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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Helping Families Look to the Future with Hope In Fargo Moorhead

Funerals help to recognize the fact that a death has occurred and provide a setting for family and friends to face the reality of death—the first big step towards working though grief. Funerals also bring family and friends together to support each other during a very difficult time.

Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, Fargo, is owned and operated by third generation funeral director John Runsvold and has provided funeral arrangements in our community since 1920. John’s great grandfather was instrumental in the beginning of the business and John’s grandfather Joseph became an owner and mortician. Then, just as John’s father James was graduating from Concordia College with an English degree, he also decided to become a funeral director.

The next generation of family funeral directors came in to existence when John was born in 1953. He graduated from Fargo North High School in 1971. After attending NDSU for two years and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, John graduated with a B.S. degree in Mortuary Science in 1975.

John joined his grandfather, Joseph, his father, James, and partner, Neal Bradburn, at Hanson-Runsvold as the third generation funeral director. John and his wife, Cydney, have owned the funeral home since 1982.

John is active in community affairs, including past president of Fargo-Moorhead Sertoma Service Club, Past Master of East Gate Masonic Lodge, past SE District Governor and Past President of the North Dakota Funeral Directors Association. He served on the Audit Committee of the National Funeral Directors Association, is Past President of the First Lutheran Church Foundation, Past Chairman of the First Lutheran Church Television Committee and Past President of Hospice of the Red River Valley.

John is currently President of the North Dakota State Board of Funeral Service. He was elected to serve as vice president on the Executive Committee and as District 6 Governor of the Board of Directors for the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards. John also serves as a member of the Exam Committee that writes the National Board Exam for Funeral Service and sits on the By-Laws Committee and the Curriculum Review Committee for the American Board of Funeral Service Education, which accredits the schools of Mortuary Science.

John has always worked at a funeral home. He started working at the family’s business when he was eight years old pulling weeds and picking up garbage. A little older, he started to mow the grass surrounding the business and washing cars. By 10th grade he knew that he wanted to work in the family business as a funeral director.

John had an early interest in psychology and sociology that followed him through college, since it is an important part of Mortuary Science studies. Years later, his interest and expertise in this area has helped him deal compassionately and kindly with people’s emotions during the highly emotional time of grieving.

John said that his profession is actually uplifting and not depressing as people expect it would be. Being a funeral director is a helping profession and John mentioned that it is uplifting to help people get through the initial shock of a loved one’s death. John works to put himself in the family’s shoes during the difficult time of a member’s death and guide them through the many decisions that need to be made.

It used to be that the funeral home business was usually a family business. John said that is not the case now. Other changes within the profession include people becoming funeral directors as they embark on a second career to do something more meaningful. And today, more women are going in to the profession. In fact, more women now are in Mortuary Science university programs than men.

John stressed that his profession is not just a job that he does. The word vocation comes to mind realizing the inclination, abilities and complete commitment that it takes to work in this profession. It is intense and John is linked to his business 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The biggest adjustment has been for John’s wife and three children. Sacrifices need to be made by family since weekends, evenings and holidays are not exclusive when you are needed by someone during a crisis.

A typical day for John can include funeral pre-planning meetings with people, meeting with families to decide on arrangements for an immediate death that has occurred, and working at funerals and memorial services. John said that he does not care for the business end of the funeral home’s operations and has an office staff to help with business functions.

John keeps learning about his field through continuing education classes and attending conventions. His active participation in The Pursuit of Excellence program of the National Funeral Directors Association encourages the exchange of ideas between directors throughout the country.

John is committed to business excellence and his favorite saying is, “Any job worth doing is worth doing it right.” John believes in leading by example and asking the question ‘what can we do better?’ He is more interested in improving his business than in expansion. It is clear that John is doing what he loves. After 32 years of working as a funeral director he said that he still enjoys coming to work every morning.

Every day at Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, John and his staff are assisting and guiding people through all matters concerning death, the funeral and burial of a loved one. Every day John is helping families look to the future with hope.

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