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Obituaries » Robert Carl Olsen, Jr.
September 10, 1939 - September 5, 2022
Robert Carl Olsen Jr. was born September 10, 1939 to Robert Carl Olsen and Josephine Rulison Olsen in Detroit, Michigan. He joined older brother Richard, age 2 1/2, and was joined by brother James in 1941 and brother Paul in 1945. The family lived in wartime Detroit, where Robert Sr. was a research chemist working in electroplating at General Motors.
From a very young age, Bob was fascinated by words and poetry, and he easily memorized pages of poetry such as the Song of Hiawatha.
In 1947, leaving everything and everyone they had known, the family of six moved to Parkland, Washington, where Bob’s father began a second career as a chemistry professor at Pacific Lutheran University. Bob was eight at the time of their adventurous month-long trip across the USA in a big new Buick and a trailer. They moved into a house which the family would occupy for the next fifty one years, and were joined there by sister Ruth in 1951 and brother Timothy in 1953. The house was on the PLU campus until 1965, when the family moved it across Park Avenue.
Bob attended Parkland School and participated in the band and was active in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, but the family’s main center of activity was Trinity Lutheran Church. Bob always loved Bible stories and hymns and he received the Pro Deo et Patria award from the Boy Scouts for his extensive and loving projects for his church. One such project was a visual aid for learning the names of the books of the Bible. He painted and lettered the bindings of discarded sets of books to represent the sixty-six individual books of the Bible arranged on a shelf.
Bob graduated from Franklin Pierce High School in 1957, the third graduating class, and joined his brother Dick at PLU. After two years he attended the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle, and especially enjoyed his time as a member of the “Lutheran-aires” a traveling men’s quartet for a summer. He returned to PLU, graduating in 1963 with a degree in religion and philosophy and a firm intention to become a Lutheran Pastor.
Bob left home for Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, in the fall of 1963. Returning to Parkland on choir tour in the spring of 1964, he realized that his long-time friend Kaye Whisler was the love of his life. Their engagement story is worthy of a Hallmark special. They were married August 16, 1964, and returned to Dubuque together.
After years in seminary and internships in Nebraska and in Edmonds, Washington, Bob was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor in the summer of 1968 at Trinity Lutheran Church, a son of the congregation.
Bob’s first call was to Makoti, North Dakota, where he served two parishes in tiny towns and where Kaye and Bob welcomed daughter Ruth Anne in 1972. Their second call was to First Lutheran Church in Willow City, North Dakota where they lived in a lovely stone mansion, bought by the church from the banker when the last bank closed in the dwindling town.
During all their years in North Dakota, they spent every vacation in Tacoma and Parkland, coming back to the relatives, friends and church they loved.
In 1977, Lori Jo was born in Willow City just before their move to Almira, Washington, a small town near Grand Coulee Dam, where Bob served as the pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. It was much easier to come home to Tacoma from Almira, and brother Paul’s family was in nearby Spokane. The family stayed for eleven years in Almira, as the girls grew up and attended school.
In 1988 Bob and his family moved home to Parkland. During the next few years he served as chaplain at the Rainier School in Buckley. He greatly enjoyed his parishioners there who joyfully hugged him and showed their love. He began his long service to Grace Lutheran Church in Buckley and also served at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Cathlamet, Washington and Elbe Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elbe, Washington. Bob spent years caring for his mother Josephine before her death in 2000.
Bob was a devoted husband and doting father. He supported Kaye fully in all areas of her work and life. Bob read bedtime stories to his daughters, packed their lunches, and drove them everywhere. Driving Lori everywhere continued even into college. He taught his girls to ride bikes and how to drive, keeping his same cool, kind, patience even in scary situations. Most importantly, in actions and in words, Bob clearly communicated his unconditional love for his family. In the same respect, he taught his daughters that the most important work they’ll do in life is to love.
Kaye’s health began to decline after 2010, and Bob was her caregiver. They were able to have a happy 50th anniversary party in 2015. In 2017 Kaye passed away.
After Kaye’s death, Bob lived alone with his faithful cats. He had many service projects, and a part time job at Trinity. He sang in the church choir, the Show Tunes Chorale, and the Normanna Male Chorus. Because of his meaningful experience as a caregiver for his mother, Bob worked as a caregiver for Lutheran Community Services for more than fifteen years. He was honorary grandfather to his great-niece Vivian Sawyer, who called him “Uncle Grandpa.”
The quarantine was difficult for him, as for all of us, and he kept busy with cataloging family history; he kept a family genealogy chart that he updated at each Olsen family marriage and birth and distributed to the entire clan, now about fifty-five people. He visited with his daughters and sister in person, and with other family by phone and correspondence. He continued his lifelong love of poetry and wrote many parodies of songs and poems.
Bob was both a gentleman and a gentle man. He was always helpful, answering any request for assistance. He was always kind, with an endearing habit of bringing up interesting quotes and stories that related to whatever your last conversation had been. He loved making connections and letting people know about church history, scriptural translation and interconnections, and the history of Parkland and PLU.
Until Saturday, August 20th Bob lived independently in his home. On that day he lost the ability to walk due to a mild stroke. Within the next week his symptoms cascaded into more strokes, a heart condition (cardiomyopathy), and pneumonia. He passed away on Labor Day surrounded by the love of his family and the music of the hymn “Beautiful Savior” being sung to him.
Bob was predeceased by his parents, Robert and Josephine Olsen, his wife Kaye, and his son-in-law Raoul Titus, and his brother-in-law Jonathon Peterson. He is survived by daughters Ruth Anne Olsen (Rhett Winter) of Bellingham and Lori Jo Olsen Titus of Parkland; siblings Richard Olsen, James Olsen (Barbara), Paul Olsen (Karen), Ruth Peterson, and Timothy Olsen (Debra) and sister-in-law Clintena Wells; nieces and nephews Joel, Jerrold, Rachel, Donald, Michael, Katherine, Rebecca, Christine, Rose, Ola, Ellen, Martin, Bjorn, Isaac, and Samuel; and sixteen great-nieces and great-nephews.
Bob’s memorial service will be held at Trinity Lutheran Church (Parkland) on Sunday September 18th at 2:00pm with reception following.
The service will be live streamed at this link:
Memorial gifts in Bob’s memory may be sent to Trinity Lutheran Church, his church home for seventy-five years (12115 Park Avenue South; Tacoma, WA 98444, 253.537.0201; email@example.com) or to Wartburg Seminary (333 Wartburg Place, Dubuque, IA 52003, https://www.wartburgseminary.edu, 563-589-0322).