Karvonen celebrates 30th year as funeral director at family-owned funeral home

Photo by Chad Koenen
Greg and Suzi Karvonen continue the Karvonen family tradition of providing quality funeral service care in the greater New York Mills area.

By Chad Koenen


Greg and Suzi Karvonen sit around a large wooden table in one of the meeting rooms at Karvonen Funeral Home in New York Mills. They are just steps from the home that Greg has lived in just about his entire life, and a stones throw away from the chapel where his siblings and he played in growing up. 

Photo by Chad Koenen
Karvonen Funeral Home has remained in the Karvonen family for 98 years. The locally owned funeral home is currently operated by Greg and Suzi Karvonen.

There were the epic games of catch indoors, plenty of open space to roam and a few reminders from his parents to keep the music down when they were preparing for a service or family reviewal. It also wasn’t uncommon for Greg to come home from school and see a recently deceased person in their funeral home as the Karvonen family prepared to help a family bury one of their loved ones.

While he grew up in the funeral service industry, Greg said he never intended to move back to NY Mills after high school. He was born just across the street from his home at the former NY Mills hospital. Greg joked that he was the only one of his siblings who was simply walked over to the hospital to be born and walked back a few days later, but the idea of living in town wasn’t on his radar. 

Recently, Greg celebrated his 30th anniversary as funeral director at Karvonen Funeral Home. It was a path he may not have originally intended to take, but one he has never looked back on since returning to NY Mills. 

While attending college at Mankato State, and eventually St. Cloud State University, Greg said he was in need of a major when he began looking at mortuary science. With the support of his family, who Greg said never pushed him into the industry, he took an accelerated course in mortuary science and graduated in just 11 months. He graduated from Mid-America College of Funeral Service in Jeffersonville, Ind., with honors in 1992 and joined the local funeral home in 1993.

“My parents never pushed me for this, but they always offered,” said Greg. 

After he graduated from mortuary science school, Greg and Suzi moved back to their hometown and began working at the family funeral home. Both NY Mills natives said they felt a tug to come back to the community with its small-town and caring atmosphere. Suzi said people in NY Mills and the surrounding area are always willing to help one another out in a time of need, which isn’t always the case in other communities outside of the area.

“I appreciated the small town atmosphere,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Even though his parents never forced the funeral home business on any of their children, Greg said taking over a business that was in his family since the early 1900s was something that was extra special. The funeral business has been in the Karvonen family for 98 years. Greg and Suzi purchased the family business from Greg’s parents in 1998.

“Growing up in a funeral home I would help dad with a lot of the behind the scenes work,” said Greg. “It meant a lot to carry on the family tradition.”

Today, Greg lives in the same home he grew up in as a child, as he and Suzi continue to serve a growing list of residents from across the region. No longer are the Karvonens just serving people from NY Mills, Henning and Wadena, but they are getting phone calls to provide funeral service arrangements from families hours away. 

Both Greg and Suzi said they feel honored when they receive a phone call to provide funeral services from families, some they know and others they don’t, as a funeral can be one of the most challenging times in a family’s life. 

Suzi said the family is fortunate as “we really don’t have a career,” rather, being funeral directors is more of a way of life for the NY Mills family.

In addition to the funeral home in NY Mills that has been in the Karvonen family for 98 years, Greg and Suzi have also purchased Belmont-Karvonen Funeral Home in Henning and have started Karvonen Funeral and Cremation Service in Wadena. Both locations have provided the family business more offerings for families in need, while also ensuring a loved one never leaves their care from the time of their passing to a funeral. 

Another unique part of their business is that they continue to be independently owned and operated, which is a source of pride for both NY Mills natives. 

During a staff Christmas party in December, Greg was given a commemorative frame to honor his 30 years as funeral director. Suzi said several of the staff members provided some comments about his impact on the industry and the community, along with several commemorative items to mark the career milestone. 

“They put a lot of work and effort into that,” said Suzi. 

Suzi said the staff members at Karvonen Funeral Home are second to none and they wouldn’t be able to provide the service and care for families in need without every one of them.

“We couldn’t do this without them,” she said.

Several of the staff members shared of the impact Greg had on their life and professionally. 

“Greg is among the most compassionate and honest people I’ve known,” said Emma Bartels. “He’s able to listen to anybody while providing support to families, employees and friends alike. I’m grateful for an opportunity to know such a great role model, and I appreciate the guidance he has given me. And the many, many memes…congratulations on 30 years.”

Donna Uselman shared a story about how Greg helped with her father’s funeral 12 years ago.

“Greg helped me with my dad’s funeral 12 years ago,” she said. “All I can say is he is an amazing man who can bring a smile, a glimmer of hope when it feels like there is none. Working for him has been great, as I have often mentioned, he is the best boss ever! His presence in a room brings a sense of calmness. I’d just like to say thank you to him for being there for all of us.”

Admittingly, Greg said he didn’t even realize he had been a funeral service director for 30 years. He said he was surprised when Sam Salo informed him of the milestone. 

With a laugh, Greg said he didn’t even know he had been a funeral director for 30 years, but “now that I know” he said he is honored to have been able to serve the area for the past 30 years. 

In addition to their work at the funeral homes, Greg and Suzi have remained active in their hometown. They were instrumental in beginning the Ronald McDonald House RIDE in NY Mills, an annual motorcycle ride attracting up to 1,000 bikers to the community each June, and have also served on countless boards and committees to assist in the expansion of the greater Otter Tail County region. 

Both Greg and Suzi said they are looking forward to continuing to be a part of the community and funeral home industry for years to come. 

More about Karvonen Funeral Home

Karvonen Furniture Store and Funeral Home was established in 1926 by Yalmer and Ina Karvonen in NY Mills. They established the business in NY Mills and operated the business until turning over the reigns to their son Harold Karvonen.

Harold and Nancy Karvonen were married in 1947 and Harold graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in mortuary science. Harold and Nancy operated the family furniture store and funeral home in Sebeka, before making their home back in NY Mills in 1954 when Harold joined his father at the family furniture store and funeral home. Through the years, Nancy has provided many of the woman’s touches to the funeral services. 

In 1999 Harold was honored by the State of Minnesota, Mortuary Science Unit for 50 years as a Minnesota Licensed Funeral Director.