Encounter in Heidelberg Led to Life of Service to US, Scandinavia, and the Arts By Karl Mettinger

Felix Contreras, who was born in Arizona and grew up in Southern California, had thought of becoming an engineer. Rather than being drafted for Vietnam he took his fate in his own hands and applied for 3 years’ service at the US military base in Heidelberg, Germany. This was a smart move, as he may have saved his life. He also met his wife Ingrid from Ystad who passed away last year after 53 years happy marriage. They were global citizens with friends and family in many countries. They were Lifetime Members in the Norwegian Seaman’s Church and regularly attended the Swedish Church until she developed Alzheimer’s. We were our neighbors in Berkeley and have met them many times in different places. When he came to our last service, he was alone, and he told me his wife passed away last year. I followed up with some questions:

Where did you meet your wife?

Ingrid and I met in Germany. Ingrid, who was born in Ystad and grew up in Malmö, went to language school in Heidelberg to perfect her German. She finished her studies, returned to Sweden but then decided that she liked Heidelberg and so returned. She easily got a job with the US Army as the Executive Assistant/Translator to the Post Engineer.

What did you study after Heidelberg?

Out of high school, I thought I wanted to be an Engineer and while going to school did work for North American Aviation as a research assistant doing basic materials research. But my time in the military convinced me that Engineering was not really what I wanted to do. Upon return to California, I switched to Political Science.

Where and when did you get married?

We got married 1968 in Hacienda Heights in Southern California where I grew up and Ingrid arrived from Sweden. We had been apart for three years since her mother died and she then was left to care for her 12-year-old sister. I dropped out of out of graduate school to get married and accepted a job with Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

One of my first assignments was to investigate and propose a solution on complicated labor compensation issues in most of the Department’s field offices. The Department liked my ideas and decided to implement my proposals.

Ingrid worked at the Scandinavian Documentation Center (SCANDOC), returned to Sweden to have our son born there. And then before we left DC our daughter was born there.

What made you relocate to San Francisco?

I had grown up in California and was able to continue to work on special assignments from this location. In the thirty-some years with the Department I was able to do both policy work as well as administrative work.

How did you first get involved in the Swedish and Norwegian churches in SF?

I am sure that some of Ingrid’s colleagues at SCANDOC mentioned the Norwegian and Swedish Churches when we were getting ready to leave Washington, D.C. for San Francisco. While doing long-term assignments in DC we attended both Swedish and Norwegian services when pastors came down from New York.

How come your family became Global Citizens?

Our homes in San Francisco and later in Berkeley have always been open for family and friends from all over the world. At the urging of the Norwegian staff, we have hosted many visiting academics that came for additional study at CAL. Sometimes people our age and sometimes young students.

Ingrid loved to travel and in the first 40 years of our marriage she went back to Europe 41 times. Our children have inherited Ingrid’s love of travel. Our son and his family (wife and two sons) currently live in Wellington, New Zealand. Before that they spent a year in Mexico where he painted mostly street scenes and their two sons were enrolled in an International school.

Our daughter and her husband live on Vancouver Island, but they too travel extensively. They also taught in South Korea and Thailand. They just finished seven months of travel in southern Europe – Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Albania.

Both our children attended Swedish schools and are fluent in Swedish.

Tell us about Ingrid’s artistic pursuits.

Ingrid comes from a very artistic family. Her father, whose regular job was as an Engineer, was also a fine painter. Her brother was a full-time artist. Her sister is a very good watercolorist. Ingrid’s focus was ceramics and her work included utilitarian items (cups/bowls/ornaments) but also abstract items centering on form and texture.

Feel free telling us about your experience coping with her years of declining memory and your recent memorial where our Priest Joakim Schröder was involved.

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease and affects people in different ways. For Ingrid, it was at first a slow decline. But then one day all her languages were gone. With the pandemic raging we decided that a care facility was not appropriate, so we hired full time staff. They were well trained, and they were very helpful. Siri and Terje, the Host couple from the Norwegian Church. arranged classical music performances for Ingrid in our garden.

In March this year, with Joakim we put together a religious service for immediate family. A large event – a celebration of Ingrid’s life – was held at the Log Cabin in the Presidio.

Thanks, Felix, for sharing this beautiful love story with all of us.

Thanks Ingrid Louise (Nini) for your inspiring life and for the beautiful ceramic cross that has been admired by so many of us who worship in the Norwegian Seaman’s Church.