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Obituaries » Karl Rainer Victor Sandelin

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October 16, 1928 - February 3, 2024

Visitation and services will held on Saturday, February 17, 2024 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 247 W. Lovell St., Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007. Visitation will begin in the sanctuary at 10 AM with services at 11 AM. Visitation will resume with a light lunch in the dining hall around 12 PM. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations in honor of Karl to either: Rotary Club Charities/Kalamazoo, PO Box 50251, Kalamazoo, MI 49005 St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 241 W. Lovell St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007

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The trademark words, spoken in a deep deliberate manner, with a hint of an accent, “This is Karl,” words that caused ears to perk up and people to pay attention will now only live on in our hearts and be repeated in our memories. We all knew him as Karl, but Karl Rainer Victor Sandelin, was known as Rainer to his family and friends in Finland.

Despite being born in Helsinki, Finland on October 16, 1928, Karl lived most of his life in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Why Kalamazoo you may ask? Karl received a Rotary International Scholarship to attend Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Having no money, Karl had to find a way to travel the 4,347 miles across the ocean. In typical fashion, Karl found a freighter that needed a cabin boy and hopped on! Avoiding nearly being swept overboard while at sea, he arrived at the train station in Kalamazoo and was taken in by strangers who helped him get to WMU. To earn money, he secured a job as the switchboard operator in the men’s dorm and began regularly and necessarily communicating with Joyce, the switchboard operator in the women’s dorm. Conversations led to more conversations and on April 4, 1952, they would marry and enjoy a wonderful life together for more than 64 years, bringing two children, Kim and Tobi (Breisach) into this world.

Karl was filled with amazement, gratitude and, because of the opportunity Rotary provided, dedicated his life to “service above self.” He was more than an active member of the Kalamazoo Rotary Club. During his international travels, he would visit every Rotary Club he could. He not only worked on Rotary projects, but led many, including organizing the infamous caravan that included old and donated school buses, ambulances and fire trucks that he and other Rotarians drove from Kalamazoo to Belize (with a mechanic because the caravan frequently broke down). When he got on the CB radio to give directions to the caravan, it would always start “This is Karl” and everyone paid close attention! He also served as President of the Kalamazoo Rotary Club and as Governor of Rotary District 6360.

His service was not limited to Rotary. Karl served on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board from 1966-1970, where he left a lasting legacy. Kalamazoo Central High School (opened in 1972) could not be built because the voters would not support funding construction. Karl found a way that it could be done without a vote, but the dollar limit meant that something had to be left out – an auditorium. So, if you have ever wondered why the school was originally built without an auditorium, now you know. Furious over Karl’s plan, some voters launched a drive to gather recall petition signatures. As happened so often in Karl’s life, fate intervened and the historic 1967 blizzard stopped the recall efforts in its tracks.

Karl’s contributions to Kalamazoo are truly immeasurable. They ranged from serving in lay leadership at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church to starting the community-wide “Walking Together” program to encourage people from all walks of life to get out, get exercise and engage with those around them all for the betterment of their health.

Karl’s commitment to service extended to the military as well, serving in both the Finnish and United States Army. He never talked much about the nature of his duties when serving in the United States Army other than to say he was in “intelligence,” likely because he was multilingual. The Army stationed him in post-WWII Germany where he wore civilian clothes, had his own car and always a pocketful of money!

Karl spent most of his career in spice extraction, handling all aspects of international commerce including raw material acquisition, production and product exports for Kalsec, Inc. Karl forged relationships with people all over the globe and was frequently gone for weeks at a time as business was done face-to-face. An avid runner, Karl would plan his trips to, just coincidentally, require visits to cities when they were hosting marathons or ultramarathons. Karl oversaw development and construction of a spice extraction facility in Ethiopia and was instrumental in securing the safe extraction of the plant manager and his family after the revolution that resulted in nationalization of the plant. Even though he retired from Kalsec in 1988, he is still loved, respected and remembered by many there. Perhaps they can still hear him say “This is Karl.”

Karl was born to Karl Helge Lauri Sandelin and Sylvi Linnea Tamelander. His maternal grandmother helped raise him after his mother died when he was two years old. Karl was preceded in death by his beloved wife Joyce Ellen (Ayres) Sandelin and is survived by his two children Kim (Cathy) Sandelin and Tobi (Eric) Breisach, eight grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.