Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

He's retired, but he's not slowing down

Owen Turnlund in a tutoring session

Owen Turnlund in a tutoring session

Owen Turnlund just keeps on serving, as he did when employed.

For 21 years, Owen Turnlund was executive director of Ply-mouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC). The Lutheran-affiliated urban ministry serves youth in north Minneapolis, providing an alternative high school, friendship groups for elementary students, after-school programs, and volunteers reading to Kindergartners.
In “active retirement,” Turnlund continues his commitment as a volunteer. “I was a combination gardener and orchestra leader,” Turnlund says of his years directing PCYC (1978-1999). “As gardener I’d hoe, water, fertilize and see to it that everything came together. As orchestra leader I’d see that the staff members were all on the same page of the same tune.”
Turnlund reflects on the growth of the program: “I started with a staff of ten or twelve, and we had about 40 by the time I left. Toward the end of my term, we had 3,000 kids involved.”
Today, two dozen Lutheran congregations in Minneapolis and St. Paul are corporate members of PCYC.
That was then. What’s Turnlund doing now? For starters, he’s one of 30 “Rocking Readers” volunteering time with Kinder-gartners at North Star, Shingle Creek, and Lutheran Church of the Good Shep-herd elementary schools.
“They’re very dear,” Turnlund says. “One little girl will tolerate no more than one book, but that’s a start.”
On Tuesdays he leads a friendship group at Pillsbury Elementary, and on Thursday he tutors alternative school math students. He is also a board member at Center School, South Minneapolis, serving Native Americans.
As tutor, Turnlund works chiefly with twelfth-graders who have not been able to pass their eighth-grade math tests. “We also learn from the students,” he says. “One boy would fall asleep during our sessions. I discovered that his family was homeless. They had been evicted because of a brother’s drug use. We created a relationship that was important to both of us.”
Owen Turnlund be-came director of PCYC in a time of financial difficulty. There had been a break-in and fire several months earlier at the Oliver Avenue North facility. Lutheran Social Service came to PCYC’s immediate rescue.
After that, “I created a five-legged stool of financial support,” Turnlund says. “That way, if one was foreshortened, we wouldn’t fall over.”
The five legs that Turnlund put into place include the Minneapolis Public Schools, The United Way, private foundations, individual Lutheran donors and, eventually, an endowment fund.
His Lutheran upbringing shaped his work ethic. “Luther’s notion of vocation is to bring together the gifts given to us and unite those with life’s experiences. My father taught me to be thrifty. Both of my parents taught me how to love. I earned a master’s degree in social work and found myself able to carry out the Gospel among kids whose lives might otherwise never be touched by a Christian person.”
One of Turnlund’s former staff members will never forget the day she was talking to him in his office. “I was venting some frustrations, and I asked him who he talked things over with when there were problems. I thought he’d say, ‘A member of our board of directors.’ Without batting an eye he responded, ‘God.’”
Turnlund and his wife, Muriel, have four grown children, all adopted, two from racially mixed backgrounds. “Muriel is the in-spiration for that,” he says. The Turnlunds also were foster parents of six, through the unaccompanied minor program of Lutheran Social Service. Among the six they fostered were one Bulgarian and three Vietnamese.