Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Many Fargo residents were born and raised in the area and have only known Fargo as their home. If not born here, many arrive to Fargo for college and stay living in the area pursuing career opportunities in town. But for retired couple Dave and Sue Johnson, this isn’t the case.
The Johnsons planted roots in south Fargo the beginning of the year, moving into their new custom home in the cold of February. With no ties to the area, the couple moved here from just two states east, Wisconsin.
It’s about a 15-hour drive from their Wisconsin home to Williston, ND, where their new 10-month-old grandson, son and daughter-in-law live. Doing this drive over and over got tiring, but these grandparents didn’t want to move all the way to Williston and be too far from their remaining Wisconsin family. On the map between the two places is Fargo, so the decision to move there was made.
Realtor Betty Wieland of Park Co. Realtors worked alongside the Johnsons to help them transition into this new city. Wieland specializes in relocations, helping out-of-towners learn about Fargo and finding the perfect house for them. “When we first met, they were still trying to decide between Fargo and Sioux Falls. The first time they came here we just did a tour of the town,” said Wieland. “Shopping the town” is the first step in many relocation stories. Before settling on a desired neighborhood, it’s essential to learn the lay of the land and what the city has to offer. The Johnsons are retired and were involved in a number of volunteer activities in their old town, so making sure they would have access to similar opportunities in Fargo was essential.
“When a relocation comes in, we try and talk to them ahead of time and try to decide what their personalities are like, what their interests are, where they like to do their shopping, what the family size is and what the reason for moving here is,” said Wieland, “So typically the first time we meet a relocation family, we don’t actually take them out and try and sell them a house. We are really trying to sell them on our community of Fargo-Moorhead.”
For a full day, Wieland toured the Johnsons around the city, sharing with them a highlight-reel of Fargo’s amenities that she thought they’d enjoy. For starters, she showcased the versatility of the Fargodome, the fandom behind the Fargo Force, the roster of big-name entertainment that comes to perform, the uniqueness of the West Acres Shopping Center and the revitalization of downtown. It was proven that the Johnsons certainly wouldn’t be bored here.
The Johnsons came into the moving process trying to decide between Fargo or Sioux Falls, but after this culture tour, Fargo won out. “We are very happy we decided to come [to Fargo.] Even though we have to explain to everybody why we moved here,” joked Dave, acknowledging that he’s aware that non-job-related move to Fargo is uncommon.
Once Fargo was decided on, it was time to search neighborhoods and create a must-have checklist for a house. On their checklist included a three-car garage, one-level ranch layout, open floorplan and a gas fireplace. As their home touring continued, they further narrowed in on elements they really wanted to include and excluded older homes and smaller plot sizes. Previous to the home they are in now, the Johnsons have lived in four custom-built homes. “When you build houses and have certain things you want, it narrows the field,” said Dave. Also wanting to downsize narrowed this field even more.
After touring some homes, the couple and Wieland decided that building a custom home might be a better route. “With having sold real estate for nearly 40 years, I always tell people, they could give me a very detailed list, right down to the interior color, and I could go and find that exact house for them. But if it doesn’t feel right, they shouldn’t buy it, and that’s kind of where we ended up,” said Wieland. No existing home felt “right” to the Johnsons and that “right” feeling didn’t happen until they visited an empty plot of land in a new neighborhood in south Fargo.
“You get spoiled. When you’ve built houses, you tend to not be as forgiving for where you’re going next,” said Dave. Dave and Sue had become accustomed to the comforts of their previous homes and weren’t ready to give up the elements they loved the most.
Lucky for them, Fargo has an array of custom home builders of all styles. After touring model homes and floorplans from various builders, they decided that Monarch Homes and their Livingston floorplan was the best fit for them. So the building began.
While custom-home building is often a hands-on experience for the future homeowners, the Johnson’s conducted the whole process long distance. There would be days they would come to town to select finishes in a whirlwind of vendor meetings, spend the night and go back to Wisconsin the following day. While this was hectic at times, their experience with custom homes meant they knew what they wanted and could make decisions quickly.
After a few weather-related delays, in mid-February the home was completed and the Johnsons moved in. To live a true “welcome to Fargo” experience, the family filled the house with their belongings in a snow-covered surrounding. Once settled in, they decorated the home with their own tastes and truly made it their own. The photos of their children and grandchildren displayed throughout give the feeling that family isn’t too far away and showcase the reason they embarked on this big move.
To say that they have become integrated into the community is an understatement. Since settling in, they’ve hosted many friends and family and have already found nonprofits to get involved with. Between visits to the east and west to visit their children and grandchildren, the Johnsons volunteer at a number of places, including Hope Blooms, The Fargo Theater and the Fargo Public Library.
Perhaps what sums up the Johnson’s household the best is a series of three coordinating pieces of art that hang on the wall by their dining table. The first is an outline of Wisconsin with Sue’s maiden-name “Seidl” in a playful script and the words “Her Home State” beneath it. The far-right piece shows Michigan and reads “Johnson” and “His Home State.” And the final, center piece shows an outline of North Dakota and reads “The Johnson’s” and “Our New Home State.” No matter where you are born, where you were raised or where you made your career, “home” is wherever you find family and community, and the Johnsons have found their new home in Fargo.