East Side History Madison’s Blog

By and for the East Side History Club, a project of the Goodman Community Center

Wrapping up: A report on October’s meeting, 4 Generations of the Gunderson Funeral Home

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on November 27, 2016

 

Pete Gunderson, 3rd generation, presented to our club on October 15, 2016.

Pete Gunderson, 3rd generation, presented to our club on October 15, 2016.

Imagine our surprise when Pete Gunderson wheeled in three caskets to the Goodman Community Center for the East Side History Club meeting on October 15th.  He said he would be bringing some historical items for his talk on the history of the Gunderson Funeral Home and on past and current funeral practices but we didn’t expect two full size caskets (one was a beautiful new wicker biodegradable casket and the other was an older traditional Norwegian casket) as well as an historic child’s casket (with a window so people could see the face of the child and not catch whatever communicable disease the child had died from).

3-memorabilia-and-child-casket

Child’s casket with window is visible behind Gunderson Funeral Home memorabilia.

4-norwegian-casket

Traditional Norwegian casket

5-wicker-casket

Modern wicker biodegradable casket

Pete Gunderson is the third generation of Gundersons to be funeral directors on Madison’s East Side, joining the firm in 1982.  Pete’s son, Matt, is the fourth generation.

Pete’s grandparents, Elmer and Inez Gunderson, started the business from their home at 1932 Winnebago St. in 1922. Elmer had been a medic during World War I, transporting and handling the bodies of soldiers who died on the battlefield. After the war, he came to Madison and worked for the funeral director Otto Schroeder on King Street. He decided to attend embalming school so that he could start his own funeral business.

Gunderson residence and first funeral home at 1932 Winnebago Street, Madison.

Gunderson residence and first funeral home at 1932 Winnebago Street, Madison.

In 1926  Elmer and Inez built a beautiful new funeral parlor at 1936 Winnebago Street.

Unfortunately, in 1940, at the age of 45, Elmer died of a heart attack.  His wife Inez had 7 young children to raise (5 daughters, 2 sons) so she went to the Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago and took over the business, involving the children in various tasks until they left home.

Bob Gunderson, Pete’s father, was only 14 years old when his father died.  He helped his mother the best he could until he graduated from East High School in 1944. After serving in WW II and attending the UW he went to the Wisconsin Institute of Mortuary Science in Milwaukee to become a licensed funeral director. Under his and his mother’s leadership, the business thrived.  They built a new facility at 5203 Monona Drive in 1956 and acquiring 6 other funeral homes in the Madison area.

The original Gunderson home and funeral parlor was physically moved from 1936 Winnebago St to 107 Dunning St. in 1956.

The Winnebago Street funeral home continued to be used until the property was sold to Security State Bank for their expansion in 1965.

Inez Gunderson died in 1987 at the age of 91.  She had married Elmer in 1914 and became president of the funeral home after this death and continued until her retirement.

Her son Bob died in 2005 at age 79.  He had been in the business for more than 50 years.

By Ann Waidelich

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One Response to “Wrapping up: A report on October’s meeting, 4 Generations of the Gunderson Funeral Home”

  1. Phil said

    Considering who usually shows up for these lectures it took a lot of guts to schedule.

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