Death Becomes Them: Morticians Strip for Calendar

Morticians can be hunks, too. Just check out Travis Barton.

Barton, 22, is "Mr. March" in the 2008 Men of Mortuaries calendar. The calendar's catch phrase: "These are just a few of the things that we do with our suits off."

"I'm kind of shy about it," said Barton, who is pictured in cowboy hat and jeans, but no shirt, standing next to a horse. "But my family all think it's great."

Friends and family have all got a good laugh out of his selection for the calendar, Barton said. His grandmother, with whom he's living while he takes a year off from school, keeps the calendar in a prominent location in the hallway, always turned to his picture. He has to pass it every morning.

Barton, a Lexington native, was one of 14 men selected for the 2008 Men of Mortuaries calendar. A spin-off of the traditional "hunks" calendars, it features funeral directors and morticians from across the country.

A student at the Dallas Institute of Funeral Service, Barton was at school one day when a secretary got a brochure seeking applicants for the calendar. She told him he was entering. He was surprised when he made the first cut for 25 semifinalists. Then the applicants' real work began: dieting, exercising and tanning, so they didn't look like corpses. The calendar hopefuls were up against some stiff competition for the final 14 spots.

"I didn't want to lose," he said, "and I'd never been to California" where the shoot was held.

The farm boy started working out two to three hours every other day to build muscle. Some of the competitors had to lose weight, but Barton needed to put some on. He gained about 10 pounds for the shoot.

"My friends and I go out and they tell all the girls 'Hey, he's Mr. March in the dead people calendar,"' he said.

The calendar debuted in 2007. It was started by Ken McKenzie, of Long Beach, Calif., who also appears in its pages. All proceeds from the calendar's sale go to KAMM Cares, a nonprofit foundation started by McKenzie in honor of his sister, a breast cancer survivor.

The foundation gives grants to women who need financial help for such necessities as child care or groceries during their treatment. McKenzie was awarded the Outstanding Funeral Director of California award this year in recognition of his charity work for the foundation and other causes.

Barton's grandmother also is a cancer survivor.

"I get a lot of ridicule out of this whole thing from my friends, but it's been worth it," Barton said. "Everybody has known somebody that has been touched by breast cancer, and this is for a good cause."

McKenzie also wanted to change the stereotype about funeral home directors.

"We're not all gray-haired with a hump on our backs," he said.

Barton has been the most popular of the models in the 2008 calendar, McKenzie said.

"I don't know about that," Barton said. "In California, it was a big whoop and holler because I'm a cowboy and was in my boots and jeans. They don't see that, but here in Oklahoma it's no big deal."