135th VFDA Annual Convention

Marriott Oceanfront Virginia Beach

135th VFDA Annual Convention

The VFDA 2023 Annual Convention will be June 11-14, 2023 in Virginia Beach, VA at the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront!

Start Date: Sunday, June 11, 2023

End Date: Wednesday, June 14, 2023


Important Links


Please see below for the Convention Keynote Speakers

Monica Torres

Monica H. Torres, Monica is a LE, LFD, LC, Postmortem Reconstructive Specialist, Desairologist and internationally recognized public speaker, technical trainer and author. Monica is also the owner and founder of startup company NXT Generation Mortuary Support, LLC (est. 2011). NXTgen is a trail blazing trade service company which not only offers traditional embalming services and staff support, but also develops untraditional modern online death education programs for professionals and families. Community outreach, death education and accredited technical training programs are at the core of NXTgen’s management and consulting service department. Monica believes that, “nurturing a path toward success serving families begins with professional development, focused strategies in the prep room, and educating the public.” NXTgen works with your firm to host an opportunity for growth while increasing profits, modernizing antiquated service models and guiding your staff towards a fulfilling career.

Monica is deeply committed to the future of funeral service and has worked in all aspects of the ministry from working in the trenches of the prep room to working as the General Manager for one of Arizona’s largest and fastest growing funeral home and cemetery combos.  Monica is a first-generation Funeral Director and Embalmer and has worked in the beautification of human bodies since the age of 16.  After becoming licensed by the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology, Monica opened her first salon and spa business at the age of 18.  Having an affinity for art and being able to see the rare beauty in death, her compassionate nature led her into funeral service and restorative artistry and postmortem reconstructive surgery on the deceased.  After her completion of the Mortuary Science Program at Mesa Community College, and while still an Embalming Intern, Monica had her first course; Airbrush Artistry for cosmetic use in the Prep Room accredited in 2010. Monica concentrated her efforts and focused on the fantastic art and science of post mortem reconstructive surgery at the world-renowned Fountain National Academy of Professional Embalming Skills. During her attendance at FNA Monica developed the “No Wax Torres Technique,” coined by other professionals in the field this surgical hair implantation technique has proved to be an alternative to traditional wax hair restoration and the modern embalmers choice for hard cases. Monica was honored in 2016 by Vernie Fountain with the FNA Distinguished Professional Service Medallion for her contribution to funeral service.  Monica’s mortuary support company was featured on the cover of American Funeral Director Magazine in 2018 and recognized as one of the funeral industries most innovative companies helping to shape the future of funeral service. Monica’s passion lies in the prep room but she also receives gratification from helping funeral service professionals and funeral homes modernize their own services, products and procedures.

NXTgen hopes to be able to continue to develop and offer accredited education and progressive service models for funeral homes such as the “Family Assisted Dress Experience” (as featured in Mortuary Management 2015). Monica’s experience in event planning stems from her education at Arizona State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Recreation Management with Emphasis in Tourism and Event Planning.

NXT Generation Mortuary Support gives back to our community by supporting the next generation of funeral service by raising money for aspiring female and transgender embalmers though sales of her ebook “Embalming Tips Revealed Volume 1” which helps to raise funds for her “Hi Precious Scholarship” which was instituted to help break down social and political barriers for women and transgender individuals in funeral service.  Monica is a lifetime learner and is currently a junior at ICCFA University. Monica lives in Phoenix, AZ with her beloved Doberman Pinschers, Cash and Fancy where she enjoys dog training/handling and city life.


-David C. Baue Scholarship for Women in Funeral Service, NFDA 2022

-Award of Excellence, 100 Black Women in Funeral Service 2019-2020

-Scholarship recipient ICCFAU College of Sales 2019

-Scholarship recipient ICCFAU College of Cremation 2018

-Honoree, 2016 FNA Distinguished Professional Service Medallion

-Honoree, 2016 St. Joseph of Arimathea Award of Excellence, Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Cemeteries

-The Fountain National Academy of Professional Embalming Skills, 2012-2013 Scholarship

-100 Black Women in Funeral Service, Mortuary Educational Stipend, 2011

-Association of Women Funeral Professionals, The Rosemary C. Stacy Memorial Scholarship 2010


