An open heart

Elaine Christiansen and Sarah
Sarah Jackson and Elaine Christiansen. Photo by Tracy Walsh

Have you ever met someone who just beamed warmth and kindness — and just pure goodness — right from the get-go, someone who made you feel instantly special and even, despite being a stranger, loved?

That’s what it was like for me meeting Elaine Christiansen in her small but cozy Falcon Heights home. I imagine that’s what it’s like for most folks who meet this extraordinary woman, who happens to be this month’s Good Age Cover Star.

When our chief profile writer, Julie Kendrick, suggested we do a story on Christiansen, she mentioned her career accomplishments with Pillsbury, but said what made her even more amazing was what she did before and after her career — a surprising amount of charity work while also raising four sons.

She described her as “someone who is not wealthy, did not start some flashy new thing, but who has done amazing work by pitching in and helping out.”

Indeed, Christiansen has used her zest for life to volunteer for decades, not just in the Twin Cities but also in Guatemala, where she’s traveled more than 15 times as part of two different humanitarian programs — Helps International and Common Hope.

When she gave me (and our photographer, Tracy Walsh) a tour of her home, Christiansen spoke fondly of her days crafting cookbooks as a home economist, working for the Pillsbury Bake-Off and even travelling to all seven continents (yes, including two trips to Antarctica), I was struck by her achievements and adventures.

But it wasn’t until she took us into a little den in the back of her house to show us all the artwork and letters of thanks from her beloved friends in Guatemala covering the walls — that she beamed the brightest. Pointing to one item, she said: “This is a true gift of love.”

It was all made possible by the Antigua-based organization Common Hope:
“You agree to sponsor a child, and your contribution goes toward their educational expenses and general family support,” said Christiansen who so far has sponsored 10 children — and traveled back to celebrate many high school graduations.

Though Christiansen is 88 years old, she’s still active in her kids’ — and grandkids’ — lives as well as the lives of her sponsored children in Antigua.

“I’ve had a rich and full life,” Christiansen said. “I’m not stopping.”