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Laura, Evie and Craig Olson at West Funeral Home in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service

Olson taking over West Funeral Home

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Serving the area for 97 years, West Funeral Home, West Fargo and Casselton, has earned the honorable distinction as the longest running licensed funeral home in the state owned by the same family.

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Craig Olson plans to carry on that tradition after taking over fourth generation ownership of the business May 3 from his uncle William "Bill" West.

The business was originally founded by Bill's grandfather, Soren S. West, who graduated from Worsham College of Embalming in Chicago, Ill. in 1914. In 1916, he and his family moved to Casselton, where they established the West Funeral Home and Furniture Store.

In 1935, Soren's son, Wayne G. West also graduated from Worsham College and returned to Casselton to work for his father. He purchased the business in 1945.

Upon graduating in 1970 from the Wisconsin Institute of Mortuary Science in Milwaukee, Wis. Wayne's son, William "Bill" West began working there. In 1974, Bill built the West Fargo location and eventually acquired the funeral home in Casselton from his father in 1979.

After 30 years of service to West Fargo, the facility underwent an extensive addition and remodeling project in 2004. The Casselton location was also recently updated.

Olson comes to the position with 16 years as a funeral director at West Funeral Home, carrying on the long standing commitment of providing dignified and compassionate service to families during their time of greatest need.

A self-professed workaholic, the roots of Olson's caring run deep, literally growing up around a profession that would actually elude him for a while when decision making time came regarding his future.

Olson grew up on the family farm between Argusville and Arthur (his mom, Jeanne, is Bill West's sister), attended grade school in Hunter graduating from Dakota High in Arthur, and went onto attend North Dakota State University earning a business and economics degree. The latter year and a half of his schooling he worked part time for the ASCS office and also helped out at West Funeral Home on occasion.

After graduating in 1994, Olson thought about attending mortuary school but was unsure that was the direction he wanted to pursue. Consequently, he was offered a fulltime position for ASCS and decided he would be foolish not to take it and explore the opportunities.

The job took him to several county offices throughout the state and, ironically, it was during these travels that Olson was pulled toward the mortuary profession.

As he remembers "My passion for funeral service came in my journey across the state on my weekly business as I was drawn to funeral imagery that presented itself whether it was driving down the highway seeing a funeral procession or seeing a hearse fill up with gas. I realized that all of these things I was noticing were more than coincidences, they were more of a calling into the funeral service and finally they all became too powerful for me not to act on."

Olson said from a family standpoint everybody was supportive, "but there was a lot of concern over whether or not I wanted to be that dedicated to what would be required of the work in terms of the long hours, nights and weekends and the missed family activities."

Olson ultimately realized that it would be all worth it, so after ten months he resigned and started on a quest for mortuary school; graduating with high distinction in 1997 from the University of Minnesota Minneapolis with a bachelors degree in Mortuary Science.

As fate would have it, Olson was fortunate to be called into the family business immediately when a retirement in West Fargo left an open position and he promptly agreed to accept it. .

That brings the story to today and the next new chapter in his life that will now affect Olson's family on a larger scale. His wife, Laura, will be coordinating payroll and bookkeeping responsibilities on a part-time basis, and both will be devoting as much time as possible to little Evie, their 17-month old daughter.

"For me it is really an honor and privilege to be able to continue the family tradition," Olson stated. "I have a special passion and dedication to providing quality service and value for what we do as well as making sure people get everything they need on behalf of their loved one to help them through literally one of the toughest times of their lives. I take that trust the family gives you very seriously."

Olson said part of that trust will continue to focus on special remembrances that go into making the day uniquely special to a family, here mentioning a Harley Davidson and a horse carriage that were recently incorporated into services representing a life. "Details are what it is all about and if there is something unique or special people can have or hold onto that is just very important."

Olson said eventually he will try to incorporate new elements into the daily experience at West Funeral Home that will provide a little extra comfort - like a small hospitality center, with coffee, bottled water, and snacks, available to families at all times; as well as a special area for the little children, with toys, and video viewing capabilities.

Commenting on his departure after a forty-year association, Bill West said he has mixed emotions but feels really good about the transition that results in a fourth generation of ownership. "Life is a series of stages for everyone and for me it's time for someone younger with more energy and new ideas and enthusiasm to continue the tradition that we have been working on in the Red River Valley since 1916. I wish Craig well. He is talented and committed and I am quite confident he will do a good job of fostering the kind of operation that we have all been trying to build for almost 100 years."

West Funeral Home is located at 321 Sheyenne St. in West Fargo and 31 6th Ave. N., Casselton. Inquiries can be made by calling 282-6699, West Fargo, and 347-4422, Casselton. More information is available online at www.westfuneralhome.com

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