In a Field Where Science, Business Savvy and Compassion Collide, MCCC Alums Jimmy DeMaio and Bryan Bentzinger Give One Hundred Percent

Story by Marcya Roberts


Bridgewater, NJ – What do you get when you combine aptitudes in chemistry, microbiology, pathology and anatomy with management skills and a desire to help families during one of their most crucial times of need? You get multi-talented individuals like Jimmy DeMaio, class of 1999, and Bryan Bentzinger, class of 2012 — two Mercer County Community College (MCCC) alums who have dedicated their lives to the profession of mortuary science.

DeMaio is the owner and executive director of Bridgewater Funeral Home in Somerset County, N.J. Bentzinger is DeMaio’s right-hand man who, as funeral director, embalms and assists with all matters behind the scenes. 

Bridgewater Funeral Home is a stately historic building located in the southern section of the county. Circa 1850, the grand estate home was built by an attorney from New York by the name of Winsor who considered it his country get-away. The welcoming wrap-around porch and elegant foyer, dining and living areas provide an ambiance of refinement and comfort. The first floor area is where the funeral business is run while the upstairs has been renovated as a quaint, finely furnished apartment where DeMaio resides so he can be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for his clientele. He is only the fourth person to own the property.

“I took over the business in January 2000, when the whole world was afraid of the date rolling from 1999 to 2000; and people were hysterically pulling money out of their bank accounts,” recalled DeMaio.

DeMaio, who received two associate degrees from Mercer, one in business administration and second in mortuary science, reminisced about his time spent at Mercer and his odyssey into the funeral business. While one would expect such a business to be handed down from a family member in a previous generation, this was not the case for DeMaio.

“My mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncle owned the New Jersey Piano Company on Stelton Road in Piscataway,” explained DeMaio “I used to go there every day after school — from grammar school through high school,” he said.

As the family aged and succession planning began, DeMaio was asked if he wanted to take over the piano store. “As much as I loved being there, I didn’t have a love for that,” said DeMaio. “My interests, I thought, were to be in finance.”

So after graduating from St. Peter’s High School in New Brunswick, DeMaio enrolled at Raritan Valley Community College and began taking general courses. “I thought I would become an accountant,” said DeMaio.

That summer DeMaio got a job at New Jersey Savings Bank in the bookkeeping department. 

“One day I got a phone call from a local branch in Somerville,” said DeMaio. “It was a lady named Mrs. Kowalenko who owned a business in Bridgewater. She wanted to stop payment on a $9 check but the stop-payment fee was $20, so I tried to talk her out of it,” he recalled. 

DeMaio was so concerned about the distressed woman that he visited her business during his lunch break. 

“So it turns out I drive up in front a funeral home, and I ring the bell,” DeMaio recalled. “A nice German lady greeted me and invited me inside. While we were talking I asked her what she did, and after she explained everything I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really interesting business.’”

Not long thereafter, Kowalenko called DeMaio asking him if he would help her husband, Ed, with removals and odd jobs. So DeMaio obliged during his off hours at the bank.

“One thing led to another and I felt like this was way more interesting than just working in an office,” DeMaio recalled. 

DeMaio loved the family atmosphere and the sense of community; and decided to “totally switch gears.” He worked a little longer at the bank to make sure this was what he wanted, then he took his credits from Raritan Valley and transferred them to Mercer.

DeMaio spent the next few years attending Mercer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. His off days were spent at Bridgewater Funeral Home observing and helping out.

“My experience at Mercer was better than any class or school that I had been at in the past, including high school and Raritan Valley Community College,” said DeMaio. “There was something about Mercer — the structure, the professors, the labs. It was just a great experience, and I think a lot of people I went to school with all felt the same way,” said DeMaio. “When I was in high school I was a C student,” he said. “When I went to Mercer I actually got involved with something I was truly interested in. All As and Bs,” DeMaio recounted.

DeMaio finished his internship with the Kowalenko’s at Bridgewater Funeral Home and passed the New Jersey State Board Exams and the National Board Exam, and was licensed in May of 1999. Since the Kowalenko’s children had no interest in the business, and DeMaio was doing such a nice job working with the families, he was offered an opportunity to take over. “The November after I graduated from Mercer I was appointed manager and in December we closed on the funeral home,” he recalled.

Since then, DeMaio has hired several employees who have come and gone but, eventually, through a friend, found Bryan Bentzinger who joined Bridgewater Funeral Home in 2015. Bentzinger had also earned his A.A.S. degree in mortuary science from Mercer.

“Bryan was the perfect fit,” said DeMaio.

Bentzinger attended East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania for two years before attending Mercer. “I knew I wanted to do something with the human body,” explained Bentzinger. “But I saw that being a doctor would put me in too much debt. My girlfriend at the time mentioned that there was a family who owned a funeral home and they were funeral directors. I thought the idea of becoming an embalmer would be pretty cool and that was it! I transferred two years of East Stroudsburg credits over to Mercer County,” he said.

Both alums truly enjoy the work they do despite the fact that their days can change with one phone call. 

“You have to really want to help people,” explained DeMaio. “I think you have to be very patient and willing to give up a lot of free time. But I love it! When I wake up in the morning I just can’t wait to get to work. I almost feel guilty that I get paid for what I do. I love it that much,” he said.

And, just like DeMaio, Bentzinger finds his work as a funeral director very fulfilling. “I get satisfaction when the family members thank us for what we have done,” said Bentzinger. “When they tell us everything went perfectly —  and knowing I was a part of that — especially when everyone comes to you and thanks you by name, it is very rewarding. Mercer definitely prepared us for what we are doing.”

DeMaio does find time to stop and smell the roses. He takes what he calls “mini-vacations” in Rhode Island and Bay Head. In his spare time he attends classic car shows and Thoroughbred horse racing at Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport. He enjoys entertaining and cooking. But, even so, he always has his cell phone with him, just in case.

“For me, this line of work is a calling,” explained DeMaio. “You know, you have a family who has lost a loved one — maybe a teenager who loses a mom or dad — you try to offer them as much comfort as you possibly can. I think one of the things that people experience is this feeling of isolation and that nobody will understand. They don’t know what tomorrow is going to be like, so you try to console. For me, it just comes naturally to ask ‘what can I do to help you?’ and just kind of help them through the process.”

From someone who works so intimately with life and death, DeMaio has a wonderful outlook on life. He suggestions are to start every day with a positive thought and celebrate the people in your life and things you love. “Life goes by fast and nothing is forever, we are just passing through,” he said. “I want to say there is really a spiritual connection between life and death and I think after people pass away they are still with you in so many forms, so you really aren’t left behind.”


To find out what it takes to succeed in the Funeral Service Education Program at Mercer County Community College read the recent Q&A with Program Director Michael Daley


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Jimmy DeMaio, Owner of  Bridgewater Funeral Home mccc news

A request for a stop-payment on a check set off a series of events that led Jimmy DeMaio to re-evaluate his life's plan and get into the funeral service business in December of 1999. DeMaio is the owner and executive director of Bridgewater Funeral Home located in the southernmost section of Somerset County. A graduate of Mercer County Community College (MCCC), DeMaio has a degree in business administration and in mortuary science.


Bryan Bentzinger at Bridgewater Funeral Home

Mercer County Community College alumnus Bryan Bentzinger from Hunterdon County has been the man behind the scenes at Bridgewater Funeral Home in Somerset County since 2015.