Staff

Staff

Our dedicated staff members are here to provide support, compassion, and information to help you through your journey of grief and the celebration of your loved one’s life.

Oakwood Family Funeral Home & Crematory

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Jessica Stern Funeral Director

Jessica grew up in southern Minnesota in the small town of Truman. After attending the University of South Dakota for 3 years as a business student, she transferred to the University of Minnesota for Mortuary Science. Once licensed, she moved to a suburb of Milwaukee for two years to work at a funeral home and get her dual licensure. When her brother-in-law received the news that he was going on his second deployment, Jessica moved back to Minnesota to live with her sister for the year. She took a job in White Bear Lake and worked as a funeral director and preplanning specialist there for over 6 years. When the opportunity came up to work for her friend and college classmate, Jesse Starkson, she jumped at the opportunity. In March of 2019, Jessica came on board with Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel in Hastings and later Oakwood Funeral Home in Maplewood.

As a child, Jessica lost a majority of her hearing at a year old and began wearing hearing aids and using American Sign Language. Fortunately, in 2017, she was able to receive a life-changing Cochlear Implant surgery to get back a significant amount of hearing in her right ear. The deaf/hard of hearing community has been an important part of her life and she enjoys volunteering with Lifetrack’s deaf role model program and being a member of their advisory board. She also keeps close ties with her college sorority by being a member of the St. Paul Alumni Club for Pi Beta Phi. As a former scholarship recipient of Junior Miss (now called the Distinguished Young Women’s Program), she loves to help organize parts of the state program for high school women to receive scholarships through DYW. 

Outside of work and volunteering, Jessica and her husband, Andrew, enjoy kayaking, traveling, and spending time with their family and friends. They are a divided household when it comes to sports as Andrew is a Badger and Packer fan through and through. They are both excited to be welcomed into the Starkson, Caturida, Smidt, and Wise families as they move forward to provide the Maplewood community with top level service.

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Martha Praska Funeral Assistant

Martha has been in church work for over thirty years. Among the many duties she has had through those years has been assisting families as they plan for the funeral service of a loved one. Already involved in church work, it felt as if helping families grieve the loss of a loved one was a special ministry that she was called to. She has walked in their shoes many times, after losing two children of her own, her parents, and her husband. None of those are easy times to go through and if she could offer just a little more support and understanding through this time and make it a little more bearable, then that is where she wants to be.

Outside of her career and ministry work, she enjoys sewing, a little bit of crocheting, a little bit of baking (only when she has somewhere to share it - she cannot keep it at her house), and spending time with family and friends. She enjoys reading.

Martha feels as if life is an educational journey and we should never stop learning something new. Along that journey, she loves keeping up with old friends and making new friends.

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Angela Gaugler Funeral Assistant

Angela has been a floral designer for most of her career, specializing in wedding flowers and event arrangements. Her garden, and now the funeral home's exterior, are full of beautiful flowers and plants. Angela was born in Naples, Italy where she attended Elena di Savoia High School. Not only is she fluent in Italian but her roots in Italy also moves into her culinary life as she is an amazing cook. She is a dedicated member of Guardian Angels Catholic Church and is part of a women's group there.

Angela has three children (Joe, Mandy, and Ashley) and three grandchildren. When she isn't working or spending time with her family, she loves to listen to classical music, especially Pavarotti, Bocelli, and Strauss. One trait which surprises people about Angela is through all her style and class, she has a very sarcastic sense of humor which always brings a smile or laugh from friends and family.

Angela is one of the welcoming faces who greet our guests as they attend gatherings at the funeral home and she is the main luncheon coordinator for families using our reception space. Throughout the spring and summer, Angela is in charge of our floral arrangements throughout the exterior of our building.

 

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Susan Hubbard Funeral Assistant

Susan is an undergraduate student at the University of Denver studying English and Psychology. After the loss of her first pet, she took an interest in mortality and grieving. Five years later, this curiosity led her to apply for a job at Oakwood Family Funeral Home.

Susan strives to make the most out of her days and stay active. In her free time, you can find her running or dancing: her two favorite activities. She also enjoys extreme sports, ultimate frisbee, and writing poetry. Susan has been an amazing addition to the team, always keeping the staff on their feet with her zest for life and love for being adventurous. From skydiving to horseback riding through the Grand Canyon, Susan is truly living her life to the fullest.

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Sue Ristow Funeral Assistant

Sue was born and raised in South Minneapolis, the youngest of 7 children. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1976 and she went on to attend the University of Minnesota and Century College. She obtained a degree in Nursing and a second degree in Interior Design.

