A man, his camera, and Wright

© Mark Hertzberg (2021) Vintage photos © Estate of Al Krescanko. Portrait of Krescanko by Mark Hertzberg / The (Racine) Journal Times

Frank Lloyd Wright likely would have had conniptions if anyone had dared alter one of his drawings, but he thought nothing of altering one of photographer Al Krescanko’s negatives before signing and returning it to him. What had the architect retouched? He thought his hair looked too long, so he shaded it in on the negative.

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Krescanko was one of those quiet guys who said he was just doing his job when he photographed Wright some 60 years ago, but his insightful 1957 candid photos of the master architect have been republished in at least two landmark books about Wright. Yet, Krescanko’s byline has remained largely unknown. Among photographers of Wright, it has less name recognition than the work of Pedro Guerrero, Balthazar Korab, and Ed Obma.

Krescanko photographed Wright during the course of his work as a photographer for SC Johnson in Racine, Wisconsin. He also extensively photographed the construction of the Wright-designed Keland House (1954) for Willard and Karen Johnson Keland (later Karen Johnson Boyd), and took pictures for Willard Keland’s unrealized Wisconsin River Development Corporation in Spring Green.

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Krescanko died in 2005, at age 78. A few of his photos of Wright have previously been published, but the Keland House photos were unknown until recently, when the Organic Architecture + Design Archives were lent Krescanko’s photos to digitize by Mary Jo Armstrong, his daughter, for a magazine article. The Keland House photos include the only known view of the original carport which became the master bedroom after a garage was built and the house modified by John (Jack) Howe in 1961.

I would be delighted to tell you more and share more photos, but I will instead direct you to OA + D’s website where you can buy Vol. 9 No. 2 of their excellent thrice-yearly journal. Each issue is devoted to a single topic. Eric O’Malley at OA + D has long been intrigued by Krescanko’s story and photos. Armstrong readily agreed to share her father’s photos with him when he proposed devoting an issue of the Journal to him.

The full story of Krescanko’s career and 41 of his photographs of Wright at Taliesin and at SC Johnson, and of the Keland House construction are in this 40 page issue. Bill Keland, Willard and Karen’s son, helped write the captions for the construction photos as he viewed them for the first time. (I am the “Guest Editor” of this issue of the Journal and wrote the profile. It is a much more extensive profile of Krescanko than the one I wrote in 2002 when I worked for the Racine newspaper. The profile includes interviews with his brother and his two surviving children).

If we have whet your appetite to see and read more about quiet, unassuming Al Krescanko and his not-unassuming subject, follow the link below. As they (whoever ‘they’ are!) say on late night television, “Operators are standing by to take your call!”

https://www.oadarchives.com/product/journal-oa-d-9-2

Bill Boyd and the Keland House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Karen and Bill – August 16, 2008 at Lake Owen, Wisconsin, their summer home

One way to become steward of a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is to marry into it. That is how Bill Boyd came to be a steward of the Keland House in Mount Pleasant (Racine), Wisconsin in 1982. He joked with me that he was accused of marrying his late wife, Karen Johnson Boyd, for just that reason. She and her first husband had commissioned the house in 1954. Bill, who was properly called Dr. William B. Boyd, and WBB to those who worked with him, died peacefully Wednesday December 16 in his beloved Keland House after a short illness. He was 97. His dear Karen had died in the house in January 2016.

Keland House 5.14.18 002.jpgThe Keland House, May 14, 2018

Bill told me that he had never seen a building designed by Wright until he came to Racine in 1980 for an interview to become the second president of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Johnson home that Karen grew up in. Wingspread was designed by Wright in  1937. The interview, with Karen’s brother, Sam, the president of SC Johnson, took place in Wright’s landmark SC Johnson Administration Building (1936). Bill summed up his initial reaction to Wright’s architecture in just three words, “I was smitten.”

