Newbury Park, CA
“You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:4
Karen A. Olson Guetschoff left our world to join her Father in heaven on March 26, 2021, after a year-long, valiant battle against ovarian cancer.
Karen was a California girl, born on June 5, 1951, in San Pedro. The oldest of three girls, she enjoyed a “quite wonderful” childhood in San Pedro as the daughter of a L.A. City Firefighter and a mom who became a girl’s baseball coach for her younger daughters. It was a Christian home, and her parents and her paternal “Grandma,” Alice Gustafson Olson, nurtured Karen’s faith. Trinity Lutheran in San Pedro was their home church.
“Her faith was rock solid in the Triune God,” says her husband, Norm, “and several different times she read the Bible cover to cover. Her faith was very much grounded in basic Christian principles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
One of Karen’s favorite Bible verses was Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, plans for hope and a future.”
That secure sense that God had a plan for her, that God was in charge, grounded her life all of her days and was reflected in her gentle, quiet spirit.
Karen had a lively intelligence and a strong interest in the world and its people. After graduating at age 17 from San Pedro High School, she entered what was then California Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks. She graduated in 1972 with a degree in political science.
Also in 1972, she married Gene Scheffler. They would be together 20 years before divorcing.
Ever the learner, Karen soon enrolled in the Montessori Institute of Santa Monica, graduating in 1974. She would go on to achieve her California teaching credential from California State University, Northridge, (1983) and her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University, Malibu (1995).
For more than 30 years, from 1975 to 2007, Karen taught elementary education in private schools, including many Montessori locations. She taught first grade at Canoga Park Lutheran School. She nurtured her faith, as well, eventually joining Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, where she sang in the choir—and met Norm Guetschoff.
Norm also had been divorced after many years of marriage. Bound by a strong mutual faith, liked-minded, when it came to a host of interests, particularly caring for others, Karen and Norm married in 1995. Their loving, joyful union would last until her death.
All along, Karen was thinking outwardly. It was, in fact, Karen’s heart for others that first drew Norm to her. For years, she prepared special dishes for her grandmother and regularly took them to her in San Pedro. “She thought about food and she thought about people who were hungry and what she could do to make someone else’s life better,” Norm recalls. “I was so impressed.”
When she retired from her educational career in 2007, her heart drew her to the underprivileged.
“I think Karen was created by God to be a liberal thinker, caring for the disadvantaged,” Norm says. “She truly loved homeless people and those in bad family situations, especially women and children. Karen believed in second chances.”
Perhaps because she had had some second chances herself, Karen sought to offer that to others. She spent more than a decade working at various social service jobs: volunteer coordinator for Many Mansions; program manager–emergency services and case manager for Lutheran Social Services / Ventura County; program manager–emergency services and grant writer, while helping the poor pay their electric bills, all for Harbor House.
She would even regularly purchase special food for a homeless woman whose health drastically limited her diet. And personally, she grocery shopped weekly for a homebound friend for four years.
In her spare time, she was learning—doing the L.A. Times Sunday crossword puzzle (in ink); reading multiple books covering various topics, often several at a time; cooking; and reading cookbooks. And Karen was a relentless USC Trojan fan; her enthusiasm was contagious! She was also heavily invested at Ascension Lutheran Church, which she and Norm joined in 1999. She sang in the choir, cooked for the homeless Friday dinners, cared for hurting people as a Stephen Minister, was co-leader of Community Concerns and also served as a Christ Care trainer coordinator and a small group leader.
She also loved animals—particularly dogs and most particularly Bert, their rescue corgi-terrier. He brought enormous comfort to Karen after she was diagnosed with cancer in February 2020. Heartbreakingly, Bert predeceased her by three months.
Once she was diagnosed, Karen, ever a private person, knew her many friends would need to regularly receive updates on her condition. So, she wrote—beautifully—journal entries on Caring Bridge. True to her caring nature, they nearly always turned from her situation to someone else’s need for prayer.
Each year, Karen chose a word that she would meditate on. Her word for 2021 was “hope.”
Even though she grew increasingly sicker, Norm says, “she really believed that there was hope that this cancer was going to get better.”
In Karen’s world, there was always hope. And that healing that she so hoped for happened, not on earth, but in heaven with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
She leaves behind her devoted husband, Norm; her parents, Betty Ann Morgan Olson and Paul Raymond Olson; sisters, Kristin Ann Olson (Mark) and Paula Olson Muehlbauer (Brian); niece, Claire Allison Olson Hoyt (Dale), nephew; Stefan Paul Olson; and stepsons, Matthew Alan Guetschoff (Felicia) and Eric Steven Guetschoff, as well as scores of loving friends. She also leaves a legacy of love and care for the most underprivileged and forgotten among us.
A memorial service for Karen will be held at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, May 22, 2021, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1600 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, with Pastor Steve Herder officiating. Karen’s request was to be cremated and released at sea, and the family will honor that request at a later date. Those wishing to honor Karen’s memory may do so by making a donation to Harbor House, 430 E. Avenida De Los Arboles, #203a, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, to help the underprivileged whom Karen loved so much; or to Ascension Lutheran Church Foundation, Karen and Norm Guetschoff Endowment, for Global and Local Ministries.
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