Sue worked for over 40 years in multiple areas of nursing before she retired. She enjoys watching sports, traveling, gardening, and taking long walks with her fur baby. Sue and her husband, Marv, reside in Woodbury with their new puppy, Mocha. She is excited to be a part of the Oakwood family and serve families during their time of loss.

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Jesse Starkson Owner & Funeral Director

Jesse is a 2007 graduate of Faribault Senior High School and a 2010 graduate of the Program of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota. While attending the program, Jesse was the President of the Mortuary Science Student Association and was also the recipient of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association Past President Scholarship. He originally began working with a funeral home in Faribault in 2003 and also worked in their Waseca and Janesville funeral homes until relocating to Hastings, where he brought the Caturia Smidt and Wise Funeral Homes together to build a beautiful, state of the art facility together. The brand new collaboration is called Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel and can host over 400 people for a funeral gathering and reception.

Jesse enjoys being involved in the University of Minnesota Program of Mortuary Science Board of Directors, the Minnesota Funeral Director's Association, hunting, fishing, and boating.

On September 15, 2017, Jesse and his wife, Katie, purchased the former Maple Oaks Funeral Home, and are honored to provide quality funeral service to the Maplewood, Oakdale, and surrounding communities for years to come.  Along with that, they also own their own crematory in Hastings, meaning your loved one never leaves their professional care. "We feel it is important for families to know many other local firms do not own their own crematory, so we are proud to provide this signature service to the families we serve."  Jesse and his wife, Katie,  live in Hastings where they oversee the day-to-day roles for Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel as well as their additional roles at Oakwood Family Funeral Home & Crematory.

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Katie Starkson Owner & Office Assistant

Katie is a 2007 graduate of Waseca High School. She attended Concordia St. Paul and studied Business Marketing. Katie started working with her husband Jesse at their Waseca Location in 2012 before moving to the Hastings area. 

Katie enjoys being involved with the Rivertown Lion’s Club in Hastings, volunteering at both St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, her card club, rollerblading, and boating. She plays a very integral role at their new facility in Hastings which is where they own and operate the crematory in which Oakwood Family Funeral Home uses for cremations. The new facility is a collaboration between the Caturia Smidt and Wise families to all be under one roof which can host over 400 people for a funeral gathering and reception.

On September 15, 2017, Jesse and Katie purchased the former Maple Oaks Funeral Home, and after months of renovations, reopened to the community. They are honored to provide a quality funeral service to the Maplewood, Oakdale, and surrounding communities for years to come.

Jessica Stern

Funeral Director
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Jessica grew up in southern Minnesota in the small town of Truman. After attending the University of South Dakota for 3 years as a business student, she transferred to the University of Minnesota for Mortuary Science. Once licensed, she moved to a suburb of Milwaukee for two years to work at a funeral home and get her dual licensure. When her brother-in-law received the news that he was going on his second deployment, Jessica moved back to Minnesota to live with her sister for the year. She took a job in White Bear Lake and worked as a funeral director and preplanning specialist there for over 6 years. When the opportunity came up to work for her friend and college classmate, Jesse Starkson, she jumped at the opportunity. In March of 2019, Jessica came on board with Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel in Hastings and later Oakwood Funeral Home in Maplewood.

As a child, Jessica lost a majority of her hearing at a year old and began wearing hearing aids and using American Sign Language. Fortunately, in 2017, she was able to receive a life-changing Cochlear Implant surgery to get back a significant amount of hearing in her right ear. The deaf/hard of hearing community has been an important part of her life and she enjoys volunteering with Lifetrack’s deaf role model program and being a member of their advisory board. She also keeps close ties with her college sorority by being a member of the St. Paul Alumni Club for Pi Beta Phi. As a former scholarship recipient of Junior Miss (now called the Distinguished Young Women’s Program), she loves to help organize parts of the state program for high school women to receive scholarships through DYW. 

Outside of work and volunteering, Jessica and her husband, Andrew, enjoy kayaking, traveling, and spending time with their family and friends. They are a divided household when it comes to sports as Andrew is a Badger and Packer fan through and through. They are both excited to be welcomed into the Starkson, Caturida, Smidt, and Wise families as they move forward to provide the Maplewood community with top level service.

Martha Praska

Funeral Assistant
photo

Martha has been in church work for over thirty years. Among the many duties she has had through those years has been assisting families as they plan for the funeral service of a loved one. Already involved in church work, it felt as if helping families grieve the loss of a loved one was a special ministry that she was called to. She has walked in their shoes many times, after losing two children of her own, her parents, and her husband. None of those are easy times to go through and if she could offer just a little more support and understanding through this time and make it a little more bearable, then that is where she wants to be.

