AuthorHouse (684 pp.)
$42.99 hardcover, $28.99 paperback, $2.99 e-book
September 7, 2021
In this debut memoir, a man recounts his loves and experiences as a young seminarian and later a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.
Fisher, who goes by Mike Klungness (his middle name and stepfather’s surname) in his book, opens with a “passing overview” of his life. Readers discover that the 60-something has children and that his third (and current) wife is his first love, whom he met when they were teens. Then the author focuses on Klungness’ intricate journey. He was born in 1947 to a single mother who moved to Washington state after she married. Roman Catholic school led to his enrollment in St. Francis Seminary. Though he was quickly smitten with neighbor Gretchen Huffhines, his studies to be a priest meant they would stay merely friends. Klungness eventually left the seminary, hoping to walk down the aisle with Huffhines. But as the Vietnam War raged, he felt he had few options beyond applying to the Peace Corps. He went to his Kenya assignment alone and immersed himself in an entirely new culture, all while racial unrest unsettled his home country. He also fell for Charity Mshoi, a mother of three young children who became his common-law wife. Once his tour ended, he planned to bring his new family to the States. Despite the work’s 672-page length and Fisher’s overview that takes readers into the 21st century, the memoir ends in the early ’70s. A sequel will follow. The author includes memorable details in this first installment, from Africa’s vast landscape and local foods to the treatment for the atrophied leg of Mshoi’s son. There’s a lively focus on many of the people in Klungness’ life, such as his mother, and though this autobiography occasionally hops around decades, it’s never confusing. Fisher enriches his book with snippets of other sources, like newspaper articles, as well as Klungness’ written correspondence with Huffhines and her mom Jana’s delightfully pithy journal entries. The author moreover adds copious photographs. Only some of them are Fisher’s own pictures—and those are the most rewarding.
An absorbing personal account of life’s unpredictable turns.
Dept. of Defense Information Specialist with a focus in Broadcast News. and Instructional Systems Designer at the USAF Weather School.
5.0 out of 5 stars Happenstance: A Brief Review on Amazon.com
Reviewed in the United States on June 26, 2022
This book stands out among the hundreds of books I have read in my life as the only one of them written by someone I knew. I also was a student at St. Francis Seminary in Springdale, OR in 1963 and ‘64. Though only a freshman, the author, whom everyone called “Klugy” as a derivative of his surname “Klungness”, was well known to me and my classmates as one of the few upper class men who treated us like human beings. He was friendly and funny and well-liked. Those traits shine through his life story.
I also shared with Klugy an early life in a logging community, though it was in the Cascades on the east slopes of the Willamette Valley, a few hundred miles northeast of his childhood digs in Northern California. Though we took divergent tracks after the seminary, Klugy and I came close to direct contact again, as I moved to Centralia, WA in 2001 and worked at City Hall, a block from the Weyerhaeuser HQ. Furthermore, recently, while talking with colleagues in my Rotary Club about the book, “Happenstance”, I come to find out that some of them also worked at Weyerhaeuser at the same time and remember Klugy well and fondly, though they did not recognize the “Klugy” appellation.
One need not have actually known the author to enjoy reading this book, though after reading it, the reader will feel they have known him their entire lives. As one would expect from a memoir titled “Happenstance”, the story rambles. One might think that it lacks direction, but through use of fore-shadowing and other time shifting tricks, a consistent forward motion is maintained. And when the reader reaches what might be expected to be the end . . . . don’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion! The end of the story is not the end of the book, as there are 80 pages of fascinating end notes, factoids on a wide range of topics, people, events, processes, and geography.
In spite of the fact that Klugy was present for the entirety of the life portrayed in the book, he did a masterful job of researching the sidelights that add so much color and texture to his experiences. There is much insight shared about the culture of logging communities of the Pacific Northwest, the Franciscan order (officially the Order of Friars Minor), the workings of the Peace Corps, and tribal histories and cultures of sub-Saharan Africa.
The author teases the reader with the revelation that “Happenstance” was just Volume 1 and Volume II is in the works. I can’t wait!
Copied from GoodReads.com
Hello! I read Happenstance and liked it. My favorite parts included Gretchen, of course. You certainly have lead a varied and interesting life. Kudos to you for putting it down on paper, as many of us think about it but never do it. Very good job! Your friend, –Cheryl Oldham
5.0 out of 5 stars Tales of Growing Up and Growing Older
Reviewed in the United States on October 16, 2021
I really enjoyed the first part of this book because,like the author, I grew up in the 60s. There was much that I could relate to. The rest of the book taught me a lot about things I didn’t know … about beekeeping, the Peace Corps, Kenya. And through it all was the journey to finally be with the author’s beloved Gretchen.