Valerie J. Wages

Valerie has worked with Tom M. Wages Funeral Service, served as a National Training and Development Specialist and as a Commencement Speaker. Her career has included consulting with and developing funeral home personnel throughout the United States, as well as in Europe. She is recognized as a sought-after public speaker in the death care profession for her passion for serving families and being able to communicate to funeral service professionals the important role they play in the lives of people when a loved one has died. Valerie graduated from Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in education and was an honor graduate from Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service in Atlanta, Georgia on August 19, 1977. She is a licensed Embalmer & Funeral Director in the State of Georgia and holds the designation of Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) through the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice (APFSP). Valerie has received numerous awards and recognitions in her career, such as, serving as the first woman President of the Georgia Funeral Directors Association (1988-89) and first licensed woman Embalmer and Funeral Director to serve on the Georgia State Board of Funeral Service. Valerie was a recipient of the Initiative Award given through the National Funeral Directors Association Professional Women’s Conference in recognition of outstanding leadership and commitment to funeral service. Valerie’s commitment to provide exceptional customer service, provide each family with meticulous attention to detail and help family members and friends begin the next journey of their lives without their loved one physically with them on this earth has been her most rewarding work in her life. She received her 40 years Achievement Award from the Georgia Funeral Directors Association on June 6, 2018. Valerie resides in Lawrenceville, Georgia where she still sees families that ask for her at Tom M. Wages Funeral Service in Lawrenceville and Snellville, Georgia, as well as speaking at various seminars and conventions.

Dr. Rick Snow

Dr. Rick Snow is President of Forensic Anthropology Consulting Services, Inc.  Prior to forming his consulting company, Dr. Snow was the forensic anthropologist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from 2002 to 2009.

He worked in Kosovo excavating mass graves as an agent of the United Nations and spent eight months in Bosnia excavating mass graves for the International Commission on Missing Persons.

Shortly after returning from Bosnia, Dr. Snow was called to Noble, Georgia to work the Tri-State Crematory incident, in which a crematory operator left 334 bodies to decompose in the woods rather than cremating them.

In 2005 Dr. Snow spent three weeks in Thailand as a Coordinator in the Thailand Tsunami Victim Identification Information Management Center.

In 2014 and 2015 Dr. Snow traveled to Germany to recover the remains of American aviators who were shot down in World War II.  Dr. Snow also worked with History Flight, Inc. on the South Pacific island of Tarawa recovering the remains of Marines who were killed there in 1943.

Since forming his consulting company in 2009, Dr. Snow has worked with medical examiners and law enforcement to identify the dead.  He also works as a consultant for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

He worked for seven years as a patrolman with the Dekalb County Police Department in Decatur, Georgia.  Dr. Snow received his Master’s and Ph.D. in Anthropology from The University of Tennessee.

Seth Austin

Seth Austin serves the Commonwealth as the State Registrar and Director for the Office of Vital Records within the Virginia Department of Health. His duties include administration of the system of vital records and associated tasks to ensure that Virginia’s vital records are secure, accessible and reliable, and that service is provided to customers and partners in a professional and modern way. Seth has served with the Virginia Department of Health since 2016, has been the Director of the Office of Vital Records since 2020 and was appointed as Virginia’s seventh State Registrar on February 2, 2023.


Michael Sharkey

Michael is a veteran attorney with a passion and enthusiasm for litigation. He also possesses a unique knowledge of the funeral industry and mortuary lay. He is currently General Counsel to the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association. He represents and advises funeral homes, crematories and
cemeteries on legal and business matters. He also represents licensed professionals in administrative disciplinary hearings from the Minnesota
Department of health and the federal trade commission. Before he became an
attorney, he was a Funeral Director with a large funeral chapel and cemetery
operation in the metropolitan area.

Michael was previously in-house counsel and on the trial team with Nationwide Insurance Company where he was involved in litigation and arbitration. Prior to that, Michael worked as an attorney with a local civil litigation law firm focusing on insurance, coverage, premises liability, industrial equipment, utility liability, construction defect and toxic/mass tort cases.

Michael is a qualified No-Fault Arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.

He has been listed a s Minnesota Rising Star since 2009.

Michael also served in the United States Marine Corps.