Wright presented a Japanese print by the famous woodblock print artist Utagawa Hiroshige to H.F. Johnson Jr. when the family moved into Wingspread. The print hangs in the master bedroom in the Keland House:

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Bill missed an immersion into the World of Wright in the early 1950s, when he was studying for his Master’s degree at Emory College in Atlanta. He had applied for a position at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Dr. Ludd Spivey, a teetotaler who commissioned Wright to design the college campus in 1938 (10 Wright-designed buildings were ultimately constructed), was in Atlanta. He invited Bill to a lunch interview. Dr. Spivey said, “Before we begin, I must ask you if you drink alcohol.” Bill replied, “I enjoy a drink now and then.” The interview was over. Bill was on his own for lunch after Dr. Spivey rose from the table, and declared “There is no point in our going on any further.” I told him I was glad he enjoyed a drink “now and then.” If he had gone to Florida Southern, I said, he may not have come to Wingspread, and I would not have met him.

Boyds 005.jpgAugust 14, 2008, Lake Owen, Wisconsin

He had a distinguished career in academia, though not at Florida Southern, of course. He was President of the University of Oregon for five years before coming to Wingspread. His academic career is summed up in the obituary he asked me to prepare with him five years ago: Dr. Boyd, who earned his Ph.D. in Modern Diplomatic History from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954, was awarded five honorary degrees during his career. He was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Alpha Theta national honor societies. Between 1954 and 1980 he served in the Humanities Department at Michigan State University; then as Dean of Faculty at Alma College; as a Dean and Director of the Honors Program at Ohio State University; Vice-Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and as President of Central Michigan University prior to his appointment as President of the University of Oregon in 1975.

He was not a dull academic. On the contrary, he had great joie de vivre.

IMG_0449.jpgAugust 10, 2016, on Lake Owen

A Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he grew up on the water near Charleston, South Carolina, and loved sailing both on Lake Michigan in Racine, and on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.

Lake Owen 08 037.jpgKaren and Bill on Lake Owen, Wisconsin, August 14, 2008

When the producers of the movie Animal House sought permission to film on campus at the University of Oregon, he gave his consent, recalling what he regarded as the short-sighted decision by the administration at UC-Berkley denying Mike Nichols permission to film The Graduate on their campus. His only proviso was that the school not be identified in the film. The famous scene with the horse in the president’s office was, indeed, filmed in his office. Karen once told me that her favorite scene of any movie she had seen was the food fight in Animal House. I profiled Bill and Animal House two years ago:

https://racinecountyeye.com/dr-william-b-boyd-and-his-connection-to-the-movie-animal-house/

WBB Animal House 001.jpgBill wore his Oregon Ducks hat when I profiled his involvement in “Animal House”

Bill had a great social conscience. He told me that he was angered by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s attempts to stifle free speech at Berkley when Bill was the school’s Vice-Chancellor. At the press conference October 12, 1974 introducing him to the University of Oregon community, he said demonstrators outside were “ill-mannered … but manners are not the most important thing in life,” adding that sometimes “passion and tremendous concern for social justice” are just as important.

Buffy Sainte-Marie performed at the festivities surrounding Bill’s inauguration as President of Central Michigan University in 1969. The event was remembered 50 years later in a story online: Not often does a university president offer students an afternoon off from classes to attend an “informal ceremony,” a reception, and a concert performed by a legend of activism and folk music. Fifty years later, the Boyd inauguration is remembered as a notable moment in the history of Central Michigan University, when the students, the trustees, and the President opted to forego pomp and circumstance in favor of “a ‘swinging’ ceremony.” From:

http://www.clarkehistoricallibrary.org/2019/05/fiftieth-anniversary-of-president-boyds.html

He spoke with pride of clandestinely delivering what would have been deemed subversive material to a Jewish “refusenik” in Moscow during a conference in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

He was passionate about Racine’s Kids First Fund. Wrote Marge Kozina, I have been very fortunate to have had the wonderful opportunity of working closely with William Boyd (Bill) for many years when I was executive director of the Racine Community Foundation (RCF) and Bill was a board member. He was the leading force, along with several others, in helping create and grow the Kids First Fund within the Foundation. Bill’s dedication and leadership in the early years have benefitted thousands of students and hundreds of teachers within the Racine Unified School District. He is deeply committed to enhancing the lives of others through education. Bill Boyd is one of the nicest and caring gentlemen I have ever met in my life.  Both Bill and Karen, each in their own special way, have made enormous efforts to bettering our community.  

