Ted Ormbrek - An Extraordinary Volunteer and Gentleman

August 07, 2013

By Ellen Kuo
Director, Major Gifts, Swedish Medical Center Foundation

Mr. Ted Ormbrek doesn’t require much to be happy. “All I need is my church and my work,” he claims, smiling. Spend any time with him, and you’ll have no doubt that it’s true.

Mr. Ormbrek is the rare kind of gentleman whose work and life achievements immediately humble you.

Born in 1925 in Woodinville, WA, Mr. Ormbrek and his siblings were raised by their widowed Norwegian grandmother in Ballard. He attended Ballard High School, fought in WWII from ’43-’46 and, under the GI Bill, received a free education at University of WA School of Engineering. He married his sweetheart in 1951, raised three children, retired at the age of 60 as a senior engineer for the city, and all the while shared his passion and talent with the community by singing in the choir of his Presbyterian Church.

But he nearly lost everything he’d worked for in life, due to one devastating secret.

“It was not until my late 40’s or early 50’s,” Mr. Ormbrek said with a few tears in his eyes, “that I started drinking and became an alcoholic. I can’t even remember the moment when I started hiding it and lying about it.”

Finally, at the age of 66, his concerned family staged an intervention. Without hesitation, he started attending a senior program for outpatient therapy for 6 months at Group Health. At the time, the program was a collaborative partnership with Swedish Medical Center and was held in the Annex Building at the Swedish First Hill campus. Naming themselves “Genesis,” the 70 members ranged in age from 60-90 years old. Eventually, 10 became volunteers. Mr. Ormbrek was one of the first to volunteer at Swedish and has continued his dedicated service for the past two decades.

Ted Ormbrek and Heather Connors, MA CDP, Supervisor, Counseling and Utilization Review

In September, Mr. Ormbrek will be celebrating this 20th anniversary as a volunteer for the Swedish Ballard Addiction Recovery Services (ARS) and CUPs program (Chemical Using Pregnant Women). “I come twice a week and work closely with the counselors. I receive a list of the names that have been admitted,” he explains, as he pulls out a neatly folded sheet and a sharpened pencil from his shirt pocket. “I place a circle beside their name if they have been previously admitted and a dot inside the circle if I have seen them before.”

“Most of the time, I walk in and introduce myself. I like to just listen – a lot of them don’t have many family and friends visiting them. I let them know how wonderful the counselors are and how important their work is.”

“In 2012, the ARS program at Swedish Ballard served 1,216 individuals who are negatively affected by substance abuse programs,” Jim Walsh, M.D., Medical Director of Addiction Recovery Services and CUPs program explains. “Ted brings the reality of long term recovery into the moment of crisis our patients are experiencing.”

“Over the years Ted has been a gentle and consistent presence and advocate for recovery through his sharing with the pregnant women and detox patients,” agrees Rebecca Armstrong, Addiction Recovery Services counselor. “Sharing his experiences has been a wonderful gift that many have appreciated.”

On December 5, Mr. Ormbrek will celebrate 22 years of sobriety. He lost his wife 10 years ago, after being together for 52 years.  He now lives in Wedgewood and is very close to his children, their wives and husbands, six grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren, all who call him regularly.

At age 87, he also keeps a very active schedule, “I have a concert coming up this weekend with my Norwegian Male Choir and another one next week,” he says proudly. And yes, they actually sing in Norwegian.

Not one to seek attention, he says, “I don’t know who would be interested in me.” But I let him know his inspirational story highlights a very unique program at Swedish Ballard. “Well,” he comments, “if that’s the case, I don’t know of a team that works as hard as they do on the 5th floor and whose patients need more help and support. That’s why I come every week.”


To learn more about how you can support Swedish Ballard and/or the Addiction Recovery Services or the CUPs program, please contact Ellen Kuo at the Swedish Medical Center Foundation at ellen.kuo@swedish.org