Obituary: Bursch Travel owner Fred Bursch

Fred Bursch, the longtime leader of Bursch Travel, died Dec. 23 at home in Alexandria, Minn., after a battle with cancer. He was 70.

Bursch Travel’s roots were planted in 1956 when Fred’s parents, the late M.W. “Pete” and Audrey Bursch, purchased the Bus Depot Café in Alexandria. While operating the restaurant, they started selling bus tickets, then airline and steamship tickets. 

The business evolved into a full-service travel agency, featuring popular group trips led by the Bursches.

Before their son Fred was drawn to travel, he had other interests, according to a 2019 feature on him in Alexandria Alumni Magazine. One of Fred’s early loves, alongside the string bass, was math. He studied computer programming at the Alexandria Technical School, before attending the University of Minnesota. There, he was again pursuing math, but a particularly difficult course altered his path and he opted instead for law.

After earning a bachelor of science in business administration, followed by graduating from law school in 1976, he worked for a Minneapolis district court judge. But during a visit home, Pete asked his son if he could help with the travel agency.

Fred took over the agency’s operations in 1977, eventually purchasing it in 1986. 

Bursch worked at the agency with his wife, Terri. Of his two daughters, Joanna Hawthorne and Lara Deppisch, Lara followed in his footsteps. Deppisch, Bursch Travel’s vice president, is the third generation of Bursches to lead the company.

Fred’s family remembered him as kind, generous and community-minded.

“I have truly been blessed beyond measure to have traveled where we have traveled during our 18 years together,” his wife Terri said, recalling trips to Europe, Japan, Egypt and beyond. “When asked, ‘What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled?’ our response was always, ‘Every place is special in its own way.’ But, we both agree and would tell you, Fred’s marriage proposal to me while on a Nile river cruise is our most cherished memory.”

Hawthorne said her father was always present for his family.

“In an ever-busy world, he made every piano recital, every volleyball game, every choir concert, teaching us to water ski, and every family dinner,” she recalled.

He also inspired their wanderlust “but also helped to guide us home,” she said. She fondly recalled a time when she told her father she would be in San Francisco for work; he promptly hopped a plane from some 200 miles away and met her for dinner right off the tarmac.

“My dad was a kind, caring and generous man,” Deppisch said. “I think the most important thing to him was community. Whether that be the travel community or his local community, he would give any of his resources to help out.”

At Bursch Travel, Deppisch added, “We don’t call each other coworkers — we’re the Bursch Travel family.” 

The travel community Fred was so fond of was equally fond of the man himself. He gave back, as well. Fred had an ASTA membership since 1967. He held the role of ASTA National Treasurer from 2006-2008 and sat on the ASTAPAC Committee from 2012-2014, among other volunteer endeavors in his local community.

“He will be sorely missed by so many,” said Lee Hurd, president and CEO of Bursch Travel, who will continue to lead the agency where she has worked for more than 34 years.

Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, of which Bursch Travel is a member, agreed.

“Fred lived an incredibly full life, filled with faith, family and love of our industry and the people in it,” Sharpe said. “I considered Fred a mentor and was so appreciative of his cool hand and sage advice.

“We will always be proud to be associated with one of the true greats in our industry and one of the most caring people I have had the pleasure of knowing,” Sharpe added.

Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president of advocacy, pointed to Fred’s leadership of the society’s Upper Midwest Chapter in addition to his time on the national board of directors.

“He never wavered in his support for ASTA and its mission,” Peck said. “More importantly, he was a great human being — the kindest, most gracious man anyone could meet. I feel lucky to have been able to spend time with him at a TAMS meeting last month, where he characteristically volunteered to participate in our ongoing lobbying efforts on travel agency relief. He will be missed.”

Bursch is survived by his wife, Terri; daughter Joanna and her husband, Jon; daughter Lara and her husband, Bob; Terri’s children, Rachel and Erik Esbjornsson and Lucas and Shannon Mogenson; seven grandchildren; and siblings/in-laws Barbara Bursch, Mary Kathryn Bursch Celli and Phil Celli, and Charles and Heide Bursch.

A celebration of his life is planned for Saturday, Jan. 15, in Alexandria. Visitation will be the day before, Friday, Jan. 14.

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