HOMETOWN HERO: Artists of Love

The greatest calling is to love one another, believe Karl Olsen and Deb Lund. Their goal in life is to treat all with love. This talented couple has all the earthly talents of being respected teachers, admired publishers and recognized musicians and writers. Lund has published several children’s books; Olsen has cut CDs. Yet for those who know this couple, what stands out most is their conviction to love others.

The greatest calling is to love one another, believe Karl Olsen and Deb Lund. Their goal in life is to treat all with love.

This talented couple has all the earthly talents of being respected teachers, admired publishers and recognized musicians and writers. Lund has published several children’s books; Olsen has cut CDs.

Yet for those who know this couple, what stands out most is their conviction to love others.

Kathy Willson, a fellow musician and volunteer, speaks about Olsen and Lund. “There isn’t anything more artistic than to love. They help inspire all of us to create a life with more love in it. Whether that is creating a garden to share, a moment to treasure, a quilt to warm someone, or a friendship.”

Karl is the most talented, supportive and patient musician I have ever known, and Deb a gifted writer, singer and listener. I have witnessed both of them non-judgmentally help others to reach their own perfection.”

Olsen’s brother Vern, a Greenbank-based musician, says he has always been in awe of his brother’s and sister-in-law’s gifts and talents. But what he regards even greater is their sensitivity, caring and loving spirit towards all life.

“It’s my goal to treat all with love, but I fail everyday. God’s still working on me,” Karl Olsen notes.

Lund adds, “I have to remind myself of this goal daily.”

They both say this is where forgiveness comes in — of themselves and others.

“Treating life with love means returning not only love for love but love for hatred, eventually we can win hearts,” Olsen says. “We could be a heart in the world, bent on committing senseless acts of love.”

Lund says we have to let love in, too. She feels that many times we want to fix all the injustices of the world, and we often feel there’s nothing we can do.

“That can leave us overwhelmed, feeling guilty, even bitter. If we can balance those feelings with compassion, then the compassion becomes our action,” she says.

“This doesn’t mean that we stay in a toxic situation; sometimes it’s necessary to leave a job or a person. But we still need to forgive, even if we leave an organization or never see the person again.”

Olsen adds, “Our ideals are to treat all lovingly, but we certainly aren’t there yet.”

A crucial key is not casting blame.

“We have a ‘fault free’ marriage,” Lund says. “This means we do not blame. If we are upset, angry or hurt, we speak our mind and heart, but we do not blame the other.”

Now If I can just do that daily with my kids.”

“Oh, I am so not finished yet,” Olsen chips in.

Lund adds, “We don’t want anyone to think we are enlightened or anything. Far from it, it’s easy to say all of this, but acting this way every day is another thing — but it is our goal.”

Olsen began Seminary to become pastor.

“Before entering, I remember a pastor said to me, ‘If you can walk away from the pastor call, run!’”

However the call of music was something Olsen couldn’t ignore. He left the seminary, but not his faith.

“Jesus, radically inclusive, has become a symbol for some as an exclusive figure and faith. I cannot get to condemning a person for his actions, or calling him evil. We need to leave judgment to God.

We have to find a way other than condemning someone to death to show them killing is wrong,” Olsen explains.

Olsen says Jesus gave us examples of forgiveness. Recently in the news, the Amish practiced this radical forgiveness after their own children’s lives were taken in the Amish school shootings. Olsen says the actions of the Amish are witness that the Christian God is a God of forgiveness. Forgiveness is, as Christianity teaches, the prerequisite to peace; “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”

The couple’s youngest son, Jean, and friend Spencer are playing in a nearby room. Lund and Olsen begin to make lunch for the kids, the couple working together like a right and left hand.

They each were full-time teachers before having their first child, and then switched to one income.

“We live just as well as we did on two incomes, just differently,” Olsen says.

The couple was not able to have children until 1996 when their son Kaj was born. Deciding not to have more biological children, they began looking into adoption.

Soon, a 4-year-old child named Sandra, who was living in Haiti, came to their attention. The couple felt drawn to her and wanted to bring her into the family.

