Four generations of Boulgers have kept Fargo funeral business going

Editor's note: "In the Family" is an occasional series on multi-generational family businesses in the Fargo-Moorhead area. If you have a business to suggest for this feature, send an e-mail to

Jim and Larry Boulger
Jim, left, and Larry Boulger work together at Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Editor's note: "In the Family" is an occasional series on multi-generational family businesses in the Fargo-Moorhead area. If you have a business to suggest for this feature, send an e-mail to .

As a funeral home director in a long line of family members in the same profession, Larry Boulger came to terms early on with the temporary nature of life.

"I have no illusions," he said. "I know I'm not going to be around forever."

His family business, on the other hand - a Fargo fixture that has survived for more than a century - just might. Founded in 1897, Boulger Funeral Home, 123 10th St. S., has passed from father to son through four generations of Boulgers.

The family first came to Fargo in the mid-1880s, while North Dakota was still a territory. Like many early Fargoans, Larry Boulger's great-grandparents first tried their hand at a popular industry: hotels. The family built three in total.


And those, like many early Fargo hotels, burned down. When John V. Boulger, Larry's grandfather, went into business, he shifted industries, partnering with Ed Hughes to open Boulger and Hughes Funeral Home in Barnesville, Minn. In 1920, they bought another funeral home and moved to Fargo.

When John Boulger died in 1928, his 15-year-old son James took up the mantle, working with Hughes until 1950, when Boulger bought Hughes out. James Boulger retired in 1978 - just in time to sell the funeral home to Larry, who'd graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in mortuary science a few years earlier.

And when Larry decides it's time to step down, he'll have his own son, Jim, currently another funeral director at the home, waiting in the wings.

Both father and son say the opportunity to work with people and make a difference during difficult times drew them to the family business. They find it rewarding to help families through the process of mourning, Jim Boulger said. They find it enriching to work with the wide range of cultures and traditions that use their services.

"You can do this job if you're a people person," Jim Boulger said. "You wouldn't realize the amount of time we spend with people and the variety of the experience."

The Boulgers concede there's no such thing as an easy funeral. The hours are challenging - they're essentially on call 24 hours a day and sometimes meet with families in the middle of the night after a death. It's draining to make arrangements for deceased children or family and friends, Jim Boulger said. Indeed, theirs is one of the few lines of work where seeing a familiar face walk through the door is a bad thing.

But if it's going to happen - "and you know it's going to happen," Jim Boulger said - the Boulgers figure arranging for tasteful, meaningful services is the best thing they can do.

In more than three decades at the funeral home, Larry Boulger said the biggest changes he's seen in the industry have been driven by technology. His father used to draft documents and obituaries on an old typewriter with two broken keys; now, Larry and Jim can do so in a conference room on a wall-mounted monitor with the family watching. Mourners can now leave notes in an online guestbook or get a copy of the services on DVD if they can't attend.


Cultural norms have shifted, too, Larry Boulger said. People are more mobile now than they were in years past and often travel in from out of state for services. A few decades ago, he said, the vast majority of services took place in churches; now, they take place in a wide variety of settings.

Jim Boulger said he and his father get along well at work - they have separate duties and spend at least as much time working apart as they do together. When he needs guidance, he said, it doesn't hurt to have his dad around: "The man is a wealth of knowledge."

He said he didn't always plan on taking up the family business - he got a business management degree from the University of St. Thomas in 2007 to keep his options open.

"But I always had funeral service in the back of my mind," he said. He added a funeral services degree the next year.

Larry Boulger, 59, said he doesn't have retirement on his mind yet. He still enjoys his work, he said - perhaps more so because he understands better than most that it ends sooner or later.

"It doesn't make you a fatalist," he said of his business, "but it does make you appreciate what you're doing."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

What To Read Next
Get Local