Freeman Dinner Keland 011.jpgSeptember 27, 2018, hosting a special dinner cooked by Wright aficionado and master chef Steven Freeman. It was a joyous evening, marking Bill’s first meal at the dining room table in the Keland House since Karen’s death almost three years earlier.

Journalist Clay Eals, who covered the University of Oregon for The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper, quoted part of Bill’s presidential inauguration speech in the January 18, 1976 edition of the newspaper. His remarks seem prescient today: A changed set of American expectations about life in the third century of the republic, the constricted state of the national economy, and the fears of a student generation viewing an anxious future from a normless present all pose challenges to the existing shape of the university….As usual in human affairs, discriminating judgments are required if human intellect and imagination are to prevail over temptations and anxieties.

In an email sent after he learned of Bill’s death, Eals called him “a reporter’s dream.” He included a clipping of a story about Bill being interviewed in the middle of a scandal in the athletic department. He opened his briefcase to refer to some papers only to find a pair of pants inside. “I’ve been trying to get them to the dry cleaners for a week,” he said. “And I haven’t had a clean shirt for days.”

Eals wrote to Bill in June 2020, including a copy of the last story he wrote for the newspaper in June 1980, a story about Bill that he wrote in longhand in his car, literally the night before leaving on a cross-country bicycle trip. Among my favorite news sources was you, and I had many occasions to cover stories in which you were an important, if not primary, source. Your cool informality, sense of humor, and way with words were most impressive. Seemingly effortlessly, you set people at ease.

Ellen Brzezinski, one of Bill’s nurses, sent family members and Eals’s letter with this note: Mr Boyd got this letter in the mail today. I read it to him and barely made it through without crying.  What a tribute!

Roger Dower, one of Bill’s successors at President of the Johnson Foundation, noted his lasting impact on the institution: Bill had a diverse and sharp intellect, but also a deep passion and caring for improving the lives of people nationally and in Racine. His programs and conferences at the Johnson Foundation on the critical  role of quality education for all children, placed that topic squarely on the national and local agenda. The Foundation’s work on K-12 education, under Bill’s direction, remains as influential today as it was in the mid-1980’s and remains a focus for the Foundation today.

Bill believed deeply in the power of convening small groups to solve big problems – the principal activity of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread then and now.  With his usual eloquence, Bill frequently said, “ while small group meetings may seem like frail weapons to take on the daunting challenges of our times, just properly used they can slay dragons.”

Keland House 2002 016.jpgBill gave me my first extensive tour of the Keland House on November 1, 2002. He saw this nuthatch through the window, when we paused on the steps, and remarked, “This is what I love about living in this house.”

Keland Birds.jpgIn January 2019 I photographed this silhouette of the birds outside as we had lunch together in the family room.

Stacy Owens, Bill’s lead nurse, told me that Bill died peacefully, and that “he saw Karen just before he died.” Rest in peace, my friend. The world is richer for having known you.

I leave you with a photograph I took of the refrigerator at the Keland House when we were getting ready to enjoy Steven Freeman’s dinner:

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A Tribute to Karen Johnson Boyd

Text and photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

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At Lake Owen, Thursday August 14, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

 

Karen Johnson Boyd died peacefully early Friday morning in her Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Racine, Wisconsin after a short illness. She was 91.

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Karen and her husband Bill Boyd at Lake Owen, Saturday August 16, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

The house, the Keland House, was designed in 1954. She was one of Wright’s surviving clients. There are aficionados of Wright’s work who keep lists of Wright’s surviving clients. But Karen (pronounced Car-In, after her Norwegian ancestry) was a great woman, a fun person, a friend, not just a name on a dispassionate list of Wright clients still living in their Wright homes. She had a keen sense of humor, matched by the perpetual twinkle in her eyes (dare I post the photos I have of her playfully sticking her tongue out at me when I photographed her?).