Because of the coup d’etat in Haiti, the adoption process took over a year. Lund says she was worried about Sandra’s safety. And when Olsen went on a singing tour with the Shifty Sailors, Lund learned that Sandra had a brother, Jean, who was only 1 ½.

“After an e-mail came saying someone wanted to adopt Jean, I couldn’t get a hold of Karl, and I had to make the decision right then if we would take Jean, too. So I told the adoption agency we would take both.”

She places her hand over her husband’s hand and holds it softly.

Olsen says, “I called home a half hour later to warn Deb about my lost ATM card, and to my surprise, I found out we had another child,” he says with a warm smile, looking into his wife’s eyes.

Once the country was safe enough to enter they traveled to Haiti to bring home their two children. The couple had traveled before to developing countries, but never had they seen this kind of poverty.

Lund says, “I remember a thin man with raggedy clothes holding up a bicycle tire pump hoping to get some money for it to buy food.”

It’s been almost three years since they brought home Jean and Sandra. Lund says there are a lot of complexities when older children are adopted.

“Of course we wouldn’t trade this decision for anything. Now we have more children to love,” she says.

Olsen points out that all love is risky, though. He quotes Anais Nin, saying it hurts more to remain closed in a tight bud, than it does to take the risk to blossom.

By giving their love the couple helps others to bloom.

Marilyn Field, a local volunteer, writes, “Karl and Deb’s constant love for me has renewed my faith in God, in the human race and in myself. Their forever love gave me the self-worth to leave a really abusive relationship. They supported me, lifted me up, prayed for me.”

Field says it was this love for her that helped her bloom and realize her passions and dreams; it brought laughter and joy back into her life.

Volunteer Paul Kukuk writes, “When I first heard Karl and Deb’s golden voices my soul was deeply moved.”

“I later came to know Karl and Deb and found them certainly more than musicians and writers. They have touched our community and the wider world with their gentle ways and their sincere desire to treat all with love.”

Karl Evan Olsen

Born: March 3, 1956, in Seattle.

Siblings: Four: Vic, Vern, Val and Merrilee.

Education: University of Denver (bachelor’s of music education, master’s degree in arts).

Spouse: Deb, married Aug. 26, 1989.

Children: Kaj, 10; Sandra, 8; Jean, 5.

Years on Whidbey: 33.

Hobbies: Gardening, working on building our home, playing with kids, music, politics, the outdoors.

Adages: “A kind word will carry you a long way.”

“Recognize the Divine in your neighbor.”

What does it mean to have power?

“True power resides in the ability to share your power with others.”

What job couldn’t they pay you to do?

“Be a crash dummy.”

Five people on South Whidbey you admire? Jim Lindus, Bill Humphreys, Linda Good, Dan and Karen Erlander.

Deborah Ann Lund

Born: Feb. 7, 1956, in Chisholm, Minn.

Siblings: Two: Cindy and Tom.

Education: St. Cloud State University (bachelor’s degree in music, bachelor’s degree in education); Hamline University (master’s degree in applied liberal studies).

Years on Whidbey: 17

Hobbies: Writing, reading, drawing, painting, hiking, canoeing, kayaking.

Nine South Whidbey people you admire?

Vern Olsen, Nancy Nordoff, Judy Yeakel, Celeste Mergens, Peggy Taylor, Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, Lynn Willeford, Randy Hudson.

Adages: “You don’t know who you are until you know who you are not.”

“We are all on the same team.” “There’s enough to go around.”

What would you like to do over and better this time?

“Everything, well, almost.”

One question you would like to ask God?

“Am I on the right track?”

Which animal are you most like?

“A bird who flits around on the edge of things, occasionally diving in like a river otter.”

What others say

“Karl and Deb have an immense talent. Their voices and writings are that of angels. What is most remarkable is the love in their hearts that touch people. Their love and compassion shines in everything they do, and every aspect of their life. A world full of Karls and Debs would be a beautiful place indeed.”

