Each year South Whidbey schools choose one senior to be featured as a hometown hero
BY SUSAN KNICKERBOCKER
Not everyone gets a good start in life. Some are born into severe poverty, where even food is scarce and living is survival. Some have negligent parents, some are born with physical attributes that the world can be cruel about. These are examples of the sad reality of life.
However, if one is fortunate enough to be brought into a world of loving parents, good food and shelter, good genes, good looks, good mind, and a caring community? While there are no guarantees in life, with all the right ingredients one has a great chance for a good life. Take Emma Lungren.
Mark Eager, South Whidbey High School coach and teacher called Lungren the “exclamation point to a long line of exceptional Lungrens.”
“As her track coach I enjoyed watching her train and compete in the distance events,” he said. “But my fondest memories of Emma are not in the classroom or the track, but atop the region’s highest peaks with her father. That’s where Emma earned her real education, outside and with her outstanding family.”
Lungren says, “I know I am fortunate and privileged, any problem I have is a first world problem, or one of my own making. I don’t ever want to be a little princess in any way. I want to do and give my part, and help those less fortunate than I have been. I have the best parents, and Lenna and David Rose are the best ‘fairy’ godparents that anyone could ask for.”
South Whidbey High School senior Aleah Stacey writes about how Emma is always giving to others.
“What I love most about Emma is her sincere drive to be of service, in any situation, [it’s] something that continually astonishes me,” Stacey said. “She’s never complacent or detached. Emma’s warmth is genuine, and her innate goodness shines through in all of her words and actions. Her commitment to her community, as evidenced by her work with the Key Club, is an energy that never fades. She gives herself a lot of responsibility, and always delivers on her promises. Emma is someone I deeply trust and respect. She has a firm moral compass, and a bold heart.”
Lungren feels so fortunate in fact she took a job years ago that she knew would give her a negative experience in life. “I wanted to know what it’s like to be in a stressful place, where people were not always thoughtful. I was determined to last the season, and I made it, though I admit I was in tears a few times. I am glad that I took that job, but mostly I’m glad it’s behind me.
The business is located on South Whidbey and, true to her kind nature, Lungren requested it not be included in this story.
“Now I have the best job ever at the Useless Bay Animal Clinic, where everyone is so kind and helpful,” she said.
Lungren has a soft place for those who appear left out as well. Sally Gunder remembers her encounter on a bus.
“I doubt if Emma even remembers as I am guessing my encounter with Emma was probably something she does often, but it meant so much to me,” Gunder said. “I was having such a hard day, and was feeling all alone. The door opened to the bus and this girl walks in and asks if she can sit with me. She introduced herself and then listened to my tough day. She made me feel like I had a friend, and that someone cared about me. It’s been three years and I still remember her kindness.”
Lungren says, “I know what it is like to be hurt by people, and I don’t ever want to do that to anyone. When I entered the sixth grade I thought I had good friends, but all of a sudden they started to avoid me and [were] saying hurtful things about me at school and called me at home to continue the cruelty. I was so hurt. I found out how cruel some people can be. I talked to my mom about it, she helped, and in time I found new true friends. This experience gave me a compassion for the outcast.”
She also has a heart for the homeless and needy. She has volunteered to help the struggling in several areas: Hearts and Hammers, homeless trips, her church in many capacities and recently to Haiti on a mission trip.
She is relaxed on an old, overstuffed couch in the youth room of the church she attends. An hour into the interview, there’s a knock at the door and her dad Kevin comes in. Immediately she laughs out loud saying, “I knew you would show up. Come on in, dad.”
A few minutes later her mom, Mary Jane, knocks and it becomes a family interview with lots of laughter and philosophical conversations. Lungren reads from one of her favorite poems, ‘Invictus,’ by William Ernest Henley. Then she shares a scrap of paper that her mother gave her.
“I keep this with me all the time. It simply says, ‘She was on a great adventure.’ I keep it because my mom gave it to me, but also because it is very symbolic,” Lungren says, as she and her mom smile at one another.
The three of them have many kind words for one another — the love and admiration between them just flows out genuinely. Kevin says, “This isn’t a normal teenager parent relationship. I know we are so lucky.”
Emma interjects, “The idea of a ‘teenager’ is a 19th century term. Before that people were either children or adults, there was no in-between.”
Emma spouted many “fun facts” like that throughout the interview.
She and her dad talk about one of their climbing trips to Mt. Blanc last summer. It was a scary trip that changed her outlook.
“You know how teenagers mostly feel invincible? Well, after that near death climbing experience, I haven’t felt that way anymore,” she said.
They have gone on many summits, but none of the others were in extremes. Sensing her mother was uneasy with this dangerous climbing memory, Lungren changes the subject.
She reflects, “It will be hard to leave my support here, and this community of extended family, when I go off to Whitman College in fall. I have no clue what I want to do in life. I wonder what’s the matter with me, shouldn’t I have an idea? All I know is I want to help people in some capacity. I hope I can find my passion soon.”
