Kimberly Aspelund – Memorial

Kimberly Aspelund

January 13, 1960 – January 8, 2004

by Vivian Banish Levitt, MA, OTR/L, ATR-BC, LMFT

The death of our friend and colleague, Kim Aspelund, has left an enormous hole in the occupational therapy community. Our profound grief is for the loss of a pioneer and teacher in the field of community mental health and for the loss of a compassionate, special person who touched so many lives.

Kim was born in Glasgow, Montana, one of six siblings. She came to Fremont, California with her family when she was six and later studied occupational therapy at San Jose State University. A master’s degree from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology followed a few years later. She met her husband and soul mate, David Danielson in 1984 in a class at SJSU, and the two married five years later. Most of their married life was spent living in Half Moon Bay.

Kim’s career included the Harbor Hospital in UCLA (1988–89), the OT Registry, Stanford Hospital for (1994–99), and the Mental Health Association of San Mateo. While at Stanford Kim helped to develop the Partial Hospitalization Program, and also worked with inpatient oncology, pain, and psychiatry. At Stanford Homecare she was an innovator in building OT programs for homebound psychiatric patients.

Kim’s passion for community work developed further when she became the occupational therapist at the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County. Kim was based at the Spring Street Shelter in Redwood City and, according to Kathy Craig, Kim’s student and later co-worker, earned the title of “The Hope of Spring Street.” A client described her in this way for her positive way of helping people integrate back into the community. Many of her clients acquired jobs, finished their high school diplomas, took on volunteer jobs, and learned many other independent living skills because of Kim’s encouragement and guidance.

Kim was never critical or judgmental. Her sense of optimism helped people retain their sense of dignity. Kim did not give up on people and planned complex treatments for those with chronic, debilitating illnesses. When I took Kim’s caseload for one day while working at Stanford PHP program, my admiration grew even more. I learned first hand about her perseverance and patience as I carried out difficult treatments she had planned.

Kim was an advocate of mental health for patients and for therapists working in the field. She expressed support through her professional presentations at state conferences and through leadership in the Psychiatric Occupational Therapy Action Committee. She served as treasurer, head of membership, and symposia organizer in POTAC, a group of bay area psychiatric occupational therapists.

As a mentor, Kim was sought out by students and colleagues and influenced many. Teaching was one of her very special talents. She has been described her as “visionary,” “positive in her outlook,” “eager to share,” “supportive,” “delightful,” “compassionate,” “inspirational,” “engaging,” and “influential.” At the same time students felt professionally challenged.

Kim had the unique ability to be calm and enthusiastic simultaneously. People wanted the opportunity to work with such a gifted clinician and outstanding person, and field placements at her facilities became extremely popular. Consequently she often trained multiple students at once. During the semester that she was an instructor at San José State University her students as well as her colleagues immediately loved her. Heidi Pendleton, a professor at SJSU, recalls fondly that after sharing an office with Kim that term, she was affectionately called “roomie” in notes and cards she received from Kim.

Kim’s interests were numerous and her creativity extended into these passions — cooking, knitting, weaving, gardening, and later working with silk trees and flowers. During her last year she helped her friend Michelle with the artificial flower business, learning to make displays. She found much pleasure working with her friend in this new endeavor.

Kim leaves behind a wonderful family — her husband, parents, 3 sisters, 2 brothers and 18 nieces and nephews, many who live in the area. They all adored her.

Kim leaves an important legacy to the occupational therapy community. She pioneered and developed home programs for the mentally ill and was a role model for new and experienced occupational therapists. Kim was a treasure and a delight — modest, funny, generous, gentle, and wise. She had a remarkable ability to make everyone she knew feel absolutely special. An OT presenter met Kim for the first time at a conference and wrote the following to me:

“…As a new grad I was both intimidated and honored by (Kim’s) presence in the workshop. Her twinkling eyes and engaging personality set her apart from others in the room. When she spoke, the passion she possessed for her career and the patient population she served, was evident. …She was always very eager to share her insight and information and returned my calls quickly. I believe this speaks volumes about the kind of person she was… She’ll never know the impact she had on me and my professional outlook. Thank you Kim and rest in peace.”

Vivian was Kim’s psych. lab instructor at San José State University and she worked with Kim at Stanford.