On May 14, 2018, at the age of 95, John E. Olson took his last flight on the wings of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. John’s humble but accomplished life served as an example to all who knew him.
John was a compassionate caregiver and someone who “paid it forward” long before the phrase became familiar. He cared for his loving wife Christine (Kiefer) until her death in 1958 and then for his beloved second wife Marion (Corsie Dixon) until her death in 1999. His three sisters, Virginia Olson Frederickson, Dorothy Olson Bouwens Rockwell and Mildred Olson Grasmick all received the gentle touch of his love and care during their lives.
John’s parents, Charley and Anna Olson, brought up their children with a strong faith … much needed to sustain them through many lean years in Nebraska. And although “impish” at times, Johnny, as his sisters called him, became a disciplined, focused young man and following high school graduation, enlisted in the Navy in February 1941 to pursue his love of “all things mechanical” and aviation. His service time was spent in Puerto Rico under the command of Admiral John Howard Hoover, a trusted advisor to Admiral Nimitz. After being promoted to Chief Petty Officer he became an aircraft engine instructor at the Naval Air Training Center in Chicago and following his discharge in 1947, chose to pursue his love of flying and attended a series of flight training schools across the country with his wife and daughter happily tagging along.
In 1953 John began what would be a 30-year career in commercial aviation by joining TWA as a flight engineer – the third pilot in the cockpit. His career took him to 101 different countries and covered more than 9 million miles in the air. But when asked about his favorite destination, he always, said “home.” He often teased about speaking 12 languages, but in truth, he could only say hello, goodbye, please, thank you and a few other words in each of them. When John wasn’t flying he owned and operated Kiefer Leather Goods, a popular downtown Racine shop where he sold and repaired luggage and leather goods.
After John and Marion married in 1963, her children became his children and a source of love and pride for him. He supported their accomplishments and helped launch them into adulthood with strong beliefs and confidence. Marylu (Dixon) (John) Innes and her husband pursued Christian mission work in Utah. Kathleen (Dixon Piela) (Walt) Samples is a volunteer in her Georgia community. Stuart (Pamela) Olson serves his Shell Lake, Wisconsin community through service on the board of education and other boards. His first daughter Joedy (Skip) Simonsen made a career in public and community relations at S.C. Johnson and continue to host the almost weekly “Wednesday Night Dinners” designed to bring busy family members and friends together to keep in touch.
John’s extended family now includes nine grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren and 4 great great grandchildren. On John’s 95th birthday all five generations gathered and shared a meal topped off with John’s favorite apple pie with cheese.
A beloved grandson and nephew are named after John and his many other nieces, nephews and cousins remain connected through his many years of genealogy research into all the family branches. His Swedish heritage was shared with everyone he met and in 1993 he organized a family reunion in Sweden with nearly 150 family members attending.
John knew an appreciated the value of work – not the kind you get paid for, but work to support your family and friends. From repairing vending machines for his granddaughter’s business to helping rebuild an old school house and farmhouse for his son, to driving to Oregon in temperatures down to -30 degrees to help his grandson relocate – he was always ready to work.
His many friends knew him to support and work on many mission projects, including a trip to an African village to help string wire to bring electricity to the mission and village. And when global travel no longer appealed, he would spend time working with his longtime friend John Gorton to fix all those little things that get broken on a farm.
Many compassionate people helped John during the last two years of his life, but his friend John Gorton unselfishly and faithfully helped care for John every week of those two years and continued the “pay it forward” tradition. An extraordinary staff at Kenosha Senior Living, Heather and Krista formerly of Seasons Hospice, Tim Kocha, Frank Forsyth, Lowell Powell and Dr. Mark DeCheck all helped John to have friendship, peace and comfort.
John’s family hopes those who knew him will join them at the Maresh-Meredith and Acklam Funeral Home on Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. to share your memories and visit with the family. At 11 a.m. John’s son in law, Reverend John Innes, will conduct a service of homecoming followed by a short committal service at West Lawn Memorial Park Chapel and a luncheon.
Because John believed so strongly in the concept of family, to remember him, please consider having a meal with your family and friends this week. If you’re not in the same city, try using technology, which John loved, and share a meal while connected on Face Time or other platform. Or, contribute to your favorite charity or one that helps keep families strong and safe.