Happenstance 5 of 5 stars
By Lester Fisher
Don Snook, PhD in English, rated this book in Goodreads.com
with the comment “It was amazing”
Sept. 26 2021 06:08 AM
Admiral Phillip Lee Sowa Your “Happenstance” looks great. Love your writing style. BTW (interesting that you signed up for the Navy). I signed up just in time myself cuz got my draft notice shortly thereafter.
Comments from Daniel van Dyke
Thanks for the book which I received about a week ago. It was in great condition and as of five minutes ago I finished reading it from cover to cover (sans the endnotes). It was fascinating reading about your PC tour.  Your experience was quite different and I couldn’t even pronounce many of the names of the people in your Kenya experience!
I really enjoyed the section on the Troubadours. I doubt that I would ever have taken up the guitar if it weren’t for SFS! It made a huge difference in my life over the past 60 years.
Comments from Rick McGiff
I got the book and am enjoying it alot! You have had an interesting life. I am impressed with your ability to remember all the events and places and things you have done. Me…I’m not so sure about three days ago.
I got a kick out of your relationship with Susan Colombero. Her dad was the town’s controller…or some title/job to that effect which is why they lived on the hill. I thought the name of their street was something else when we were growing up. Steven Colombero was killed in the VietNam war and I thought they named the street after him. Susan was my first “date”. When we were in the 6th grade, I asked her to go to the movies with me (the movie house being the only thing to do when we were that age). The movie was H.G Well’s “The Time Machine”. Still remember the movie and the date. Ah, Puppy Love.
Chuck Howe”[PC Volunteer Ag-5 Kenya]
“Went straight to chapter 19 [where the Kenya chapters begin]. Brought back memories of motorcycle accidents. Hitting dog, dik dik, stone, dust pit, oncoming vehicle, yah me too. Motorcycle quiting in the middle of Tsavo [Game Park] on the way back home from Wundanyi at 5:00 pm.
Girls… prettiest on the planet. I believe there is more there than our male hormones driving us crazy.
Of course came the memories of lost children, and some parents, too. Maleria, amoebic dysentery, and everything else were all too common.
Thank you for the trip back. All of it – the fun parts and the hard/sad parts too.
Lester M. Klungness
February 4, 2022, 10:56 pm
Larry Franks [US Peace Corps Ag V Kenya 1969]
I just finished reading the first two volumes of your memoirs; congratulations on seeing them all the way through.  You certainly have led a life with plenty of surprising bends in the road. Not sure everything is happenstance, though. In fact, I’m beguiled by the notion that there are no true coincidences in life — cause and effect may not be obvious at first, but things do happen for a reason, however obscure the connections may be. 
I agree with your thesis that Peace Corps probably provided more benefits to the volunteers, and to US society as a whole, than to the countries where Peace Corps operated. At least those benefits weren’t the kind that [have] come with colonial exploitation; [rather Peace Corps’ impact has been] more along the lines of better understanding of how the world works.
All the best,
Lester M. Klungness
February 15, 2022, 8:34 pm
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazon review
A look inside a friend
Reviewed in the United States on February 14, 2022
This book, one of three, and the longest, has given me insight into Lester. I now know more about him than before (and more than I wanted to in some cases, lol). Had he not written this, my relationship with him would be more towards the superficial. What I know now gives it more depth. You don’t have to be acquainted with Lester to find interesting things within these (electronic) pages. They give a look at a time past, and how those times impacted and influenced a “regular “ person. At least their perspective.
Lester M. Klungness
February 15, 2022, 8:38 pm
5.0 out of 5 stars on Amazon
A story for our times
Reviewed in the United States on February 14, 2022
“Happenstance” is written by my loving husband, so clearly my review is probably not completely unbiased. It’s his story, but it’s mine too – and he writes just like he talks, telling the story of his life, the times he lived them, the people and places that populated it, and accurately and thoroughly relates the details, good and bad, of the beginning of our lives together. It made me laugh, cry, and remember things I had completely forgotten. I treasure these words and pages.
Lester M. Klungness
February 28, 2022, 9:14 am
Pinkie Paranya (author of Rasberry Rainbows: Woman to Woman, and a number of novels) rated Happenstance five stars ***** on http://www.goodreads.com, Feb. 22 2022.
Also reviewed by Amazon customer 5 out of 5 stars
Happenstance by Lester Fisher is a jewel of a book. Although he is not from my generation, I can easily relate to his school years and growing up, He shows such amazing insights into thoughts and remembrances from those years and I can see and understand his progress in becoming the man he is today. His recall of events in his life is phenomenal. He never falls back on excess drama or platitudes but remains honest throughout the book. As I continue reading, I feel closer to him as a person and thankful to have known him, for he has enriched my life. I can’t wait to read the following books.
Lester M. Klungness
February 28, 2022, 9:22 am
Wendy Horner of the Seychelles rated Happenstance 4 stars **** http://www.goodreads.com on Feb.12 2022.
