on the NextGen Advisory Group from 2008 to 2012, and was chair in 2009-2010. In addition, she is a member of the 2012 Selected Leadership Academy pilot class, bringing much of what she has learned into practice at the firm.

AnnYager was married to Alex McCrosky in 2011. The couple lives in Danville.

2013: Neil O'Connor

Neil O'ConnorNeil 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

Austin_ClaireClaire 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.