Employee Spotlights

Central Towers resident sees and creates joy – even in loss

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Sunnarborg in recording studioTo listen to Arlan Sunnarborg is to travel to a world filled with ideas, possibilities and joy – even in the presence of loss.

His modest, one-bedroom Central Towers apartment in downtown Saint Paul is filled with sophisticated technology, allowing him to digitally compose, arrange and produce multi-track orchestra, choir and organ pieces, all from his small living room.

It’s not that this is Arlan’s preferred venue to create music—he has performed and conducted in some of the world’s great cathedrals, churches and auditoriums—but it is the place that God has provided so he can continue his creative work.

Finding Presbyterian Homes

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Arlan was living in northeastern Minnesota. He hoped to find an apartment in Minneapolis/Saint Paul where he could utilize public transportation because of his health and perhaps connect with more artistic/creative arts that the Twin Cities has to offer.

“I surfed online and found PHS’ Central Towers,” he observed. “Its proximity to Metro Transit was a wonderful solution. I could sell my car and still get places.”

The senior living community was also income qualified (affordable), and it fit well with Arlan’s limited resources.

“Central Towers had some good things going for it,” Arlan explains. “I made contact and was surprised at how quickly I heard back, and I was further surprised at how quickly I was offered this apartment.”

When Arlan first saw his apartment, he was awed by its view of downtown Saint Paul. “It made me get teary, when the door opened and I saw the view,” he recalls. “I believed then, and I believe now, that it was by God’s hand and providence that I am here. It’s exactly what I need, not less and not more.”

Humble beginnings

Sunnarborg conducting

Arlan was raised in Esko, Minn., a small community near Duluth and Minnesota’s Iron Range. It is here that he learned “whatever we have is a blessing, not an entitlement.”

A gifted composer, arranger and conductor, Arlan has performed at the visit of Nelson Mandela to Riverside Church in New York City, and his music was broadcast by the CBC across Canada from the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal.

Arlan later served as music director for the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew in Honolulu and as director of music at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta.

A devastating diagnosis

It was several years into his stay at St. Luke’s that Arlan began having stiffness and numbness in his left arm. Following extensive medical tests, a neurologist informed Arlan that he had Parkinson’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that is chronic, progressive, and—at this time—has no cure.

“I was 53 years old at the time, and I took it hard,” Arlan recalls.

Arlan continued with his music responsibilities at St. Luke’s in Atlanta for eight more years before determining that despite his effort and positive thinking, he could not deliver the sustained focus and endurance that his job required. He subsequently resigned.

Unfortunately, his illness and early retirement brought Arlan to a very difficult place financially. For Arlan, this new financial reality was a “cold, bracing revelation.”

Still creating and hope-filled

Sunnarborg and organ

Arlan’s life is not easy, but he remains hope-filled. He created a short documentary film about the aurora borealis, or northern lights, that he is pitching to select theaters. He plans to do something similar with two Christmas-related compositions he created.

“One of my dreams is to make a whole [Christmas] program that would use surround sound and would go into a theater,” Arlan states. “There are many people who cannot make it to church or, for whatever reason, are not comfortable in the church.

“To give people that experience would be a real beautiful ministry,” he explains. “Whether I will figure out how, when or whether it can happen, is another matter. My job is to be willing to use my imagination and to be willing to do what I can.

“It’s happened many times in my life where God has sort of picked me up and said, ‘No, not here … over here,’’ Arlan laughs.

“The message of Christmas is ‘Immanuel, God with us,’” Arlan concludes. “We’re not as alone as we sometimes think we are. Love came down. … I’ve learned that wherever you go, God’s love is manifest [i.e., made visible; brought to life]. That inspires me.”

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Enjoy Arlan’s composition entitled “Incarnate Love” here.

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