Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published September 04, 2009, 12:00 AM

Horses and hearses

Silas Naas will tell you that he hasn’t amounted to much in his life. He’s probably right – if you think being happy and fulfilled and hardworking and successful isn’t an accomplishment.

By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press

Silas Naas will tell you that he hasn’t amounted to much in his life. He’s probably right – if you think being happy and fulfilled and hardworking and successful isn’t an accomplishment.

Naas, an Alexandria resident since 1971, is one of the lucky ones. He loved his job as a mortician. And when he wasn’t working, he put his heart and soul into his greatest joy – horses.

“I loved horses from day one,” Naas said. “I must have been born with that. They have a picture of me sitting on a horse before I could walk. I screamed when they took me off.”

Naas grew up around horses on a farm in North Dakota. His grandfather and father were excellent horsemen. His father plowed the fields and did chores with teams of Percherons. Naas was always there, helping his father break and train the horses.

“He liked to have me around because I was quick on my feet,” Naas reminisced. “That was the highlight of my day when we would train a colt.”

And as this budding young horseman grew up, he already figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with horses.

He wanted to be a mortician.

“I thought of that from a little child on,” he said, explaining why a kid would aspire to such a career. “We were close with our local mortician. I had such great respect for him.”

Naas went off to college and then to mortuary school in Wisconsin. He worked in a few funeral homes in North Dakota before moving to Alexandria in 1971 to work for Anderson Funeral Home.

Even when he lived in an apartment in the funeral home, he continued to own horses, paying to board them. In 1980, he bought a farm near Lake Carlos, where he spent his rare time off playing with his horses, most often Arabians. He eventually moved there while continuing his mortician work.

In 1970, Naas rescued his grandfather’s carriage from the haymow, where it had been stored since 1926. Built in 1912, the carriage was still in mint condition. That started a new passion with his horses – training them how to drive.

He now has a collection of eight carriages, and even owns the “Cadillac of buggies,” a surrey that is finished in velvet.

At age 65, Naas retired from his lifelong career as a mortician. But he discovered that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

“In no time at all I knew I’d made a mistake,” Naas said. “I knew I had to go back to work and I did because I liked it that much. Some people hate their work, but I loved mine. There was nothing about it I didn’t like.”

Naas went back to work for Petermeier’s Funeral Home in Alexandria. From there he tried to retire once again but failed and returned to work.

“I retired three times before I finally gave it up,” he said. “I’m very thankful that I liked my work so much. Not everybody can say that.”

Naas has been fortunate enough to have both his love of horses and of his work come together. He has hooked up his team of horses to a horse-drawn hearse, owned by a friend, and has driven in several funeral processions.

When he finally succeeded at retirement about two years ago, Naas, a lifelong bachelor, continued to train, ride and drive his beloved horses. But a stroke and a heart attack a year ago have since slowed him down. He’s down to two black Arabians, Pat and Mike, who he jokes are “both on Social Security,” and he takes them out whenever he can.

“I still take them out, but not as often as when I was well,” he said. “Once or twice a week yet.”

Naas would have a hard time ever giving up his horses for good, just as he had a hard time giving up his job.

“I’ve enjoyed my work, I’ve enjoyed my horses,” he concluded. “If you have a hobby and work that you love, that’s all you need. If I have done that, that’s all I care. I’ve always been quite happy.”