Eric Bliley

Eric is a fourth generation Bliley. His father was the late Joseph W. Bliley, III, former President of Bliley’s. Eric has a BA degree in Business Management from Lynchburg College. There he was a 4-year varsity athlete and 2-year captain with All ODAC in Golf. In 2008, Eric received his Associate’s Degree in Funeral Service from Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service. He became a licensed Funeral Director in February of 2009. Eric is married and has two sons. He enjoys spending time with his family and playing golf at every level. The title for my talk “Don’t be a dead beat.”


Abe Zysman

Avram H. (Abe) Zysman, a passionate and dedicated advocate for his clients, has been helping families with their planning needs for more than 20 years. Abe began his legal career in 1996 as a summer associate with a firm in Arlington, Virginia. After graduation from the New York Law School in 1997, Abe joined the Epstein Becker & Green law firm in New York City, and worked with attorney Peter J. Strauss, a pioneer in elder law and one of the foremost estate planning attorneys in the country. Mr. Strauss was instrumental in nurturing Abe’s curiosity and passion for the field of estate planning.

After working in New York City for five years, Abe moved south to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he worked as an Associate for Ferris & Associates, P.C. a law firm specializing in estate, trust and business planning. Five years later, Abe and his family relocated to the Tidewater area, where he opened his own practice, The Zysman Law Firm, P.C., in Virginia Beach.

Abe meets with all types of families, young and old, blended and traditional, as well as individuals and businesses. He advises clients regarding complex individual, trust and business taxation issues. In addition, Abe implements charitable strategies and
establishes elder parent’s and special needs trusts for families who wish to protect their incapacitated loved ones. He prepares LLCs, business succession plans and administers probate and intestate proceedings.

Abe has distinguished himself as an engaging and enthusiastic speaker before numerous civic and military organizations and businesses, and has spoken to thousands of families in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Abe has published numerous articles on various estate planning issues in many journals, including the Virginia State Bar’s Trust and Estates magazine.

Abe received his J.D. from The New York Law School and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Estate Planning from the University of Miami School of Law. He has offices in Virginia Beach and Fairfax, Virginia and Pikesville, Maryland.


Kathy Feiring

Kathy joined Regulatory Support Services as a consultant in 2022.  She has been a Funeral Service Licensee in Virginia since 2016 after graduating from the John Tyler Community College program.  She earned her Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) designation in 2019.  Before joining Regulatory Support Services, she spent several years volunteering with her local Humane Society, Medical Reserve Corps, CERT (Citizen Emergency Response Team), and Volunteer Fire Department.  She has two adult daughters and two German Shepherds.  If she has any free time, she enjoys reading and learning new things, but you might just find her at the fire department driving an ambulance.



Please see below for the schedule of events for the 135th Annual Convention that is taking place June 11, 2023 to June 14, 2023 in Virginia Beach, VA.

Sunday June 11, 2023

7:30 AM – Continental Breakfast

8:00-10:00 AM – A Funeral Director in the Courthouse, Michael Sharkey (2.0 Hours)

10:30-11:30 AM – Preneed, Regulatory Support (1.0 Hours)

5:00 PM – Service of Remembrance (Business Attire)

6:00 PM – Social Hour

7:00 PM – Presidents Welcome Dinner (Sponsored by VFDA District Associations)


Monday June 12, 2023

7:30 AM – Continental Breakfast

8:00 – 9:40 AM – How to Prepare a Decomp for Viewing, Monica Torres (2.0 Hours)

9:50 – 11:30 AM – Perception by Your Community is Everything, Valerie Wages (2.0 Hours)

11:00 AM – VFDA Spouses Brunch (Tenative) Hosted by Joy Gardner

11:40 AM – 12:30 PM – Stress and Suicide, Eric Bliley (1.0 Hours)

12:45 -1:45 PM – Virginia Department of Health, Seth Austin (1.0 Hours)


Tuesday June 13, 2023

7:30 AM – Buffet Breakfast

8:00 – 10:00 AM – VFDA Annual Business Meeting (2.0 Hours)

10:30 – 11:30 AM – Tri-State Crematory, Dr. Rick Snow (1.0 Hours)

11:45 AM – 12:45 PM – Federated Insurance, Abe Zysman (1.0 Hours)