Outside of her career and ministry work, she enjoys sewing, a little bit of crocheting, a little bit of baking (only when she has somewhere to share it - she cannot keep it at her house), and spending time with family and friends. She enjoys reading.

Martha feels as if life is an educational journey and we should never stop learning something new. Along that journey, she loves keeping up with old friends and making new friends.

Angela Gaugler

Funeral Assistant
photo

Angela has been a floral designer for most of her career, specializing in wedding flowers and event arrangements. Her garden, and now the funeral home's exterior, are full of beautiful flowers and plants. Angela was born in Naples, Italy where she attended Elena di Savoia High School. Not only is she fluent in Italian but her roots in Italy also moves into her culinary life as she is an amazing cook. She is a dedicated member of Guardian Angels Catholic Church and is part of a women's group there.

Angela has three children (Joe, Mandy, and Ashley) and three grandchildren. When she isn't working or spending time with her family, she loves to listen to classical music, especially Pavarotti, Bocelli, and Strauss. One trait which surprises people about Angela is through all her style and class, she has a very sarcastic sense of humor which always brings a smile or laugh from friends and family.

Angela is one of the welcoming faces who greet our guests as they attend gatherings at the funeral home and she is the main luncheon coordinator for families using our reception space. Throughout the spring and summer, Angela is in charge of our floral arrangements throughout the exterior of our building.

 

Susan Hubbard

Funeral Assistant
photo

Susan is an undergraduate student at the University of Denver studying English and Psychology. After the loss of her first pet, she took an interest in mortality and grieving. Five years later, this curiosity led her to apply for a job at Oakwood Family Funeral Home.

Susan strives to make the most out of her days and stay active. In her free time, you can find her running or dancing: her two favorite activities. She also enjoys extreme sports, ultimate frisbee, and writing poetry. Susan has been an amazing addition to the team, always keeping the staff on their feet with her zest for life and love for being adventurous. From skydiving to horseback riding through the Grand Canyon, Susan is truly living her life to the fullest.

Sue Ristow

Funeral Assistant
photo

Sue was born and raised in South Minneapolis, the youngest of 7 children. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1976 and she went on to attend the University of Minnesota and Century College. She obtained a degree in Nursing and a second degree in Interior Design.

Sue worked for over 40 years in multiple areas of nursing before she retired. She enjoys watching sports, traveling, gardening, and taking long walks with her fur baby. Sue and her husband, Marv, reside in Woodbury with their new puppy, Mocha. She is excited to be a part of the Oakwood family and serve families during their time of loss.

Jesse Starkson

Owner & Funeral Director
photo
Jesse is a 2007 graduate of Faribault Senior High School and a 2010 graduate of the Program of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota. While attending the program, Jesse was the President of the Mortuary Science Student Association and was also the recipient of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association Past President Scholarship. He originally began working with a funeral home in Faribault in 2003 and also worked in their Waseca and Janesville funeral homes until relocating to Hastings, where he brought the Caturia Smidt and Wise Funeral Homes together to build a beautiful, state of the art facility together. The brand new collaboration is called Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel and can host over 400 people for a funeral gathering and reception.

Jesse enjoys being involved in the University of Minnesota Program of Mortuary Science Board of Directors, the Minnesota Funeral Director's Association, hunting, fishing, and boating.

On September 15, 2017, Jesse and his wife, Katie, purchased the former Maple Oaks Funeral Home, and are honored to provide quality funeral service to the Maplewood, Oakdale, and surrounding communities for years to come.  Along with that, they also own their own crematory in Hastings, meaning your loved one never leaves their professional care. "We feel it is important for families to know many other local firms do not own their own crematory, so we are proud to provide this signature service to the families we serve."  Jesse and his wife, Katie,  live in Hastings where they oversee the day-to-day roles for Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel as well as their additional roles at Oakwood Family Funeral Home & Crematory.

Katie Starkson

Owner & Office Assistant
photo

Katie is a 2007 graduate of Waseca High School. She attended Concordia St. Paul and studied Business Marketing. Katie started working with her husband Jesse at their Waseca Location in 2012 before moving to the Hastings area. 

Katie enjoys being involved with the Rivertown Lion’s Club in Hastings, volunteering at both St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, her card club, rollerblading, and boating. She plays a very integral role at their new facility in Hastings which is where they own and operate the crematory in which Oakwood Family Funeral Home uses for cremations. The new facility is a collaboration between the Caturia Smidt and Wise families to all be under one roof which can host over 400 people for a funeral gathering and reception.

On September 15, 2017, Jesse and Katie purchased the former Maple Oaks Funeral Home, and after months of renovations, reopened to the community. They are honored to provide a quality funeral service to the Maplewood, Oakdale, and surrounding communities for years to come.

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