Wright Funeral Home changes hands after 141 years in business
The new owners, longtime funeral directors Adam and Bailey Nordin, say they will continue to operate the local business as Wright Funeral Home.
MOORHEAD — After 141 years, one of the area's longest-running funeral homes is changing hands.
Steve Wright recently announced he and his wife, Leann, have retired and turned the operation of Wright Funeral Home's Moorhead, Hawley and Lake Park locations over to longtime funeral directors and brothers Adam and Bailey Nordin.
Steve explained the decision to retire from the business founded by his great-grandfather A.J. Wright in 1881 came after a brief illness.
Being in the funeral business your whole life, "you see people's dreams evaporating all the time," he said. "I've sat with so many people who said, 'We were just going to retire,' or 'We just retired.' Bad things happen. Even if they don't, 20 years can go like that."
Wright is healthy now and making the most of retirement.
"After we retired, we took a two-week trip to Tacoma and Milwaukee. My wife pointed out that only one other time did we do that," he said.
A history of service
A.J. Wright and partner O.C. Beck first launched the business in 1881 as Beck & Wright, a furniture, awning and funeral business.
Wright bought Beck out early on, and managed the business until his death in 1931.
His sons, Edgar and Walter, then assumed control. Sometime in the 1940s, the brothers split the businesses, with Edgar, Steve's grandfather, keeping the funeral home.
When Edgar died suddenly in 1952, Steve said his father, Edgar Jr., quickly enrolled in the mortuary program at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities while his mother "held down the fort."
In 1960, Edgar Jr. oversaw construction of Wright Funeral Home's current location at 605 2nd Ave. S.
Steve Wright started out in the business at an early age answering phones, mowing lawns and washing cars.
"As soon as I was able to drive, I was running around and helping in many aspects of the funeral business," he said.
While he did briefly consider going into woodworking or construction, Steve said it eventually became clear to him the funeral business is where he belonged.
"Really, looking back on it, I can't imagine what else I would do for a living. It just seemed to me to be kind of a perfect fit for who I am," he said.
When Edgar Jr. retired in 1992, Steve and his brother Edgar "Chip" Wright III took over the business. Steve assumed full control when Chip died in 2003.
That's when Steve said he leaned heavily on his wife, Leann.
"After my brother died in 2003, she wound up being somebody that I could lean on to help with everything from cleaning the toilets to running funerals or lunches or whatever," he said.
The couple have two children, both of whom have pursued careers outside of the family business.
"Neither of them really developed an interest in it. ... Moreover, I think my wife discouraged them. She knew what it was — a 24/7 commitment. She just thought they might be able to enjoy a more free life," he said. "They're both off doing things that they like and are doing very well."
Steve said selling the business to a corporation was out of the question.
"Fargo-Moorhead doesn't have any corporate-owned funeral homes. They're all independently-owned and there's a higher level of care because of it," he said.
That's just one reason it made the most sense to sell to Adam and Bailey, who plan to retain the Wright Funeral Home business name.
"The obvious people would be these guys who are already doing what we want to be doing. They're cut out for it, and they're both about 40. So, if you're going to give them some time to run and make a mark, they only have 20 years," he said. "They're the right age and the right people. I could wait around some more years and not have the right people."
Carrying on the tradition
The Nordin brothers grew up in Thief River Falls, Minn. Adam was the first to consider the profession after an aptitude test indicated his interests and skills would be a good fit. He shadowed a local funeral director before entering a pre-mortuary program at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He finished his bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota and worked for a few years in St. Paul before joining Wright Funeral Home in 2006.
Bailey followed his brother to UND, where he pursued a degree in mass communications, with an emphasis on broadcast journalism.
He moved to Arizona after college, but he kept a close eye on his brother's career back home.
"I was always really close with Adam and always interested in that side of things, so I actually went back to mortuary school down in Mesa," Bailey said.
He moved back here with his wife in 2013 to take a position with Wright.
"It's been a good fit," he said. "It's very rewarding."
Steve said he trusts the brothers to deliver the same service people have come to expect from Wright Funeral Home.
"You know, 40 years in this little community, I've got all kinds of widows and widowers out there who kind of still expect me to be there for them," he said. "If I can't be there with them, at least I can know they'll be taken care of exactly the way I would have."
Steve has also done what he can to prepare the brothers for the future.
"What I've really tried to instill in these guys — and I think they both believe this — you can't just come to work and do your job every day. You've got to be looking for how we can improve," he said.
"If you look at all the improvements in the funeral business over the last 15 years — from luncheons at the funeral home to video tributes to fancier programs to life tribute collage boards — you just have to constantly be looking at how to stay relevant because the culture is changing," he continued. "I think these guys are wired to look for those opportunities. It's unknown today what that will be, but I assume we will continue to lead."
The brothers are grateful for the opportunity.
“We sincerely appreciate the trust that the Wrights have placed in us. My brother and I understand how important it is to carry on the Wright family’s legacy, and we take this honor very seriously,” Bailey Nordin said.