Lester M. Klungness
March 11, 2022, 8:32 pm
**** (4 out of 5 stars) on Powell’ Books
Lee Meier , March 10, 2022
This review is slightly biased. In the early sixties, I was enrolled and attended Saint Francis Seminary along with the author. He was two years my senior, so it was fun to visit that time period from his perspective and hear the rest of the stories behind the myths and legends. Mike has a memory for details and spins a cohesive, if sometimes wandering, story. Reading about his time in the Peace Corps opened up a new world for me and helped me to understand its purpose. This was a fun read. Thanks for sharing, Mike.
Retired Supervising Regulatory Biologist, Alameda County CA.
I think that some of the people (maybe all?) who you say liked your book, did in fact like it! Not just because they are friends, but, if they also lived along with you in your early life, they were once again able to relive it through the retelling of the story; it’s essentially their story too. I do enjoy your writing too.  I did enjoy learning about your early road in life and you do write well. I would suggest that you stop including sentences like “I can’t remember if… ” and similar sentences, because they don’t add anything and actually become an annoyance to the reader; there are far more of them than you realize! Only include such a sentence if it has direct consequence on what is to follow. There, done with my editorial comments!! I realize that you’ve accomplished what most of us could not and have done a really nice job of it, so take my comments with the appropriate writer’s ‘tough skin’ and know that I admire your accomplishment!!
Dakshita Matta rated it four out of five stars on www.goodreads.com
This memoir is one of the lengthiest memoirs I have ever read yet, a worthy investment of my time. The author has done extensive work in depicting the complex relationships of the people around him.
The author has not only included the details of his own life but has started the journey of this memoir from his parent’s childhood. The author has also made use of his journal entries as well as of others to emphasize the psychology remained period. This book also explains the effect that various world wars had on the common man and how surviving became the primary goal for them instead of thriving.
The author has done tremendous work in reminiscing about his past to write this book. This book includes many painful incidents too, which must have been traumatizing for the author to relive for the sake of this book.
In my view, this memoir has remained to be underrated now and the author has not been able to get his due recognition.
This book can also serve as a self-help guide to motivate you to keep going through the days when you lose all hope and reach rock bottom. Looking forward to reading the sequel of this memoir soon.
5.0 out of 5 stars
added a status update on goodreads.com:
This book was written by a friend of mine. Initially, I said, I have to read this huge book and there is no way out of it. Friend and all… Well, I take it all back, Lester, I have loved this book and the very sly humor you have. It is the OUR ERA facts, dates, setting that is so nostalgic. If progeny want to know how we lived and thought and tried to save our world, they must pick this up and read!!
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written, filled with lots of interesting, historical information
Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2022
“Happenstance” is an interesting memoir. However, it is a bit long. Some of the details got somewhat tedious at times. But there were a lot of interesting historical facts. Many things that I did not know. As a devout Roman Catholic and former Franciscan Religious Sister, I enjoyed Lester’s stories from his time in the Franciscan Seminary. I liked his usage of Sacred Scripture throughout the book as well as his use of poetry. Although, I am not a fan of poetry in general – I really like the poems shared in this book. “Happenstance” is very well written, and it flows very nicely. The only constructive criticism that I can share and my reason for giving it 4 stars and not 5 is that there was a lot of narration. A lot of “telling” and not enough “showing.” In other words, there was very little dialogue between the “characters” in the book.
5.0 out of 5 stars A long read, but totally worth it!!
Reviewed in the United States on March 28, 2023
So, I was a little late on the trend of reading this book, probably because I never really read what it was about or else I most likely would’ve been right there on the bandwagon reading another book that promised reality better than any fiction could provide. But I felt as though Fisher pushes it a little further, providing a dark glimpse not only into his life but also the effects it has on his mind. It is that kind of writing that makes this book 5 stars. The clarity and the courage also stand out, and in that way it is a throwback.
This book was just a crazy world that no one could really believe possible to live through and then be able to tell the story about it so wonderfully. There are parts in it that were hard to read but really showed the human side which is ultimately what makes this book so great. Lester Fisher writes his life in such a beautiful way that it makes you want to keep on reading.
With that being said, this book, in my opinion is a required reading. If you are a human being living in America, you must read this book. If you are an alien from another planet, reading this book is probably also required. Fisher is a great writer. I’d enjoy his writing if he wrote about other topics but this is especially timely and important. The writing could be too abstract for some but I found it poetic. Biggest qualm is that it’s too long.
Read this book. Then read it again. Read it to memorization and then conjure up its lines as you pass through the streets of your city. Absolutely foundational reading, and unexpectedly gorgeous even when it wrestles with ugly things. Fisher is one of the finest writers working today. It is timely and personal and I found it illuminating. He revisits many of the experiences and themes of his life, but with added lyricism. I definitely learned a lot from reading this book. It’s a book one should read once a year!!