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By Dan Rudy 

Longtime Wrangellite becomes US citizen

 

Submitted Photo

Josie Olsen stands with Magistrate Judge Leslie Longenbaugh after being sworn in as a United States citizen during a June 24 ceremony in Juneau. A Wrangell resident of the past 17 years, Olsen was one of 41 candidates from 11 nations to be admitted.

A local resident got to celebrate her first Independence Day as a United States citizen this week, after gaining citizenship on June 24.

Originally hailing from the Philippines, Josie Olsen

first arrived to Wrangell in 1999. She recalled she had not lived in her home country

since 1985, living and working abroad in the interim.

Olsen was working as a

diplomat in Brussels, Belgium, when she came to America to visit a friend.

"It was the end of June when I came," Olsen said.

What began with a

six-month visa turned into a permanent move, after meeting her future husband, commercial fisherman Leonard Olsen. Olsen said she enjoyed the town and the change of pace, after living in large cities for so long.

"For me it's a

different place," she said. "I feel like I'm in my own country. People are so warm, so

friendly."

Olsen returned her diplomatic credentials and settled

into the community, marrying Leonard and learning to fish. In her 17 years as a resident, Olsen has been an active member of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, a Stikine Stitcher, a singer in the Wrangell Community Chorale, and recently a cashier at Stikine Drug.

"It's just like an American dream," she explained.

When her husband

passed away last March, she said her church and

friends from the community had helped her through that difficult time. But after his

passing, Olsen realized she needed to renew her paperwork for a 10-year resident card. As she was eligible, she decided instead to pursue citizenship, and was interviewed as part of that process in April. She passed the tests administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and was invited to attend a naturalization ceremony at Juneau's Robert Boochever U.S. Courthouse.

"I am in. I am a US citizen," she said.

The event was held on June 24, and Olsen was made a citizen along with 40 other Alaska residents. When the magistrate asked if she had anything to say afterward, Olsen said the first to things to come to mind were "Mabuhay" – a Filipino expression commonly used as a greeting or toast, which means "live" – and "God Bless America."

She returned to Wrangell by airplane the next day, and was surprised to be welcomed back by a crowd of friends and well-wishers.

"I was just so overwhelmed," Olson recalled. "I nearly cried when all my friends were there at the airport."

She almost didn't spot her car in the airport parking lot, as they had placed big red, white and blue bow on the back of it.

Asked about her experience living in America, Olsen remembered something she was advised early on in her residency: "Live clean and you get what you wish."

"It's really true," she added.

Olsen spent her first Fourth of July as a citizen preparing burgers for hungry festival-goers at the St. Rose of Lima food stand.

"Everybody greeted me," she said. It was a good day for her, and Olsen expressed her appreciation for the community she has come to call home.

"I just love it," she said. "I am proud I am one of them."

Her relatives still live abroad, with Olsen's mother residing in the Philippines along with her daughter, an information technology specialist, and one of her sons, a parish priest. Her eldest son lives with his family in Vancouver, British Columbia, while her youngest is in France, where he was just ordained as a priest.

 

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