50 years of marriage: Else and Karl Johan Hansen of Shoreline

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Shoreline residents Else and Karl Johan Hansen
celebrating 50 years of marriage
Photo by Eastern Sky Photography

By Shari Winstead

Else and Karl Johan Hansen celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on May 28, 2016. They have been Shoreline residents since 1977, and have raised their three children, all Shorewood graduates, Jan, Stan and Evelyn, in the same home in Shoreline where they still live today.

Else and Karl Johan both immigrated from Norway to Ballard in the 1960s. Their love story began on the island of Karmøy, in Norway, where they both were born and raised.

Location of the Island of Karmøy

Although Karl Johan came to Seattle before their romance had fully blossomed, after returning to his homeland for the Christmas holiday, he realized that Else was the girl for him, and proposed. He returned to the States to work as a fisherman, mostly in Alaska. After the immigration paperwork was completed, Else joined him in Seattle. They were married 14 days after she landed in the United States for the first time. A few short days after their wedding, Karl Johan left for Alaska, as was common for many of the men in the Norwegian fishing community.

While certainly not your traditional courtship and engagement, their wedding was definitely traditional, held at the Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Seattle.

The rented wedding dress and half-a-size too small shoes were not important, but Else had one requirement for the wedding - that it be performed by a Pastor that could speak Norwegian. She wanted to make sure she knew what was being said!

Fortunately Rock of Ages had just such a Pastor, and he was able to marry Else and Karl Johan just days before he moved to another church.

Else and Karl Johan wedding photo

Although Oxford English was taught in the schools in Karmøy, as a young girl Else was convinced that studying English was not the best use of her time. Imagine how surprised she was when not long after graduation, as a 19 year old girl, she found herself dependent on those English skills.

The Hansens faced many challenges as a young couple, the language barrier being just one. Not only were they immigrants, they were also very young, just 19 and 24 years old. Else was thankful for her few Norwegian friends also living in Ballard -- including her sister-in-law. In her words, “she had to grow up very quickly”. Not only did she have to learn about banking, cooking and running a household, she had no drivers’ license.

After finding herself frustrated by all the people who promised to teach her to drive, she finally found a driving school that would pick her up and bring her home, and after six quick lessons, she had her Washington State driver’s license!

Else and Karl Johan were determined to do whatever it took to make a good life for their family. With as many challenges as they faced, they never thought about returning to Norway to live, although they frequently visited their parents and families over the years, and still spend time in Norway on a regular basis.

There is no shortage of funny (some hilarious!), frightening, and frustrating stories from the last 50 years, especially for a woman who was both Mom and Dad much of the time. The Norwegian community continued to grow through the years, especially friends from Else and Karl Johan’s small home island of Karmøy.

It was this network of friends that added so much richness to their lives, and to their children’s lives. The Norwegians weren’t just friends, they were family to each other, living in nearby neighborhoods, sharing babysitting and carpool duties, holiday dinners, births of their children, and all the ups and downs of life. Because many of the women were married to fisherman, they were especially grateful to have one another to lean on.

The Hansen Family - from left Stan Hansen, son, Shari Winstead, daughter-in-law, Jessika Hansen, granddaughter, Jan Hansen, son, Joshua Baker, grandson, James Baker, son-in-law, Corey Baker, grandson, Evelyn Hansen Baker, daughter, Karl Johan Hansen and Else Hansen. Photo by Eastern Sky Photography

Having children brought new challenges. Although her English was improving, their oldest son spoke Norwegian as his first language. Fortunately, he learned English quickly, his teacher once telling Else that she believed his thought process was in Norwegian, and he then translated those thoughts to English before speaking. Fortunately, the older child excelled in school and could help his younger siblings. Else recalls that some things were just not possible to do in a different language - such as understanding the terms used in American math.

It was the oldest child who brought Thanksgiving to the Hansen household for the first time. He and another friend (a Norwegian, of course!) came home from school and explained to their Norwegian moms (because the dads were fishing in Alaska) about this holiday called Thanksgiving, and how cooking a turkey was a necessary part. Else and her friend were fortunate to know a neighborhood woman who offered to help them cook a turkey. All the side dishes were Norwegian, but the main dish was turkey, and one of many American holidays was officially adopted by the Hansen family.

That was many years ago, and of course Thanksgivings have changed, as has the Hansen’s life. While Karl Johan and Else are now both retired, they are still very close to their children and grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. They still have a close community of Norwegian friends that enhance everyday life with the many visits for coffee and cake, and catching up on the latest news from back home in Karmøy, as well as the news of all their American and Norwegian friends and families.

You can’t help but wonder, after 50 years of marriage, what the secret is to staying together.

Else’s advice was simple -  never give up, to always figure out a way to work out your problems - and don’t let your husband go to Alaska until the problems have been worked out. Karl Johan’s advice was also simple “marry a woman like Else”.  

Congratulations on 50 years of marriage!


Maria's Desserts June 6, 2016 at 12:21 AM  

Happy anniversary! What a happy, beautiful family!

Fitzy June 6, 2016 at 1:10 AM  

Congratulations !!! Alison Fitzpatrick (Bayard)

Unknown June 6, 2016 at 6:08 AM  

I love a wonderful love story. I'm sure there were many challenges, but you remain strong in your love for one another.

I love that Else wanted a minister that spoke Norwegian - best to understand up front what you are agreeing to :)

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