She has a great legacy in the art world in Racine and in America. The Racine Art Museum in downtown Racine bears the name Karen Johnson Boyd Galleries. (I refer to her as Karen, rather than Mrs. Boyd, because I had the privilege of being friends with her and her husband, Dr. William B. Boyd.)

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Karen Johnson Boyd, with museum director Bruce Pepich, signs copies of American Craft profile about her at the Racine Art Museum, Saturday December 13, 2008 / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Her father, the late H.F. Johnson Jr., became a patron of Wright after commissioning the SC Johnson Administration Building in 1936 and the Johnson home, Wingspread, the following year. Karen and her late brother, Sam, grew up in Wingspread, and that inspired her to want Wright to design a home for her and her first husband, Willard Keland.

Karen was 12 when, unbeknownst to her, H.F, as he was known, hired Wright to design the Administration Building. “I just remember the time right after Dad first saw Mr. Wright, I was at Kemper Hall (a boarding school in nearby Kenosha), and he came down to pick me up one Sunday and he said to me, ‘Karen, you’re studying art history, now who is the greatest architect in America?’”  She was sitting next to her father in the front seat of their cream-colored Lincoln convertible, and replied, “Why everybody knows it’s Frank Lloyd Wright.” He was sort of appalled that I knew that. I remember that vividly. He was flabbergasted that his kid would know it. He told me at that time that he was going to have Mr. Wright do the building.”

Just a month ago she spoke of a characteristic of her father’s relationship with the famous architect who had a reputation for not managing money well. “He was always trying to get money from my father. He would come unannounced for a visit with my father, but he always came with some of his students. He came to Wingspread and to the office building.” Did Wright pay the loans back? “Not that I know of. He would tell my father that we had to pay the room and board for his students because they were not in paying jobs to do it themselves. My father did it any number of times, because he felt they were doing good work. They were supporting Mr. Wright.”

The most memorable time that Wright sought a loan from H.F. was in the early 1940s. Wright had sent word to Racine that he was maybe dying. He wanted H.F. to bring “the girl” (Karen, whom Wright was fond of) with him. “They took me into his bedroom. There were about six or seven people watching me so I didn’t take anything as a souvenir.” Wright commanded, “Bring the girl to me.”

“I remember being really flattered that he wanted to speak to me. He made me come over next to him on the bed and he grabbed ahold of my hand  He said my father was his best friend. ‘He is a wonderful man,’ he said. And he said, ‘Did you know he’s a wonderful man?’and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘I’m glad, I’m glad to hear you say that.’ He said, ‘I think I’m going to die, Hib (H.F.’s nickname), but I need to leave my apprentices in a position to stay on the job of guarding the place, keeping it safe.’ He said I haven’t got any money to leave the apprentices, but they have to guard the place otherwise they’ll come and close down the place.’ I remember my father asking what they needed the money for, and he said to keep the place from closing down. They have to pay bills for heating and electricity. Father wrote a check.”

Wright was fond of her. “He would ask my father about what kind of grades I was getting in school and whether I was dating anybody important.” She was flattered by Wright’s interest in her. Karen repaid Wright, if you will, by generously sharing her home for special benefit events hosted by Frank Lloyd Wright groups, even as recently as last fall.

Two of the Wingspread’s signature features were suggested by Karen, then 13, and her brother, Sam, 9. Wright wrote them, asking if there was anything they wanted included in the house. Karen, whose bedroom was at the north end of the house, on the second floor past the master bedrooms, requested a cantilevered balcony like the dramatic one she had seen at Taliesin.  Wright told her that one day she would be wooed from below the balcony by a suitor “with a classical guitar, of course.” The bedroom’s location was dramatic, but not ideal, “I had to sneak past my father’s door if I wanted to sneak out.”

