An uprooted childhood, a Navy career fueled by wanderlust, family lost and found – Olive Blumenstein’s life reads like the most incredible fiction.
Born Olive Joanne English in 1956 in Marshall, Alaska, a community 75 miles north of Bethel, Olive entered the foster care system when she was only a year and a half old. Her mother died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm, “and after that, I completely lost track of any relatives,” Blumenstein said. “In fact, growing up, I was told I had no living relatives, but I always had a memory of my sister Olga – we weren’t separated until I was 7 years old and she was 6.”
Blumenstein lived with foster families scattered throughout the Lower 48 – Washington, Nevada, California and Arizona, respectively – before settling in Fairbanks with an older foster sibling. At 20, she joined the Navy.
“What else was I supposed to do? I had no family, no family ties and no home. I saw an ad that said ‘Join the Navy and see the world,’ and I thought, well, that has my name written all over it,” Blumenstein recalled.
That decision led to a 16-and-a-half-year career. “The Navy became my family – I just fell in love with it,” Blumenstein said. Ports of call included Australia, Guam, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as a seven-year stint in Japan and a ship assignment during the Gulf War.
In October 1997, Blumenstein was working as a Navy recruiter in Washington State when she received the call from CIRI’s Shareholder Relations Department that would change her life. “I was told that I was a lost shareholder and that I had family eagerly waiting to hear from me. I was very polite when I told them, ‘I’m sorry, I’ll be happy to talk to them, but you have the wrong person,’ though I couldn’t imagine two people with my name.”
A few hours later she received a call from her cousin Mary in Bethel, “and she had all of my other cousins there.” Five months later she flew to Alaska to meet her family.
Two years after reconnecting with her cousins, Blumenstein conducted an Internet search in an attempt to locate her sister. Six months later, she found her living in South Carolina. “I flew Olga out see me, and she ended up moving to here [to Washington],” Blumenstein said. Olga Roseanne Goodman passed away in October 2015, but the two did get to know each other. And Blumenstein still speaks to her cousins, who are dispersed throughout Anchorage, Juneau and Marshall.
Blumenstein resides in Washington State, along with her husband Glenn, a test pilot. She has three children from a previous marriage – daughters Christyna and Shannon and a son, William. She earned an Associate Technical Arts degree in chemical dependency counseling, graduating with honors in 2013, and currently works as an outpatient chemical dependency counselor, where she helps individuals struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol. “Addiction is a rampant disease that affects people of all backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve had family members suffering from this disease, and I’ve had clients who are judges. We can’t sit idly by; we have to step up to the plate and do something.”
Blumenstein previously worked as an inpatient counselor for Olalla Recovery Centers, which utilize Native American cultural and spiritual-based recovery choices. Through her work with Olalla, she traveled to Anchorage and saw the CIRI building for the very first time.
“CIRI has been almost like a life-changing experience for me – a shocking experience, but a wonderful experience,” Blumenstein said. “The initial check I received after being a found shareholder enabled me to purchase a home and helped put my son through college. I enjoy the potlatches. After meeting my cousins, I found out that my great-grandfather is Oliver Amouak. You may recognize him – he’s the man whose picture is on Alaska Airlines planes.”