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Businesswoman remembered as ‘a bright light’

Steele County Times - Staff Photo - Create Article
Jackie Ostlund 1945-2024
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

“You never know when you give a ‘yes’ where it might take you.”

That was one of the lessons Lonna Lysne said she learned from her decades-long friendship with Jackie Ostlund, who was killed last week in a two-vehicle crash south of Medford.

The women met in 1980, when a novel concept for dealing with people in crisis came to Owatonna.

It was called the Contact Crisis Hotline, and volunteers trained for 60 hours before answering phone calls from people struggling with anything from loneliness and depression to addiction and chemical dependency.

Ostlund was a student in one of the first classes to be trained, said Lysne, who was part of the group that brought the program to town.

Once established, Contact was looking for a director, and Ostlund was looking for a job.

“I was on the hiring team,” Lysne said, “and when Jackie came forward, there was no debate: She’s our director; she’s our leader.

“She had energy, she had passion, she had communication, she had the ability to connect,” Lysne said. “People could just fall in love with her. She could motivate you to give her a ‘yes,’ because she was just one of those giving, caring, strong-willed people.”

Ostlund was able to get enough people to say “yes” that the service was staffed by volunteers around the clock.

As they worked together on modifying aspects of Contact, Lysne realized her friend was “very detailed, and would write and write and write, so that she knew just what it should say … but when a class graduated from training, we’d throw a party, and that’s when the theatrical piece of Jackie Ostlund started to appear.”

But Ostlund soon realized something else was starting to appear: a large number of calls to the hotline from women who were in abusive relationships.

“Enough of those calls were coming in that Jackie took it upon herself to begin to create the Women’s Crisis Center,” Lysne said. “She said, ‘there’s a need here.’”

The 80s brought awareness of other growing community needs and new resources in a precursor to what, decades later, would become Community Pathways.

Though she declined to take the lead on the massive project that would eventually bring all resources under one roof, Ostlund remained a committed volunteer.

Dom Korbel, executive director at Community Pathways, met Ostlund at Insty-Prints, the business she started in 1995 with her husband Pete.

“The funny thing is, she’s one of those people that, once you meet her, you keep crossing paths with her because she was so involved in the community,” Korbel said. “Then when I came here, here she was, one of our volunteers. And I was like, of course Jackie volunteers here.”

Ostlund was, he said, “one of our best recruiters for Friday volunteers – quite frankly, she may have recruited all of them that are here now.”

She was a key volunteer in Unique Finds, the clothing and household items thrift store at Community Pathways.

More than a loyal volunteer, Ostlund was “just a smile, and a light, every single time,” Korbel said. “When she was here, you knew it. You wanted to talk to her, because she was going to make you smile, always.”

In addition, he said, she was the glue that “kept people and things connected and together; what Jackie had was special.”

So special, in fact, that 40 years after taking the Contact training, Pam Seaser continues to call it one of the best things she’s ever done.

Learning how to be an active listener and effective communicator – part of that training – was a life skill she still uses.

“That was my initiation to Jackie and Lonna,” Seaser said. “They welcomed us 20-somethings, and really helped us get through” the intensive sessions of role-playing potentially serious situations, becoming friends along the way.

Seaser got married and started a family, drifting away from Contact after years as a volunteer.

“I’d run into Jackie, dragging my three kids with me, at Insty-Prints,” she said.

Eventually, Jackie Ostlund stepped away from the business somewhat; the couple’s daughters, Julee Elstad and Rebecca Somers, stepped in.

“They are just as nice as their parents, so I spent a lot of time just visiting with them,” Seaser said. “My kids loved going in there because they’re just happy people.”

Just as Korbel related, Seaser crossed paths with Ostlund often, bringing “a big smile and a hug.”

“Like so many people, I think of Jackie as a bright spot,” she said. “It was always a pleasure to run into her – and when you did, you knew it was going to be a good day.”

Not long ago, Seaser took some donations to Community Pathways, where she spotted Ostlund.

“I saw her volunteering, and I thought, they’re an even better place, because she’s there.”

Korbel knew it.

“I’ll echo what dozens, if not hundreds, of people have said: We are all better for having had Jackie in our lives, every one of us,” he said.

Lysne, Ostlund’s longtime friend, said she was “walloped” when she learned of her death, but returned to what she learned in their Contact training.

“I’m using what I learned then as I now process the sudden loss of Jackie,” she said, “and as I process my relationship with her, which was just priceless. She genuinely cared, she genuinely loved and she knew how to give – and expected nothing back.”

A funeral service is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna. A celebration of life will follow at 3 p.m.

“That is what it will be – a roaring celebration of a gift that was given to us,” Lysne said. “She was a force of nature.”

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