‘Kids energize us’

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Joyce and Karl Lund have spent their lives living out a passion for education and a commitment to doing things together.

So it’s probably no surprise that after “retiring” from over 80 years, collectively, in the world of public education, they opted out of an opportunity for adventure in Panama, and accepted instead the invitation to help launch Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School in Wasilla.

“Kids energize us in so many ways,” Joyce Lund said. “We have been blessed throughout our careers and our lives and this is a way we can give back.”

The two are part of a unique collaborative team at Our Lady of the Valley, the school which serves parishes in Wasilla, Palmer and Big Lake, as well as well as non-Catholic students.

The team consists of Joyce, who eschews the title of principal, but both guides the school and teaches full time; Karl, who is certified in administration and works part time writing grants and performing myriad other tasks as needed; and Karen Smith, whom Joyce calls “the vital link” in running the small school’s finances, parent communications and activities.

Joyce was a teacher in the Mat-Su School District, where she had won the BP Teacher of the Year award in 2005, and Karl was a correspondence study school advisory teacher with the Mat-Su district when the two decided to retire in 2011.

But they still had plenty of energy and a call to service. Committed travelers, they set their sights on Panama, where they knew they could do missionary educational work and find adventure in a new climate. Karl had even visited the country to look for housing.

In the meantime, Joyce had thrown an application in with the little Catholic school in the Mat-Su Valley, which at the time was operating out of a strip mall in Wasilla.

“I told Sister Ann, whether I work here or not, I’m going to give you all my educational materials,” Joyce recalled.

Dominican Sister Ann Fallon, then the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, wasn’t about to let a good thing get away.

“Sister Ann said, ‘Joyce, you don’t have to go so far away to do missionary work,’” and soon Joyce was teaching at the little school.

By 2013, the school was going through growing pains typical of new Catholic schools. The lease in the strip mall had expired, the school had moved to the campus of Sacred Heart in Wasilla, and there was staff turnover and need for a new principal.

Joyce stepped into the position, and a new model for administration was born.

Father Scott Garrett became Sacred Heart pastor about the same time that the Lunds became involved with the school.

“I think they are the most talented and generous couple I know,” Father Garrett told the Catholic Anchor. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if the school would have made it.”

Father Garrett credits Karl with setting up professional policies and procedures for the school that were “done perfectly,” and he said Joyce “has a lot of creativity and flexibility” and uses her extraordinary musical talent as a catalyst for students’ outreach to the community.

The Lunds are originally Midwesterners. Karl graduated from Bethany College in Kansas in 1964 with a degree in biology education, soon to be followed by a master’s in zoology at Colorado State in Fort Collins. His principal’s certification was later earned at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Joyce graduated from Adam State College in Colorado in 1973, with a degree in elementary education and Spanish, spending time in Mexico to bolster her Spanish degree.

Married in 1974, the couple jumped into their first adventure by coming to Alaska in 1979 to teach in the village of Hooper Bay.

In typical fashion, they plunged into the needs of the village. Karl applied for a federal grant which garnered $25,000 to help the village build a wind generator. Finding that even in the school, books were few and usually second-hand, the couple wrote grants which earned $20,000 for books for the homes of Hooper Bay.

Karl, said Joyce, always spent extra time helping the kids who were struggling and tutoring dropouts. “He’s extremely humble,” she says of her husband.

Faith plays a huge component in the Lunds’ lives. Theirs was an ecumenical marriage right from the start.

“We were married in an ecumenical service in a Catholic church in Colorado,” said Karl, a lifelong Lutheran. “A Lutheran minister participated in the ceremony.”

The Lunds have honored the other’s faith by worshipping together. Joyce is a lector at Sacred Heart, where she attends Mass and she helps out with music at Karl’s congregation, Trinity Lutheran.

Living out their faith led the couple to Our Lady of the Valley, which this year opened with an enrollment of 39 students.

“Helping children understand their faith and integrating it into the academics of the day is great,” said Joyce. “It’s that piece I’ve never been able to do in public school.”

If it’s geography class, Palestine is not just a place on the map but the home of Christ and his Jewish forbearers. The feast of the Assumption becomes the focus of writing, Joyce said, so that while students are learning about paragraphs and proper punctuation, they’re also learning about a Catholic tradition.

While committed to the Valley school, the Lunds like to keep their bags packed. Right before school started, they had just returned from a tour of South Africa which they’d purchased through the school auction.

And as soon as Christmas break, spring break and summer vacation roll around, they’re ready to take off, which usually includes a visit with their son Eric, who owns his own business in Washington, D.C.

Eric was born in Bethel, and another son, Doug, was born in Anchorage. Doug died in a car accident when he was 10 years old. Karl and Joyce turned that tragedy into service to others by running a chapter of Compassionate Friends in the Valley. The interdenominational group meets weekly as a grief support group for those suffering loss.

“We decided, whatever we do in Christianity, we’re going to do it together,” Karl said.


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