VAUGHN — Death is never easy and often comes unexpectedly. The cost and stress associated with final arrangements can be staggering. A Vaughn man is doing his part to make the loss of a loved one a little easier to bear.
Building is in Brad Opheim’s blood.
“Well, I started building houses with my dad when I was probably ten,” said Brad Opheim
Brad was born in Glasgow and raised in Opheim, a town named after his great grandfather, who was also the town’s first postmaster. His family moved to the Sun River Valley when he was nine years old.
How he got into casket making more than 20 years ago is personal.
“My brother, who lost his 19-year-old son in a car accident, he asked me if I'd be willing to build a casket for him,” said Opheim. “It was very personal to me. Knowing my nephew like I did, he was a good young man and always had a positive attitude.”
Most of his caskets are made from blue pinewood from the Seeley Lake area.
“It's kind of a throwaway wood or used to be,” said Opheim. “But I find a lot of beauty in it. Everyone that I build turns out different.”
Brad has a sister in Wyoming who makes the muslin casket liners.
Every casket is different, and every person Brad builds a casket for has an interesting story.
“I’ve heard so many wonderful stories of these people’s lives and the pioneers they were even and how they moved into this country and just marvelous stories,” said Opheim. “And it makes me want to know them. I wish I would have known them, but I know them more because of their story that I've been told by their children and families.”
He says some of the toughest caskets he makes are for toddlers who have died.
Brad says it took awhile for him to earn the trust of funeral homes but over time has built a good relationship.
Brad also makes urns, a skill he’s taken to a literary-like level. He’s created an urn that resembles a set of books.
“You can just sit on the mantle or put it in a bookcase for the ashes of someone they're keeping,” said Opheim.
Opheim’s caskets range in price from about $1,600 to $2,000. He’s delivered them to Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and many places in Montana. He says the cost of shipping the caskets is prohibitive, so he will deliver them or meet the customer halfway.
His urns sell for about $115 and includes shipping.
He’s made vessels for pets that have passed. His carpentry skills have also had a hand in making his share of clocks, which he also sells.
Brad says he knows many of the people and families he makes caskets for. Some will pre-order their caskets. During the pandemic, one such customer who was a familiar face, walked through the door.
“Poor little guy. He was old and shrunk up and little,” said Opheim. “As soon as he came through the door, I knew who he was. He was my Little League coach and he ordered his casket that day and within weeks he passed. And so that was very touching.
Brad estimates he built more than 200 caskets. At 67, he shows no signs of slowing down. “I hope to continue till the day I die,” said Opheim. “That would be just fine. I hope there's one left for me.”
More information on Opheim’s caskets can be found on his website.
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