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Lutheran values realized at Seattle's Compass Center

By Steve Hansen

When the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake struck the Puget Sound region on February 28, 2001, Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square was among the hardest hit. Several of the district’s brick facades crumbled under the temblor, and many more buildings were deemed uninhabitable. One of those was the Compass Center, a homeless shelter with historically Lutheran roots dating back to the 1920s.

The earthquake struck Wednesday. By Friday, the Compass Center was red-tagged – determined unsafe by public safety officials.

“In hindsight,” said Cindy Jackson ’71, Compass Center development director and daughter of Kenneth Johnson, longtime dean of PLU’s school of education, “it might have been the best thing that ever happened us.”

In the years since, the Compass Center has undergone a $16.5 million, four-year rebuilding effort at its original Pioneer Square location. The refurbished (and earthquake safe) downtown facility reopened in June of 2005, one of 14 Compass Center facilities in King County. The new facility enabled the center to double in size, including 23 new single-occupancy apartments named after the center’s founders, Otto and Alva Karlstrom. The hygiene center saw upgrades and increased capacity and the temporary housing was improved to allow clients the dignity of their own personal space.

The Compass Center’s efforts are made possible by the 75 full-time employees and approximately 1,000 yearly volunteers (with a $3.8 million annual budget). Three integral players are PLU alums – Jackson, board president Michael Halvorson ’85 and late chaplain Nyer Urness ’52. Software and communications executive Roger Shanafelt ’86 also joined the board in 2006.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that these, and other, PLU graduates have found themselves involved here. “The Compass Center serves in the classic Lutheran tradition: provide services first,” said Halvorson who, after working for Microsoft for nearly a decade, returned to get his doctorate in history from the University of Washington and is now an assistant professor at PLU.

By “Lutheran tradition,” Halvorson means that the Compass Center has no agenda, other than providing needed services for the homeless. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to find permanent housing for each of Seattle’s estimated 8,000 homeless men and women. But as anyone who has dealt with the issue knows, it is much more complex than that; mental health and substance abuse issues play a large role, as do race and gender. Forty percent of Compass Center clients are veterans. So the Compass Center simply aims to provide comfort – no strings attached. Jackson calls it “a ministry of presence.”

That phrase could also be used to describe Urness, who was one of two chaplains on the Compass Center staff for nearly 20 years. Urness, who died just days after being diagnosed with a terminal illness this April, was a striking man in his 80s. He was – and certainly will remain – the face of the center. He was recognized in Pioneer Square as someone who was always willing to stop and chat, to pass out change to those who needed it, to visit hospitals and jails when clients found themselves there and, naturally, to refer a new individual to the many services the Compass Center offers. Urness continued to walk the streets of Pioneer Square, dispensing these small displays of compassion, even days prior to his passing.

Urness leaves a long legacy at the center, built largely on his unique ability of finding common ground for those who are homeless and those who are not. He was fond of paraphrasing Mother Theresa, saying that it was his job to get “the rich and the poor to know each other.”

Compass Center services come in the shape of a fully staffed hygiene center, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, financial counseling, meals and short- and long-term housing. The center also supplies the simple things that are so common they are often forgotten – an address that homeless men and women can use to receive mail, for instance, or a place where they can cash a check. Indeed, the center has 700 bank accounts at their headquarters.

These are the little dignities everyone, regardless of their personal journey, deserves.

The Compass Center is funded through many different channels, including city and federal grants. But much of its support – both in terms of money and volunteers – comes from the region’s Lutheran churches. Both Halvorson and Jackson see that as the essential foundation of everything the center does – and the reason for its success. “The Compass Center is a tool for churches to be able to relate to the world as it really is,” said Halvorson.

Jackson concurred. “A healthy community takes care of its most vulnerable people,” she said. “I don’t think there is anyone who can say with certainty ‘I won’t someday need this place.’ ”


‘Commander Salamander’ wins science award

By Ingrid Stegemoeller’07

David Wake ’58 thought he would become a lawyer when he first arrived at PLU. But by the time he graduated with a bachelor’s in biology, he realized that zoology was his true love.

Now a researcher at the University of California–Berkley, Wake’s fervent interest in plant and animal diversity endures, and has earned him the nickname “Commander Salamander.” Wake, who earned a doctorate in biology at the University of Southern California after leaving PLU, has spent much of his career studying amphibious creatures, and in particular, the steady decline of species around the world. In recognition of this work, he recently received the prestigious Joseph Leidy Award from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Much of Wake’s career has unfolded at UC Berkeley, where he arrived in the late ’60s after a few years of teaching at the University of Chicago. Wake has since been a fixture at Berkeley. He currently sponsors graduate students and continues to add to a prolific body of research. He has published more than 300 papers during his career.

