On Oct. 25, Katherine's life was cut short by homicide. Katherine was on her way to investigate a nannying job she had found on Craigslist.org, an ad posted falsely by the man who murdered her. Nineteen-year-old Michael John Anderson from Savage, Minn. has been charged with the murder.
A visitation was held Tuesday afternoon at Richfield Lutheran Church, and the funeral took place Wednesday at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. Over one thousand people paid tribute to her life, and during both gatherings, pictures and videos of Katherine singing, dancing, acting, traveling and having fun with friends and family appeared on screens for all to see.
Katherine's brother Karl Olson '08 said that he wants the St. Olaf community to remember Katherine for who she was and not for the murder story that much of the community has heard. "I want people to know about her life," he said.
During her four years at St. Olaf, Katherine immersed herself in academic and social activities. She volunteered with Project Friendship, a program that pairs mentors with Northfield youth in order to give children positive role models. Deeply involved in both her majors theater and Hispanic studies Katherine thrived on her passions for the stage and for learning about other cultures.
Katherine's friend Max Wojtanowicz '06 said that he admired this passion in her. "Onstage and in the classroom, KO [friends' nickname for Katherine Olson] took a risk, unafraid to look foolish, knowing that it was only in being willing to make a mistake that we could ever grow as artists," he said.
Katherine was a member of Phi Beta Kappa honors society and graduated from St. Olaf Summa Cum Laude. "Katherine was extremely smart and loved the academic immersion," Karl Olson said. "[She] pretty much mastered the academic world."
After graduation, Katherine traveled and explored, even taking a trip to Turkey. This fall, she enrolled in an interpreting class at the University of Minnesota. In a conversation with Karl, she expressed discontent with the backseat role of an interpreter. "She said, 'Karl, I'm learning in my classes that interpreters are supposed to facilitate conversations between two people, but they are also supposed to be invisible. And I've decided I don't want to be an interpreter because I don't want to be invisible,'" he said. Karl described his sister's visibility as one that manifested in her day-to-day relationships. "Katherine's visibility in my life consisted of everyday conversations in Stav Hall," he said. "I remember a lot of conversations with her my first year where I would just tell her about all the new and exciting things of college. She was an excellent listener, and while that may be 'invisible,' that has a significant impact on somebody's life."
In addition to the vast academic, artistic and social impact that Katherine had at St. Olaf, friends and family members remember Katherine as, above all, a compassionate human being. "The words that continue to pop up as we gather as friends and share stories or read facebook threads are 'ever-smiling,' 'passionate,' 'bright,' 'loving,'" said Mandy Morgan '06, friend of Katherine. "These are just a few words that barely begin to describe the incredible person Katherine Olson was."
Many of Katherine's mourners have taken her life as an example for their own. "I take comfort during this time of grief in knowing that she will have inspired all of us that knew her, onstage and off, that we cannot live ruled by fear," Wojtanowicz said, "that we cannot be worried about making mistakes, that we cannot grow without opening our hearts to love and our minds to new ideas." Morgan feels similar gratitude in the midst of losing her friend. "Whether she was a friend, someone we saw on stage, around campus, had class with or knew as a sister to Karl, she touched us all," Morgan said. "She would want us to spread that light that she so graciously brought to everyone around her and everything she did."