Speak to any of Steve and Diane Christianson’s friends or family members and they will tell you how cherished of a couple they were, how friendly and in love they were. On Friday night, Oct. 2, the Christiansons were killed when their car was struck by a van attempting to flee law enforcement in downtown Fergus Falls.
Steve, who was 72 years old, and Diane, who was 71 years old, had just celebrated their 48th anniversary on Sept. 30. They met at Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls, where they both attended high school. Although Diane left Fergus Falls to attend school in the Twin Cities, the two of them stayed in touch, frequently visiting each other, and eventually getting engaged.
“They were so deeply in love — genuinely a lifelong love affair,” says Lori Askeland, their niece.
Orvin Askeland, one of Diane’s older brothers and uncle to Lori, says, “They were deeply in love. It wasn’t passionate embraces all the time, but it was how they kidded each other, how close they were to each other, they loved the same things, they spent their time together. If they were off of work, they were almost always together, it was the two of them.”
Lori remembers when Steve and Diane were still dating and says, “I thought Steve was the funniest and best person in the whole world! He did a Donald Duck imitation that was spot-on. We kids would cluster around him and beg him to do it every time we saw him, again and again and again.” Lori’s sister, Gina Williams, who was the flower girl at the Christianson’s wedding, also fondly remembers Steve’s Donald Duck impression.
Steve fit right in with Diane’s family. He loved fishing — Williams says she will miss his famous garage fish fries and watching him fly fishing — and Lori says he often took her grandfather out on the lake. Orvin said neither he nor his brothers enjoyed fishing, so his father was thrilled to have someone to do that together with. “Steve ... was the light of my Norwegian immigrant grandfather Ingvald’s life in his old age because Steve would take him out in the boat many times a year,” she said. “It was lovely how they both bonded and had the same mischievous light in their eyes. They loved good cookies and good jokes.”
The Christiansons were retired from work in the health care sector. Diane was a nurse in Fergus Falls and Steve worked at the Regional Treatment Center. In their retirement, Steve enjoyed fishing and Diane enjoyed gardening. “Diane had a big garden, she loved it, they had lots of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and I think even blueberries, I’m not sure. She made a lot of jams,” says Orvin.
Both Diane and Steve loved the outdoors. Williams says the couple loved all parks, but that Glendalough State Park was extra special to them. Brian Franklin, who attended middle school with one of the Christianson’s sons and played youth hockey and high school tennis with him, says, “They were just very caring people. They were always very friendly and they loved the outdoors … whether it’s fishing or kayaking, it just seemed like they really enjoyed the outdoors. It was hard to find a nicer couple than Steve and Diane.” He frequently ran into Steve as they both liked to attend high school events and said, “I am really truly going to miss them.”
“They were so lively and fun,” says Lori, who disagreed with some media calling the Christiansons “elderly.” “Steve and Diane were so young and lively and giving to their community.”
While nobody is certain what Steve and Diane were doing driving out that Friday night, Orv says, “(Diane) loved the outdoors, the colors of fall. I understand that Mindy (their daughter-in-law) said that on that Friday, late afternoon, they were going to go out to a park area that they loved and just look at the colors, and I guess that’s where they were headed when the accident happened.”
That same Friday, Orv had invited the couple to an event in Iowa, where he lives. He had planned to propose to his friend, Laurie, and had invited family over to witness and celebrate with them. While Steve and Diane were unable to attend — it would have been a four-hour drive and the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role — Steve wrote a letter to Orv dated Oct. 2 and postmarked Oct. 3.
The letter congratulated Orv on his engagement, wishing him happiness and he attached 15 pictures of the fall colors in Otter Tail County, including two of Diane, taken on a recent biking trip the couple had taken. In a postscript, Steve wrote, “I am so blessed and fortunate to be with an Askeland.”
The couple will be deeply missed by their family, many friends and the community. “They loved to kid around. (Diane) oftentimes said things that we would interpret as being very funny and silly, and kept people laughing,” Orv said. “Our family gatherings will never be the same.”