Bruce Karr, founder of The Farm ministry, dies at 60
The Snohomish native died after a lengthy illness, surrounded by family and friends in his beloved grandmother's farmhouse. He was 60.
Despite all odds, he built a grass-roots ministry called The Farm that has helped thousands of people in the community -- and beyond. The Farm is well known for its elaborate Christmas and Easter celebrations, which draw hundreds of homeless families from three counties. In 2008, the American Red Cross of Snohomish County named him its Humanitarian of the Year.
Karr often said The Farm is about unconditional love and acceptance.
"I keep The Farm really simple: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked," Karr said last spring. "To me, Christianity is simple, and I like to keep it that way. I'm not a Bible scholar at all. It's just unconditional love at The Farm. People are wanted and valued. We don't judge people here."
Karr, a working-class man, had a vision to build the farm 15 years ago. He nearly died from a heart ailment in 1994. The experience left him questioning what he had done in life that mattered.
Against the advice of everyone, he sold his construction business and bought his late grandmother's dilapidated farmhouse. He said he didn't care about making money or status. He didn't, as he put it, want to have somebody build a statue of him so pigeons could poop on it.
He did want to be an inspiration to others.
The Farm started out as a youth group but later grew to serve the homeless and disenfranchised.
Today a fully stocked kitchen is always open for anyone who needs a meal. Kids struggling to get their lives on track work off community services hours there.
The ministry isn't affiliated with any particular church or organization. Karr didn't let rules and other people's expectations stop him from doing what he thought was right.
He had a talent for making people feel they matter -- and meaning it. When he asked for help, people had trouble saying no. The Farm has hundreds of volunteers.
Sometimes his family was surprised by how many people had heard of The Farm. Ryan Pike said if he mentioned his father-in-law's name around town, nobody would take his money. Even farther afield, everybody seemed to know about The Farm. Friend Blayne Greiner of Monroe said he once happened upon a man in a jungle of Guatemala wearing The Farm T-shirt. A few days before Karr's death, people as far away as England were e-mailing and calling for updates.
"You think little Snohomish, Washington, but the number of lives he's touched -- it's amazing," Pike said.
Karr was born Aug. 3, 1949. He grew up in Snohomish and attended Snohomish High School. He operated a successful auto body shop and then went into business selling manufactured homes with his brother, Larry Karr, in Everett. Later, he owned his own construction business.
He married and divorced twice before marrying Vicki Stevens in 2005, who shares his passion for helping troubled kids and animals. She plans to carry on The Farm's work.
Karr said his greatest accomplishments in his life were his children and his niece, Devon Walterscheid. He helped raised Devon after her parents' deaths in 1983.
During his final few days, his children slept on the floor of the parlor near him, held his hand and talked to him. His family and friends gathered Monday afternoon for a goodbye prayer led by longtime friend and motorcycle preacher Dean Ekloff. His oldest daughter, Lisa Atkinson, held one hand and his wife held his other. Ekloff dabbed a bit of oil onto Karr's forehead, and, before saying the prayer, let Karr know it was OK to let go.
"Soon Bruce will be running The Farm up north," he said.
Karr is survived by his wife, Vicki; his children, Lisa Atkinson of Burlington, Todd Karr of Mill Creek and Karrie Pike of Moses Lake; his mother, Doris Olson of Snohomish; five grandchildren; and many other family and friends.
He was preceded in death by his father, George Karr, and his brother, Larry Karr.
Karr's family is still working out the details of his memorial.
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