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Karen’s balcony, right. The Crow’s Nest is left of center, next to the chimney. / © Mark Hertzberg

The children loved the spectacular view from the cupola of their maternal grandmother’s house in Ithaca, New York, and they asked for a lookout tower in their new home. Wright gave them the Crow’s Nest, a glass enclosure next to the chimney, which is reached by a spiral staircase from the mezzanine above the wigwam. It was a child’s delight. Karen and Sam could see the lake and watch their father, an avid pilot, fly past the house. They left each other notes in a locked cabinet. The key was lost, and Karen wondered in 2003 if there is still a forgotten note in the cabinet.

Karen said she picked Wright to design her own home on the bluff of a ravine that overlooks the Root River and Colonial Park “because I lived in Wingspread and loved it.” Her father was less sure about her choice of architect because he knew what it was like to commission a Wright building, and was afraid that it would be too expensive.

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The Keland house, Sunday June 1, 2003. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Johnson wrote Wright, asking him to recommend an architect. Karen recalls Wright’s answer: “Of course I can recommend someone, but wouldn’t it be better for the daughter to have the real thing? I would love to do a house for Karen.” He got the commission, but her father warned her to be careful.

It is almost inconceivable to think of Wright agreeing to have another architect looking over his shoulder, but Karen said he did not balk when Johnson assigned John Halama, the company architect, to supervise the job. Halama and Wright had already worked together on the Johnson Research Tower and other projects. When the Kelands also hired consultants from the University of Indiana to help design the home’s radiant heating system, something her father recommended because of problems with Wingspread’s system, she says that “Mr. Wright never said ‘boo’ about it…I think Mr. Wright was relieved he didn’t have to do it.”

Wright may have been on his best behavior when the house was being built, but he was true to form when he and Wes Peters came for lunch in 1956 after the Kelands had moved in. Karen had fixed lunch (it was a lunch she liked to fix for guests: chicken salad, with curry in the mayonnaise; buttered toast broiled with sesame seeds; and green grapes) and served Coca Colas to her guests after lunch, when Wright decided it was time to rearrange the furniture.

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“I knew it was to be expected because he had already done it to Irene (Purcell Johnson) and Dad at Wingspread, famously, in the middle of the night without asking permission.” Her stepmother had also warned her. “Just remember, Karen, he’s going to come back and rearrange everything.”

The only furnishings Wright had designed for the Keland house were built-in ledges, bookcases, cabinets, and two built-in sofas. The living room furniture was in two groupings because the family did not often entertain large groups of people.

Wright said he liked the two beige Moroccan rugs, and asked where they were from. Then he turned his attention to the furniture. He had Peters move the baby grand piano into the center of the room because the Keland children were taking piano lessons and he thought the family should gather around the piano every night.  Karen remembered Wright asking, “Do you mind if I show you the way I think? I like your furniture and your rugs and the drapes. You’ve done a great job, but I think you have to arrange it in a more family way.”

It was part of his persona. “He was laughing and grinning, he was getting a kick out of it,” Karen recalled, “Even Wes Peters was laughing. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he whispered, ‘This is just in fun’ as he was pushing and shoving things around.” Karen knew not to argue. “I thanked him for it and said we’ll try it out and see how it works. It stayed that way for a couple of days. It just didn’t look right.”

The Keland house is larger than most of the Usonian homes, but it has many of the characteristics of Wright’s Usonian designs. The original house was L-shaped, with a third wing for the carport. The dining area, with its two-ton Vermont marble table which took 15 men to carry into the house, is just off the entry hall, and flows into the living room. The living room dominates the main wing. It is spacious, and comfortable, filled with books and art. The built-in furnishings are also an important part of the Usonian design concept.

The kitchen is at the “hinge” between the living room/dining room wing and the bedroom wing, following the Usonian model. Wright, who normally didn’t seem to worry about what other people thought, suggested a wood screen to hide a small wet bar that adjoins the kitchen, “What are you going to do when the minister comes?”

