Around the Island

Obituary: Harold Olson

Harold Olsen

Former Shelter Island resident Harold “Ole” Olson died at the age of 94 surrounded by family and friends in Willamette View retirement community in Portland, Oregon on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012.

Ole and his wife Arline were enthusiastic and devoted summer residents of Shelter Island for 50 years. Their daughter Kris’s wedding was at Mashomack Preserve with Mike Laspia’s help and Andy Reeve driving the “getaway ferry” to Sag Harbor. Casey Reeve is Ole’s godson.

Born in Lusk, Wyoming on September 18, 1917 and raised in Arvada, Colorado, he was known as “Hot Lips Hal” and played jazz trumpet with the big bands touring Los Angeles in the 1930s while he was an architecture student at USC.

It was there that he met his wife, Arline, a fellow student in the College of Architecture and Fine Arts. They married in 1940 and lived in Arvada, Colorado until 1944, when he enlisted in the Navy. He served in the Pacific during World War II as an officer on the destroyer escort USS Charles J. Kimmel.

In 1946, he joined the New York architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and went on to work with that firm for 35 years.

Among the projects Ole designed were the Annenberg Tower at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, the offices of John Hancock Insurance Company and the national headquarters for the Girl Scouts of America.

Later in his career, he was the managing director of SOM’s Cairo, Egypt office. When Pietro Belluschi was appointed dean of the architectural school at MIT, he asked SOM to take over his practice in Portland. During the first two years of that corporate partnership, Ole commuted from New York to engage new clients and projects.

He moved to Portland permanently in 1999 to be near his only child, Kris.

Ole was best known in his later years for his prolific facility in making new friends, especially residents and staff at Willamette View; his love of art and music — particularly big band, jazz and Pink Martini — plus his fondness for wordplay in the form of crosswords, puns or prose. He managed transitions with grace and high spirits. He took pride in being a patron of emerging artists and designers. He was a life-long, caring mentor to many.

In addition to his professional work, Ole designed and built two family homes, one in Plandome, New York and one on Ram Island with local materials.

Ole was predeceased by his parents, Newt and Bertha Olson; his beloved wife of 54 years, Arline; and his sister, Shirley Mae Stetson. A dedicated and much-revered father, grandfather, great-grandfather and uncle, he is survived by his daughter, Kris Olson; his grandchildren, Karin Olson Rogers and Ty Olson Rogers, along with Ty’s wife Katie and their son Benny; his son-in-law Les Swanson and Les’s three sons and their wives: Mark and Shannon; Carl and Charlotte; and Todd and Jennifer and their children, Rowan, Sienna and Alexa. His sister Shirley Mae’s three children also survive him: Bob (Kim) Stetson, Kathy Stetson and Kristy (Doug) Warneke and Ole’s grand-nephews and nieces.

A memorial gathering is planned at Willamette View on Friday, April 20 at 3:30 p.m. in the Terrace Auditorium, followed by full military honors by his sculpture in the courtyard there.

Interment will be at the Episcopal cemetery at St. Mary’s Church on Shelter Island beside Arline’s stone bench.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Ole’s memory would be welcome at the Willamette View Foundation (designated for the Courtyard Project); The Nature Conservancy for use at Mashomack Preserve; or the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation in Portland, Oregon for its Cultural and Community Center.