Fargo's Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home hits century mark

This year, Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home celebrates 100 years in business. And John Runsvold can legitimately claim that he's been part of it in one form or another for well more than half of that time.

John Runsvold, co-owner of Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home in Fargo, is the third generation of Runsvolds to have an ownership stake in the 100-year-old business. (Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)

FARGO - When John Runsvold was very young, he lived with his parents above the original Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, then in the heart of downtown Fargo.

In 1960, at the age of seven, he was regularly pulling dandelions and cleaning the parking lot of what was then the newly built funeral home at 215 7th St. S.

When he graduated from high school in 1971, he moved into a two-bedroom apartment in the basement of the funeral home..

In 1982, he bought the business from his father and another partner to make it his own.

This year, Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home celebrates 100 years in business. And John Runsvold can legitimately claim that he's been part of it in one form or another for well more than half of that time.


“I’ve been here a big chunk of it,” Runsvold said Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Much of that working long days and holidays .

“You better think of it more than a job to last. You’re not going to last if it’s just a job. You have to be totally dedicated. And you have to have a very understanding spouse,” Runsvold said.


The job has been “anything but boring" the last couple decades, Runsvold said.
What used to be a nearly rote set of religious ceremonies - visitation, funeral, graveside goodbye - is now much more personalized, telling the deceased’s life story and reflecting their personality. Cremation is also much more popular, making up 65% of Hanson-Runsvold’s business.

Cremation has become a preferred option for people planning their death, says John Runsvold, co-owner of Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home. About 65 percent of the Fargo company's business entails cremation. Pictured are some of the many options for urns to hold cremains. (Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)

“When I first started, it was almost like fill in the blank,” everybody had a funeral, Runsvold said. “There is no normal now. The only thing the same is that people die. That’s how fast things change.”


With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanson-Runsvold has become much busier, with added precautions to keep employees well and to help families gather and grieve safely - Zoom meetings are in for planning, luncheons are out to head off virus exposure.

“The telephone just rings off the hook. We’ve been busier than normal. We’ve had over 20 COVID deaths,” Runsvold said, plus, “I think there’s a lot of people that have died just from loneliness” in retirement homes, as families have held off visiting to prevent virus transmission.

The funeral home was founded by O.J. Hanson in 1920 in a former church on Roberts Street and 4th Avenue North.

Hanson was also a member of First Lutheran Church in Fargo, where Runsvold’s great-grandfather, J.D. Runsvold, was a founding minister.

In 1945, Hanson became ill, and approached J.D. Runsvold about buying the mortuary. J.D., along with a couple of partners, bought it. By 1950, J.D. bought out his partners.

Neal Bradburn already worked at the funeral home and wanted to stay. John Runsvold’s father, Jim Runsvold, was finishing up at Concordia College, then went through the University of Minnesota’s mortuary science program before returning to Fargo and joining the business.

In 1960, the current funeral home was opened. And 11 years later, Jim Runsvold and Bradburn bought the business from J.D. Runsvold.

John Runsvold became the third generation of his family at Hanson-Runsvold in 1975, after graduating from the U of M’s mortuary science program.


John and his wife, Cydney, took over ownership of the funeral home in 1982.

Runsvold said the funeral services industry hasn’t been boring.

It’s changed quickly to match a rapidly evolving society. There’s custom, in-house printing. Computer skills are vital. Video and audio live streaming of services are a regular event. Video tributes and pre-planning and pre-paying are much more common.

A camera is situated over a door in a chapel at Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home. Live streaming of funeral services has become much more popular and has regularly been a part of funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic, owner John Runsvold said. (Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)

“It keeps you interested. No two families you help are the same. Every death is so different. Every family is so different,” Runsvold said.

“If you can pull them together and have a meaningful service, that is where the satisfaction is, that’s what keeps you going,” he said. “I guess without that, you wouldn’t last.”

John Runsvold is proud that he’s held several leadership positions in his industry, helping guide the education of funeral directors and set standards for schools.


He has served as Southeast District governor and past president of the North Dakota Funeral Directors Association. He served on the North Dakota State Board of Funeral Service for 10 years, and is a past president.

With the National Funeral Directors Association, he served on the audit and pursuit of excellence committees. He served on the national board exam, by-law, executive, international and education committees of the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards. He is past district governor and past president of that board.

He served on the Committee on Accreditation of the American Board of Funeral Service Education, too.

But now, Runsvold is starting to eye retirement. The hours are long and the lifting can become physically demanding.

“Plus, when you’re older and you've been here that long, you’re dealing with people for the second, third time. Your friends, your neighbors, your friends’ children, your friends’ grandchildren. It gets very difficult,” Runsvold said.

Casket corners are lined up in the basement of Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home to give people planning funerals or their families a variety of options to pick from. (Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)

But it doesn’t look like there will be a fourth generation of Runsvolds owning the funeral home.


His children don’t have an interest in taking over ownership of the family business, likely because they’ve seen up close just how demanding of time it can be, he said.

His successor may be another Hanson-Runsvold funeral director, Alex Rydell.

“He knows what’s happening. He’s a Fargo person. People know him,” Runsvold said. “He’s just so caring and very capable. And he also has the tech side, which we need around here."

His life's work has been rewarding, Runsvold said.

“Just being able to help people … at some of the worst times of their life, most difficult times of their life. Especially when you know them,” he said.

All the decades in the funeral business haven't altered that.

“You’ve got grieving families then. You’ve got them now. And how they deal with it. How we can serve them to help them through that, that hasn’t changed,” Runsvold said.

What To Read Next
Get Local