12:45 – 5:30 PM – Afternoon by the Beach

6:00 – 10:00 PM – Kids Club

6:00 PM – Social Hour

7:00 PM – Annual Banquet and Awards Ceremony

9:00 PM – Band and Hospitality (Sponsored by VFSA)

Wednesday June 14, 2023

9:00AM – Virginia Funeral Directors Association Board of Directors Meeting

VFDA – The Wishing Well – Tour Opportunities for VFDA attendees in June 2023

1. TopGolf

TopGolf Virginia Beach – Topgolf Virginia Beach, is the premier entertainment destination in Virginia Beach, VA. You will be able to enjoy climate-controlled hitting bays for year-round comfort with HDTVs in every bay and throughout the sports bar and restaurant. You will be able to use complimentary clubs or your own, take aim at the giant outfield targets and high-tech balls will score themselves.  This is a great activity for the whole family.  Special packages available for VFDA members by contacting Terrie Dean, VFDA’s Event Coordinator. (540) 908-2333, tdean@thewishingwell.biz

2. iFly

iFLY Virginia Beach – This is a fabulous activity that we are pleased to add to the lineup of optional activities for VFDA members for 2023!  iFLY is an indoor skydiving experience that creates true free fall conditions, just like skydiving, without having to jump out of an airplane. iFLY’s vertical wind tunnel generates 1600 horse power from 4 powerful fans, creating a wall-to-wall cushion of air on which you can safely float. There’s no parachute, no jumping, and nothing attaching you to planet Earth. It’s just you and the air, and it’s the most incredible adrenaline rush. No experience is necessary. Just about anyone can fly, including those with physical disabilities. Children as young as 3 to adults as young as 103 have flown with us. There are only a few exceptions—for example, if you’ve dislocated a shoulder or have had a neck injury, weight limit is 300 lbs.  Again special package pricing is available for VFDA members by contacting Terrie Dean, VFDA’s Event Coordinator. (540) 908-2333, tdean@thewishingwell.biz

3. Fishing Charters

Fishing Charters – With the food-rich Chesapeake Bay adjoining the Atlantic Ocean, fish here are abundant year-round. Let us connect you with any one of many fishing boat charter option.  You can opt for a full or half-day private charters. 70 to 90 percent of the world’s rockfish come from the Chesapeake Bay! With so many ways to get a bite, fishing in our waterways offers a year-round challenge for anglers of all skill levels. Just bait your hook and pick your platform.  Terrie Dean, VFDA’s Event Coordinator can assist with fishing charter reservations before, during or after the VFDA Convention! (540) 908-2333, tdean@thewishingwell.biz

4. Pontoon Rentals

Pontoon Rentals – Want to explore Virginia Beach on the beautiful waterways?  Be your own captain ! Explore the vast inland waters of Virginia Beach on your own private pontoon boat or bring a boat-load of friends for added fun!  Full and half day rentals are available during the summer season, seven days a week.  Terrie Dean, VFDA Event Coordinator can help you with your pontoon reservations. (540) 908-2333, tdean@thewishingwell.biz

5. Golf

Golf – Want to play a few rounds of golf before convention or relax after a few days of meetings?  Get the full benefit of your trip to Virginia Beach and enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer.  The perfect activity for guys and gals or mixed groups.  Terrie Dean, Event Coordinator for VFDA ((540) 908-2333, tdean@thewishingwell.biz) can hook you up with a challenging golf course and packages in a beautiful natural setting. If you have never played here you are missing a great round of golf.  Be sure to book early for best tee times available.

6. Spa Day

Spa Day – SeaHill Spa at The Cavalier – the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront’s sister property,  will provide the highest standards in luxurious and relaxing spa and salon experiences. With an extensive treatment menu, high standard of customer service, and top of the line products they have created a spa and salon which consistently exceeds guest’s expectations. Featuring 9 serene and dreamlike treatment rooms for guests to nourish and indulge their senses for rejuvenation. Feel free to reserve your spa appointments in advance of your arrival in Virginia Beach for the VFDA Convention and know that total relaxation is definitely a part of your vacation experience.  Call Terrie Dean, VFDA’s Event Coordinator to reserve your time at the spa. (540) 908-2333, tdean@thewishingwell.biz