Wake enjoys gardening and spending time with his family. But he says the concept of slowing down is difficult for him to embrace.

“I can’t even consider retirement because I love what I’m doing,” Wake said. “Work is my hobby.”


National society fetes chemistry alum

By Rachel Young ’06

Robert Krieger ’67 came to PLU in January 1963 with two primary goals in mind.

“I wanted to play football,” said Krieger. “I wanted to get an education, too.”

Back then, Krieger’s career plans were to graduate from PLU and find a job somewhere teaching biology and coaching football. But those plans changed when a PLU administrator suggested Krieger consider graduate school.

Krieger took the suggestion to heart. He graduated from PLU cum laude in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He then attended Cornell University, where he studied entomology and, in 1970, earned his doctorate.

For the last 12 years, Krieger has taught entomology at the University of California–Riverside, where he studies the effects of agricultural pesticides in people, animals and plants. His research recently earned him honors at the American Chemical Society’s 229th National Meeting in San Diego.

“I’m more of an educator than anything else,” Krieger said.

He lives in Riverside, Calif., with his wife of 20 years, Ana. He has three daughters and a son.

Krieger praises PLU and said he has not had better instructors anywhere.

“I had a very good experience,” Krieger said. “I am always looking for PLU students to join the graduate program here.”


Maples heads Defense Intelligence Agency

By Ingrid Stegemoeller ’07

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples ’77 says his father taught him that every person has the power to make a difference.

“Do your best and you’ll always be satisfied,” Maples said, reflecting on his father’s philosophy. It has served him well during his 35 years in the U.S. Army.

In November 2005, Maples was appointed director of the Defense Intelligence Agency near Washington, D.C., where he oversees global intelligence for the Defense Department.

Maples’ military service also has included time as a commander in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, on the Balkan Peninsula and in Europe during the Cold War.

Despite such a demanding career, Maples said the most important part of his life has always been family, including his wife, Lynne, and their three daughters.

A history buff, Maples is studying his family’s genealogy. Recently, he traced his wife’s family roots back to Norway.

“It’s fascinating research to understand how the family moved,” Maples said.

Contact with fellow PLU alumni is difficult because of the distance. But Maples said he still holds PLU in high regard. “I’m proud of PLU, what it brings to the nation and what students will do.”


MLKBallet brings dance to Tacoma’s Hilltop

By Morgan Root ’09

After graduating from PLU, Alexa Folsom-Hill ’04, Kate Monthy ’04, Amy Kostelecky-Roe ’04 and Nicole Steele ’04, began collaborating on a new children’s ballet school in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

The partners attribute their enterprise to PLU’s emphasis on community service.

“It’s from PLU that we realized we could do this,” said Folsom-Hill.

PLU’s focus on serving others gave them confidence that they can make a difference, Monthy added.

“I saw the world as approachable,” said Monthy.

MLKBallet, a not-for-profit organization intended to make the arts more accessible for children ages four and older, expects to begin operations by January 2007. Development of the program, which will be free for all participants, draws on each alumna’s strengths.

Folsom-Hill, in charge of community involvement efforts, said she and her partners divided tasks by asking two questions: “ ‘What are you good at?’ And, ‘how can we use what you are good at in our project?’ ”

Monthy, a professional dancer, serves as MLKBallet’s artistic director. Steele handles the business side. Kostelecky-Roe directs fund raising.

In preparation for the opening of MLKBallet, the quartet recently launched a campaign called “Sponsor the Dancer.” Each $50 donation will provide one child with instruction, a uniform, lessons, the chance to take part in a public performance and more. Donations can be made to: Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, c/o MLKBallet, P.O. Box 1995, Tacoma, WA, 98401.


Savalli tackles the big picture in Spokane news

By Steve Hansen

When Carla Savalli ’86 speaks about her PLU education, she wastes no time singling out communication professor Cliff Rowe as a major influence. “He stressed internships,” she said. “I had a different internship each summer, and the last one landed me a full-time reporting job at the Tacoma News Tribune.”

Over the years, Savalli worked at several newspapers, ultimately returning to her native Spokane, Wash., in 1992. Starting at the copy desk at the Spokesman-Review, Savalli “pestered” her way into the night assistant city editor position, ultimately rising to the number three slot on the editorial ladder this January.

As senior editor for local news, Savalli jokes that she still doesn’t have a job description. But her mandate is clear: tackle the “big picture issues” that face Spokane and the Inland Northwest. “My job is to make sure our values get into the paper each day,” she said.

“I loved my time at PLU,” Savalli recalled. “It was global in its philosophy, and still small enough to give me the attention I needed. It says a lot about the education I received that I never felt the need to go and get a higher degree.”

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© Scene 2006  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Summer 2006

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