Josie Dodd, a South Whidbey High School student and close friend, says, “Emma is one of those people who not only inspires you to be your best, but also actively encourages it by dragging you along on her quests to make the world a better place. I frequently find myself wondering why she does so much for so many people, and I think it is because she’s one of the few who sees a problem in our society and is the one willing to step up to make the change.”
This past spring break, Emma went with her church to Haiti to help rebuild their community that is still struggling from the earthquake. When she had returned, Dodd asked how her trip was, what kind of work she did, who she met and if she had any “crazy” stories.
“All I got in return was ‘It was good,’ a quick smile and then it was back to whatever we were previously talking about. It’s not that Emma didn’t enjoy her trip, but that she never likes to talk about herself and is always incredibly humble. In fact, many people that I talked to at school didn’t have any idea where she was and why.”
The president of many clubs at the high school, Emma is a natural leader who people are more than willing to follow, Dodd said.
“Emma deserves this award more than anyone because she’s kind, open minded, and willing to help anyone that needs it — she inspires us all to give much.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY
“Emma has been an employee at the Useless Bay Animal Clinic since last November. She is a hard worker and gets things done without being told. She is well-liked by our staff and clients and her sunny disposition gives us all a lift when she comes in after school. It is a pleasure to be associated with a young woman of her caliber.”
Dave Parent DMV, Useless Bay Animal Clinic
“It has been an absolute joy to watch this Hometown Hero grow up. Emma was formed by a loving family and by the community of South Whidbey Island. Emma was blessed with the most wonderful role models. Mary Jane, Kevin, brother Sam, and sister Zora modeled lives of faithful service for little Emma. Emma was watching and now Emma has served in a variety of capacities at Trinity Lutheran Church. Emma has taught Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and acted in our plays. She works in the church nursery sharing her love with our little ones. She is quick to lend a helping hand, a healing hug, or to share a word of encouragement.”
Pastor Jim Lindus, Trinity Lutheran Church
“The first time we met Emma was when we climbed Mt Rainier together. Emma has wisdom and maturity beyond her years. Emma is committed to her community and family. She has a genuine interest in the people around her and tries her best to be a role model in every activity she takes part in. Emma is such an astounding young woman that deserves this title.”
Reuben and Jennifer Baker
“One of my favorite Emmaisms: ‘The more you get to know people, the more you like them.’ It is so true, and so Emma. My mother always said, ‘Common sense isn’t commonly found’ and Emma has uncommon common sense. I still am amazed at how Emma seems incapable of complaining, whether it be physical discomfort or homework/life expectations. I am a fortunate dad indeed.”
Kevin Lungren, father
“I have been running cross-country with Emma since middle school and I will miss her much on the team next year, as will everyone else! She has been an amazing teammate and captain! I remember when she was a junior she and Caitlin spent days prepping decorations for our running camp. She’s just an all-around great person.”
Mallorie Mitchem, South Whidbey High School junior
“Emma has been a wonderful role model for the student athletes at South Whidbey High School over the last four years. While she has won several honors in cross country, I believe the legacy she leaves behind is one of commitment and dedication towards her academics, sports and community service.”
Douglas Fulton, teacher and cross country coach
“I have known Emma as a student and a climbing partner. I have also seen her prove herself by literally learning the ropes needed to get to the summit of Mt. Rainier as well as several other Washington peaks. It takes a special kind of trust to tie onto a climbing rope and head across a glacier riddled with 100-foot-deep crevasses. I have had Emma on my rope in the past and hope to do so again in the future.”
Greg Ballog, teacher
“Emma has always put others first; she is always volunteering and helping out in the community as much as she can. She was the president of Key Club this year and helped bring this club onto its feet. She inspires others to always be their best and always encourages people to work their hardest.”
Isla Dubendorf, South Whidbey High School senior
“Emma is an amazing mix of sweetness and kindness and strength of character and determination. She is able to be compassionate to the children and able to push herself to run that last mile, or summit a mountain. She is so hard on herself and so easy on the rest of the world!”
MaryJane Lungren, mother
“What makes Emma Lungren stand out in the community is her kindness, respectfulness, and integrity toward others. Emma never tries to be the center of attention, instead focuses on others. She once told me that she wanted to do something in her life to help people, and she is well on her way to this goal! You can count on Emma to find the person who has been excluded, and to draw them in with her generous caring nature. Numerous times, I have seen her cross the finish line only to go back and cheer on the finishers, down to the last person to finish the race.”
Lenna and Dave Rose,
“Emma is a delightful person to be around. She is good natured, hard-working, reliable, self-deprecating, kind and compassionate. Emma is constantly giving of herself. She helps others with classwork and projects. She volunteers to take on added responsibilities. She is consistently positive and supportive. She is a role model to her peers and to adults like myself.”
Clyde Monma, volunteer teacher/tutor
EMMA ROSE LUNGREN biography
Birth: February 18, 1997, Bellevue
Parents: Kevin and Mary Jane
Siblings: Sam, 26 and Zora, 24
Years on Whidbey: 18
Education: SWHS, attending Whitman College in the fall
Hobbies: Running, reading, naps (if she can get time), hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, traveling, hanging out with friends, and my family.