The bedrooms are in the south wing. The hallway is narrower than Wright had wanted, because Karen requested built-in storage cabinets along the outside wall. She also insisted on a basement, a feature that Wright termed “unwelcome” in his definition of organic architecture in his autobiography. The guest room is on the second floor of the main wing, adjoining a sitting room, which overlooks the living room and the ravine below.

Wright wanted to include a cantilevered terrace in the design, jutting out from the guest room, like the one he designed for Karen’s bedroom at Wingspread. It was eliminated from the final house plans, for budget reasons, to Karen’s regret years later, “It would have been a very distinctive part of the house.”

Karen loved the Wright home she grew up in, and loved the one she commissioned. “Depending on your mood it expands with you or contracts. You can go in a little cozy eating area in the kitchen or if you feel expansive you come out here (the living room) and have a great big party if you want.”

Her son, Bill Keland, was just one when the family moved into the house, but it had a great influence on him. The land itself was a child’s delight, “We used to live down on that river, and play on that river…that whole valley was our playground. We had our bikes, We caught fish. That was where we lived most of the year. It was a great place to grow up.” His classmates knew there was something different about the house, “(They would) look around (and) wonder, what is this place…with its long hallways, and low ceilings opening up into a big room…”

Wright’s design moved Bill even years later, and influenced the design of his own home in California, “It always felt like it was a sacred space, thought out space. It made me feel like a human being.”

Dr. Boyd, moved to Racine when he became president of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, in 1980. He was invited to dinner at Karen’s house after starting his new job, “Then I married into the house. I often think she must think I married her for the house, I love it so much.”

Frank Lloyd Wright brought nature and the house together in their spacious, two-story home designed five years before he died. The Boyds enjoyed watching the river and the birds that flock to the courtyard garden.

The house is filled with art. To Karen, it was art. “Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a piece of sculpture,” she said in an interview in 2001.

Karen was a member of Racine’s most prominent family, but she was self-effacing. She and I were sitting in the courtyard of the house one day as she described how architect John (Jack) Howe added on to, and remodeled, part of the house in 1961. She had four children, so a garage was added when the carport was enclosed to make another bedroom. Pointing to the small door next to us, near the kitchen, she said, “And this is where the little woman brought her groceries into the house” after pulling them from the car on a wagon.

We were talking about the movie “Animal House” after Dr. Boyd told me that he gave permission for it to be filmed at the University of Oregon when he was president of the university as long as the college was not identified by name (the scene with the horse in an office was shot in his office). She smiled and let on that her favorite movie scene was one from the movie.

As much as she loved the “piece of sculpture” that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for her, she also loved spending time on Lake Owen in Cable, Wisconsin. That was a family vacation destination since the teens, and she spent every summer of her life but one there. Karen was a world traveler, but she and Dr. Boyd honeymooned in a bare-bones fishing cottage by a stream on the property after they married in 1982. Karen could have described it to us when we visited them there a decade ago, but instead she insisted we climb into a four-wheel drive Suburban which she piloted over rough terrain with careless abandon to take us to that magic spot in their lives for a picnic lunch. The Boyds put their arms around each other as they looked out from the porch.

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I visited the Boyds a month ago and was touched when Bill gently kissed Karen’s hand after she stopped to see us in his office. The love, the magic was still there as it must have been at Lake Owen in 1982. I ache for Bill as I write this remembrance.

Karen could have lived the life that many people who know nothing about the Johnsons assume “a Johnson” would live, but she did not. She used to take advantage of the Metra weekend roundtrip fares to take the train to Chicago when she could have simply had a driver take her into the city. She gave of herself unselfishly. Bill lost his soulmate this morning. Racine, the art world, and the world of Frank Lloyd Wright lost a great friend and a great person.

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Lake Owen, Saturday August 16, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

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Sunset at Lake Owen where Karen spent every summer of her life, but one, Friday August 15, 2008. / (c) Mark Hertzberg