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Life Story / Obituary
Karen grew up in Albuquerque, where she did all her schooling, from first grade through university. She was awarded a voice scholarship to the University of New Mexico, and she sang as a mezzo in several operas, including the role of Hansel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Seeking a wider world, Karen attended the Goethe Institute in Bad Aibling, near Munich in West Germany (as it was then known), where she studied German in the summer of 1965. One of the teachers, Eva Augsburger, offered to share her apartment with Karen, if Karen wanted to return, so she again visited Bad Aibling in the summer of 1966. She met some of Eva’s students and invited one of them, who was John, for a walk in the local park.
In 1966 John had just finished his junior year at Hope College, and he was attending the Goethe Institute by virtue of a tuition scholarship awarded by the German government. His home was near Philadelphia, and he was very struck by a pretty young American woman from Albuquerque who invited him to walk with her in the park. He admired her self-confidence and independence, but it turned out that he was more taken with her than she was with him. He was so taken, in fact, that he flew to Santa Fe the following summer to visit her. He wrote to tell her he was coming (no email in those days, of course), and the letter arrived the same day he did. The visit was very successful as far as he was concerned, but perhaps less so for Karen, who was all but engaged to a musician from Albuquerque and quite stunned by a visit from a man she barely knew, who wrote a letter to say he was coming, not to ask if he could.
As it turned out, Karen decided not to accompany her musician friend to Julliard, and she was glad to exchange letterswith John and to learn that he planned to visit her in Mountain View, California, where she was teaching, in December, 1967. She asked if he would like to join her for a visit to Big Sur, and he was glad to say yes. By the time he returned to Chicago, where he was studying for his Master’s degree at the University of Chicago, they were engaged.
Neither John nor Karen recommends marrying with so little knowledge of one’s partner as they had when they got married, but both are glad that they took the risk because they have lived through a lot together for fifty-four years so far. They survived a nearly fatal car accident six months after they were married. They were separated by John’s having to join the Marine Corps Reserves in order to avoid being drafted to fight in Vietnam. While John was in boot camp, Karen resigned her teaching job (their only source of income) to protest her school’s refusal to admit Black children. She and John eventually welcomed three children of their own into their family, and they moved from Chicago to Santa Barbara to Victoria, B.C. to Boston and finally to Holland, Michigan, as John pursued a career in college teaching.
During the Kosovo crisis in the 1990s, Karen accepted an invitation to train doctors and nurses in how to assist people on a short-term basis who were psychologically traumatized. She did this work in Albania, which was overwhelmed at the time with tens of thousands of refugees who had fled the violence in Kosovo. Until retiring in 2004, Karen worked for the Allegan County Intermediate School District, driving all over a large rural county to visit families who had a young child (three years and under) with a delaying condition. John and Karen have traveled extensively together, several times to England and once for a few weeks to Japan with their adolescent children. John traveled to China in 2013 to attend an academic conference in Beijing and then hired a guide to help him retrace the flight of his parents from the invading Japanese army in the spring of 1942.
A funeral service will take place on Thursday, June 8 at 1:00pm at Maple Avenue Ministries (427 Maple Ave. Holland), with a one-hour visitation prior to the service. Burial will follow at Gibson Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Community Action House, or Community Action Allegan.