Pastor Jim Lindus, Trinity

Lutheran Church, Freeland

“In a world that has grown increasingly harsh and brittle, Karl and Deb stand for civility and integrity. I’m proud to say that

I not only admire them but I love them dearly. Their lives, dedicated to family and community, are clearly blessed, and they share those blessings with us all.”

Shelly Hartle, artist

“Back in the 1970s Karl taught music in South Whidbey where our kids attended. All the kids loved him — and we moms thought, ‘There must be a wonderful woman out there somewhere for such a great guy.’ Karl’s brother Vern Olsen introduced Deb — and they are the perfect couple. They are talented, positive, fun and willing to take the financial and personal risks to follow their pathway of integrity and peace.”

Gloria Koll, writer and advocate

“Karl has been an important part of the school’s staff serving as an instructor for music and dance courses. Deb is the true creator of our Coupeville School District Home Support Program called CEDAR (Child-Centered, Experiential, Democratic, Authentically Assessed Respectful). She literally came into the district office on my first day (July 1, 2002) to describe this vision. The now 80 students being supported through CEDAR are able to ‘cross the bridge’ between the two different programs to meet their educational needs.”

Bill Myhr, Coupeville School

District superintendent

“I really got to know Deb and Karl in the big holiday snowstorm in 1996 when their son Kaj was born. All their careful plans for his birth had to be changed when they woke up to two feet of snow and Kaj was on the way. Christina Baldwin and I were able to get to the hospital and serve as doulas for the birth. The love and steadiness between the two of them simply shone despite the extenuating circumstances they were under. And that is how they are in this community — steady and moving from a place of love.”

Ann Linnea, teacher & writer

“They walk the talk with exemplified grace. Karl has taught me to reach heights and challenges I would otherwise not have achieved or tried. He has been a wonderful teacher and mentor to me. Deb makes me laugh and look at the lighter side of life. They are beautiful and humble people. The world is just better with Karl and Deb in it.”

Linda Nevermann, bell choir director and volunteer

“Karl and Deb have been such an important part of our lives. We met them our first summer here in 2001, thank God because we didn’t know anyone. Deb invited our kids to sing with Karl’s children’s choir, Splash — even though we went to another church. Our family was playing a game called ‘life stories’ just the other night. One of the questions was, ‘Name someone who has been a mentor to you.’ For both of our sons, Keith and Kyle, that person was Karl Olsen.”

Pearl Zimmerman, homeschool parent and volunteer

“One thing that inspires me the most about Karl and Deb is how, as a couple, they help each other’s dreams come true. As two highly creative people with needs to support a family, one could end up sacrificing for the other — doing the ‘day job.’ Instead, I see them constantly balancing their lives so that each gets to express their creativity; Deb in writing, Karl in music, and both in dedication to family and community. They honor each other’s souls.”

Christina Baldwin, writer/

story catcher

“They live in harmony with the Creator, nature and all people. What would South Whidbey community be without musicians, artists, storytellers and teachers? My answer is ‘poor, very poor.’ They share with us the gifts that make us more human — beautiful music which brings joy and sometimes tears, stories that enrich us, challenge us, make us think, expand our horizons and make us laugh. (I still laugh at one of Deb’s books about the Dinosailors throwing up.) They grieve over the way the world is and they envision the way the world could be. That, in my opinion, is heroic.”

Dan Erlander, pastor and


“My husband and I have long admired Karl and Deb’s integrity, compassion, commitment and passion in working with children. When my husband Jim and I were considering who we would want to raise our own children if anything happened to both of us, without hesitation we knew it would be Karl and Deb. Their commitment to whole and healthy parenting inspired us to stay committed to our own parenting. Their heart-vision of a world grounded in understanding, care, justice and respect is readily apparent in their day to day actions.”

Annette Andrews-Lux, pastoral associate at Trinity church

“Along with Karl’s brother Vern Olsen, Karl and Deb are both legends and two of the most amazing, wonderful, talented sweet and loving people I know. Karl and Deb have given so much to this community and beyond — sharing their musical talent, their humor, their teaching skills and writing skills, sharing their love of the environment and teaching children how to care for the creatures of the earth. Karl and Deb make this earth a better place.”

Susan Berta, Orca Network