The Brothers Blomgren

by Bob Bach

As the crow flies, Vashon Island is about five miles from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. But don’t let that fool you. The only way on and off the island is by ferry. You can board an auto-passenger ferry in Tacoma at the Point Defiance dock from West Seattle, another auto-passenger ferry loads at the Fauntleroy dock, a passenger only ferry leaves from downtown Seattle, and if you are coming from the Olympic Peninsula, you can get on another auto-passenger ferry at the Southworth dock.

In May of 1792, British Naval Captain, George Vancouver who was the leader of the first group of Europeans to visit the area, named the island after his friend, Captain James Vashon. The island is about twelve miles long and eight miles across at its widest point. There are only about 10,000 residents on the island and they are committed to maintaining their rural life-style. The island is unincorporated and many people work out of their homes. Some commute electronically all over the world. It is the home of pine, fir, madrona, brilliant flowers, scenic roads, eagles, deer, falcons and the brothers Blomgren.

Carl, the woodsman and philosopher, lives in a home that he built out of logs and modeled on the style of the old Norwegian stave churches. It was a ten-year building process for him—dropping about 90 fir trees, pealing the bark, cutting the log into sections, fitting every-thing together, and putting them into place piece by piece. It is here that he and his wife, Marcia, raised their two boys, Anders and Per-Lars.

Just down the hill, in a home next to the waters of Puget Sound, lives Bob, the mathematician. Whales and submarines have been spotted from the front windows of this handsome place. It is here that Bob and his wife, Alice, raised their three children, Anna, Mary, and Hans-Erik.

Both Carl and Bob are Seattle-born and raised. Carl arrived along with his sister, Carolyn (Quiwie) on January 30, 1936. Bob came along on March 16, 1938 weighing in just over 11 pounds. They have an older sister, Helen Marie.

Carl and Bob attended Madrona Elementary School, Meany Jr. High, and Garfield High in Seattle. Both were student leaders. Carl was president of the senior class at Garfield, and Bob served as student body president. Both were terrific high school athletes. Carl played football, baseball, and wrestled. Bob played basketball and baseball. Both were catchers in baseball. Rumor has it that Carl occasionally wore a mask and chest protector. Early on Bob developed the noted Blomgren hook shoot in basketball no doubt being influenced by University of Washington great, Bob Houbregs. Both Carl and Bob attended North Park and continued their athletic careers with prowess. Their academic careers flourished as well. Both boys were interested in math and science and Carl, of course, in philosophy. Bob’s skills in math were evident early on.

His sister, Helen Marie, recalls a time when Bob was still in high school. She was home making a pleated skirt and she asked her dad how deep she should make the pleats so as to use all the material she had. Her dad got out pencil and paper and began working it out. Bob came on the scene and figured it out in his head before his dad could work it out on paper.

Although he was smart as a whip, he still could get snookered. A group of us were at Maxwell Street early on a Sunday morning before church. Bob had on a shiny pair or wing-tips that glistened in the sunlight. A young boy who was with a group of friends doing a little panhandling approached Bob, pointed at his shoes and said: "Hey Mister, I’ll bet you a dollar I can tell you where you got those shoes!" Bob had recently purchased the shoes in Seattle so he figured he’d have some fun with the little guy. "O.K. young fella, you have a bet," said Bob confidently. The lad grinned, glanced at his friends, and pointing to Bob’s shoes chirped, "Man, you got ’em on your feet." Bob paid up.

Carl Blomgren

Carl graduated from North Park Junior College in 1955. He went on to Augustana College in Rock Island and graduated as a math and philosophy major. He was also a ferocious football player for the Auggie Vikes. He played vigorously often with a wrenched knee, broken nose, or separated shoulder. There is not room in Pietisten to include tales of Carl Blomgren’s many exploits. Friends throughout the country are fond of telling Carl Blomgren stories. Following his college days, Carl went to Edinburgh University in Scotland, traveled Europe with his friend, Arvid Adell, taught with Phil Johnson at Cheshire Academy in Connec-ticut, taught inner city students in the America Teacher Corps program, became one of the top Class A Handball players in the country, and was an adventurer in Alaska. Once he and his pal, Tucker Johnson, got stuck on a glacier. It is reported that Carl wanted to eat the guide in order to survive the storm and continue their trek. Tucker objected, and they had to give up the trek instead. To the guide’s relief, he was able to continue his career.

In April, 1970, Carl married Marcia Markuson in Chicago, and not too long after, they moved onto Vashon Island. There he has lived as a woodsman, farmer, philosopher, groundskeeper, husband, and father. He has always had a keen interest in youth and as the groundskeeper for the Vashon School District, he had the opportunity to assist young people in many ways. He was also a member of the Vashon Juvenile Council and helped many young people regain their footing after running afoul of the law. His influence with students is best confirmed by the fact that, while serving as groundskeeper, he was asked to deliver the commencement address at Vashon High School. He dressed in his good clothes and challenged the graduates to live their lives to the fullest and to stretch themselves to be their best. He received a rousing ovation. Carl is also a terrific athletic mentor. He helped develop his own boys into outstanding high school and collegiate wrestlers.

