He was a standout pre-med student at Pacific Lutheran College with a letter of acceptance to the University of Washington’s medical school.
Then, Carl T. Fynboe heard a different calling.
“I came to the decision that a career in medicine would limit my social and spiritual outreach,” Fynboe would later write.
Instead, he turned to education – a profession, he wrote, that would “permit a broad perspective for service to students, families, church and community.”
It was a calling that led Fynboe down a career path that spanned more than half a century – from teacher to principal, headmaster to state administrator, consultant to trusted adviser.
Fynboe, a longtime Lakewood resident and area educator who headed Clover Park High School and the Annie Wright School and served on the Pacific Lutheran University Board of Regents, died Nov. 8 of complications related to lung cancer. He was 85.
“He just loved being around people,” said his son, Chris. “He felt he could reach more people through education. That was his calling.”
Born in Decorah, Iowa, in 1927, Fynboe moved to Blair, Neb., as a child when his father, Carl S. Fynboe, landed a college professor’s job at Dana College. The family uprooted again in 1938 – this time to Parkland – when the elder Fynboe took a job at what was then Pacific Lutheran College.
Fynboe attended grade school in Parkland and graduated from high school from the defunct Pacific Lutheran Academy before enrolling in undergraduate studies at the University of Washington in 1944. He dropped out after one quarter to enlist in the Navy during the final months of World War II.
Shortly before he enlisted, the 17-year-old Fynboe met an 18-year-old co-ed named Ingrid Martinson at a student-gathering spot in Parkland. After the meeting, Fynboe went home and told his mother he had just met his future wife.
“While he was in the Navy, we kept a correspondence, and when he came home on leave, he bought me an engagement ring,” Ingrid Fynboe recalled. “We were married at age 20. As I tell people, we grew up together.”
After the war, Fynboe graduated with honors from PLC in 1949, majoring in chemistry with minors in biology and German.
But rather than head off to medical school, he took a job teaching chemistry and German at Clover Park High School in 1950, ascending to vice principal three years later. By the end of the 1950s, Fynboe was named president of the Washington Education Association – then a broad-based professional organization that included teachers, administrators, college professors and school board members, among other educators.
Fynboe became Clover Park’s principal in 1960, serving in the job for 11 years before being named headmaster at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma in 1971. Three years later, he became administrator of private education for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia.
Willie Stewart, a former Tacoma School Board member who was principal of Lincoln High School while Fynboe headed Clover Park, called Fynboe “my mentor.”
“He had such a great recall of his students and staff,” Stewart said. “He was not just a person who managed the building; he identified with people and had an association with his students long after they’d graduated.”
From 1982-92, Fynboe served as president of the Washington Federation of Independent Schools, where he helped champion the successful legislative bill that allowed home-schooling in Washington. He then worked as a private educational consultant until 2000.
Fynboe served with various boards and charities and volunteered for Christian organizations. He was president of PLU’s alumni association three different years; served for nine years on the Charles Wright Academy’s board of trustees; and was a PLU regent from 1967-76.
From 1989 to 2006, he also directed the Stewardship Foundation, a nonprofit based in Tacoma that’s dedicated to Evangelical Christian outreach.
Fynboe died peacefully, surrounded by family members, after being diagnosed with cancer five and a half months ago. “All of us were there,” Karen Fynboe said of her father’s passing.
“As a father, he was one of the most wonderful dads you could ever hope for,” she added. “And as a leader, he listened and he was fair. He cared about students, teachers and families.”
Fynboe is survived by his wife of 65 years, Ingrid; his daughters, Karen Fynboe and Kathy Buser; his son, Chris Fynboe; and his daughter-in-law, Karie Hamilton.
The family plans a private graveside service with a public memorial this month.Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542