A life helping others to believe in themselves

When Karl Danielson was ordained a Lutheran minister his dream was to help people. His first assignment, though, was to close an old St. Paul, Minn., parish. That would not stand with the young minister.

"That was my first parish, and the congregation was just ready to fold up," Danielson recalled in his comfortable Capitol Hill retirement apartment at Fred Lind Manor. "They [the church hierarchy] wanted me to go and close this place. I came there and I said to myself, 'Boy, there are possibilities here.'"

Danielson recognized in the 70-member congregation a potential that literally no one else saw. He convinced the struggling congregation to build a new church just a mile away from its historic location. Not just build a new church, but build a breathtaking, modern building that excited comment for miles around.

"It was a matter of personality, motivation and inspiring them to understand there was more to come than what we had," Danielson said. "We sold the church and got enough money to start the new one. They had money in the bank and didn't know it, but their future was not in that site."

They hired a good architect, he remembers, and put up a knockout building.

"It was modern gothic - with pyramidal windows," he said. "It caused major accidents on the highway."

Although there were just 70 people in the congregation, the young minister insisted that they build the sanctuary to seat 300.

"It was just expanding our vision to think and believe in ourselves. They thought that I was crazy, but we packed the place the first Sunday with people wanting to see what was going on," he said, laughing. "It caught the attention of the American Institute of Architects, and it appeared in the AIA journal." It has since been enlarged twice.

Danielson's success did not go unnoticed by the Lutheran Church in America, and after leading the congregation for 10 years he was invited to join the national organization's division of architecture and property, consulting with congregations and running seminars on building new churches.

"I had three young children, and to move from the Midwest to the East Coast was difficult," the life-long Midwesterner said. "My wife was a professional singer, and she really enjoyed being in New York, teaching piano and voice. It all worked out fine."

For a while, anyway.

"I wasn't an architect, but we helped congregations plan to build a building, how to choose an architect and how to go about it," Danielson said.

Giving up his position as a pastor with a congregation was a difficult thing, too.

"I had never thought of myself as anything other than a pastor dealing with people and their problems," Danielson said. He found the nine years he spent in New York exhausting - a three-hour daily commute to the city, traveling around the country and going to seminars.

"We didn't have a family life," he said.

After nine years he accepted a new pastoral position in Milwaukee, where he flourished until, after 10 years, he had a severe emotional crisis that landed him in a Kansas City Lutheran hospital with no memory of how he got there. While he was there he attended a seminar by Vern Moses about how to adopt a positive approach to life. That seminar, and that man, changed his life.

"All my psychiatrists and social workers and doctors couldn't hold a candle to Vern Moses," Danielson said with admiration. He began helping Moses, and when Moses moved to Sacramento, Danielson went with him to help with the seminars and recruit people.

"I would have stayed, except who can live in Sacramento?" Danielson said, rolling his eyes at the memory. "There is no culture, lots of government and unbearable heat."

After a year, Danielson drove to Seattle, sight unseen. That was nine years ago.

"And this is where I retired," he concluded with a smile. "I haven't worked here, I have only lived here."

He stays busy all the time with his art, reading and taking advantage of various classes and discussion groups available at Fred Lind Manor. He moved to the manor less than a year ago from a retirement complex near Green Lake because he needed assisted living.

"It was my decision," he said. Grocery shopping and cooking were getting to be a bit much for him. The final straw was when he returned to his apartment from an outing and found one of the stove burners on high.

A love of classical music is one of the things that keeps Danielson busy. He discovered classical music as a boy in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan listening to music on the radio. He could only get two stations - country and western from Chicago and classical from Des Moines. He said hearing Beethoven for the first time made him sit up and insist on hearing and knowing more about it.

"I still get tears in my eyes when I think about it," he said. Since then he has been a season ticket holder to the local symphony almost everywhere he lived. When he fled Sacramento he actually went to the Wenatchee valley, a tiny town called Plain between Wenatchee and Leavenworth - "It's not even on the map!" - where an artist friend lived. Danielson is a skilled pen-and-ink artist, and he stayed with his friend for a year. On a trip to Seattle he bought tickets to the symphony.

"I drove over Stevens Pass nine times that winter," Danielson said, just to go to the symphony (18 if you count round trips). After that year, he decided he had to move. "It was the Seattle Symphony that brought me to Seattle."

Freelance writer Korte Brueckmann is a Capitol Hill resident. He can be reached c/o editor@ capitolhilltimes.com.

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