Bob Blomgren

Bob graduated with distinction from North Park in 1960—the first four-year graduating class. He then enrolled at the University of Minnesota where he would earn his Ph.D. in math. Shortly before receiving his degree, he married Alice Emig who he met at a friend’s wedding. They were married at Isaacson Chapel on the campus of North Park. Upon graduation, Bob accepted a position at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, Africa where he spent the next few years teaching in the mathematics department. He returned to Seattle and went to work as an engineer for Boeing. Some years later, Bob formed his own company, Applied Geometry, with an office in downtown Seattle. Later, he sold the com-pany to a group from Californ-ia’s Silicon Valley. Recently, he helped form another company called Solid Modeling Solutions which provides businesses with geometrical applications for computers. Bob works out of his home on Vashon Island.

Hans-Erik, Bob’s son comments:

I guess I can’t shake the fact that I followed my dad’s footsteps in regards to my education. I have my dad’s same interest in math, science, and engineering type studies. Growing up, he helped me with my math homework every night (Algebra through Calculus). He graduated from North Park, I graduated from North Park, he went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota and so did I. He was an engineer at Boeing, I’m a structural engineer—so a lot rubbed off! He also has a quiet but strong faith which has impressed me a lot. I see his faith being reflected in his relations with others. He loves people and when he senses a need, he is there to help. I was born and raised on Vashon. Our family took the ferry every Sunday to Seattle First Covenant. I thought it took an hour for everyone there to get to church. I have great memories of swimming in Puget Sound, cider pressing, spinning honey, and playing whiffle ball in the yard with my cousins Anders and Per.

Bryce Nelson, a friend of Bob, recalls his hospitality.

Some years ago, we were invited to a party at the home of Bob and Alice in honor of friends Dick and Judy Anderson. It snowed a lot in the days leading up to the party. As a result of the storm, the electricity was out at the Blomgren’s. They did not call off the party and about forty people walked down the hill in the darkness to find the house lit by candles and lanterns. It was a wonderful party, full of good conversation, lots of friends, and fine food. A typical Blomgren event!

In my judgment, a truly effective father deliberately sets as one of his life’s highest priorities the creation of conditions in his home that will stimulate his children to grow to their full human potential. Such was also the case in Carl Blomgren’s log home nestled in the woods of Vashon. It the words of Anders, Carl’s son:

My pops is definitely a hero to me. He has taught me to breathe in life, to live it—not just go through the motions that others set out for us. To love nature and learn to live among others and, even more importantly, to live with oneself. Pops never pushed me to go into philosophy or English, but waited ’til I did, then fed me what I wanted, when I wanted it. I thank him for the genetic and social gifts. How many fathers can you talk with about the positive aspects of religious institutions, freedom inspiring life-styles of Jack Kerouac in Dharma Bums, as well as the problems with the Seattle Supersonics coaching staff? He always has books for me—from Kierkegaard and Nietzche to Sherman Alexie. He is a continual learner, still buying books, exploring his intellectual, poetic, and spiritual side. He appreciates it now when I can read poems to him and explain poetry—he is a great listener. And he married mom, another one of his gifts.

Carl’s other son, Per-Lars, says:

He is definitely my hero, too. He works hard outside, reads, bikes, loves sports, and loves to talk and listen. We grew up in a fairy tale atmosphere with great parents in the coolest house in the world, on the best island in the world. If I can be like my dad, I will know real happiness. His life is all about process and presence. Of course, mom’s influence on dad makes part of dad’s identity and that can’t be forgotten. He coached a lot of my teams and those are memories I will always cherish. You can talk to dad about philosophy, splitting madrona, the high shool wrestling team, or daddy long-legged spiders while eating a Danish and drinking coffee. He is the Man.

As I write these lines, the ferry is pushing away from the dock at Vashon. In about fifteen minutes we’ll come ashore at Fauntleroy. I have spent the morning with the brothers Blomgren. We drank coffee in Carl’s tiny kitchen, visited Marcia at the school district office where she works as an administrative assistant, were unable to see Alice who was leading a Bible study on the island, but spent some time with Bob. It is a cool day, light rain has just ended, and the sun is beginning to peek out from behind some clouds. I am looking at the gentle wake that is trailing the boat. And, I am thinking of all of the friends of the brothers Blomgren who have been a part of their life stories. The great composer, Edvard Grieg once penned these words:

It is great to have friends when one is young, but indeed it is still more so when you are getting old. When we are young, friends are, like everything else, a matter of course. In the old days we know what it means to have them.

I’m glad to be a friend of the brothers Blomgren.

Bob Bach, from Angels Camp, California, is Pietisten’s roving reporter

See all articles by Bob Bach