How do you define a hero?
Webster defines it as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”
If that’s the definition, then by all accounts, Walter Hartvig Olsen Sr. was a hero amongst heroes.
Walter was born in Alliance, Nebraska, on August 17, 1941, and his family moved to Washington State a little while later and finally settled in Sumner, Washington, as home, where he graduated from Sumner High School in 1959. He met his love, Antoinette “Toni” Haskins, in Fort Mead, Maryland, while serving in the United States Army. Like a true gentleman, he asked her Mom and Dad for their blessing to marry her at the age of 17 and they said that, if he received his Sergeant’s approval, they could get married. He received the approval, but Antoinette’s parents changed their mind. So at the age of 17, Antoinette left her parents a note proclaiming the love she had for “Wally,” snuck out of the house, and ran away with Walt to get married in Arlington, Virginia. Our father and mother then spent the next 60 years together with the love of their lives.
Dad decided that the United States Army wasn’t for him and he was honorably discharged at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And as he told many, it was “the first time I ever felt like kissing a man” when his CO told him that he would still be getting out. After the Army, he and Antoinette decided to raise a family in his hometown of Sumner, Washington. Soon after, along came their three children, their boys, Walter Jr., Lincoln, and Shayne. Dad went to work at Pasquier Panel Products, a lumber yard in Sumner, earning $2.25 per hour. He and Mom bought their first house across the street from Pasquier’s for $3,500.00 so that he could walk to work. Our home had two bedrooms, and a Burlington Northern railroad in the backyard. It was a small home and loud, living between a lumber yard and a railroad, but we were as happy as happy could be.
Shortly after, he started a job with The Boeing Company, earning a whopping $.10 more per hour, where he worked his way up the ranks to Superintendent in his 30-year career, retiring at the age of 55. Mom and Dad then purchased a three-bedroom home in Sumner Heights for $24,500, while we were in elementary school. One of his mottos that he instilled upon his boys was “8 for 8 or you’re out the gate,” meaning that you put in your eight hours of work for eight hours of pay or you will no longer be needed. That is the work ethic that he instilled in them. He showed them that the Olsen name was given at birth but must be earned every day thereafter. He was proud to be an Olsen; he was proud of his heritage, and he loved his family. He made sure that all of his boys graduated from the same high school he graduated from, Sumner. While he only had a high school education, he and Mom were proud that Lincoln enlisted in the Army and followed Dad’s example of military service, and they were proud to be able to put Walter Jr. and Shayne through college at the University of Puget Sound and be the first Olsens to ever graduate college.
The boys changed their lives and they instantly became the center of both of their worlds. You could find him and Mom at any given moment, hunting, fishing, coaching baseball, and attending every event that the kids had. When his boys couldn’t go hunting with him, they were waiting anxiously at the house for him to return so that they could run out and see if a deer was in the back of the truck. He never missed a chance to be with his boys, so whenever they asked to go fishing in Mexico, riding 10 miles on horseback into the deep woods in the Cascade Mountains to spot deer for them, or a hunting trip to Africa, he was all in. He never passed up an opportunity to be outdoors with his wife and his boys. He hunted and fished with them for years and taught them the deep love for the outdoors that they all share. When growing up, all of their family vacations seemed to involve hunting, fishing, or visiting his Grandma and Grandpa in Eastern Washington.
After retiring from Boeing, he got into genealogy and he and Mom bought a motorhome and crisscrossed the United States a couple of times, often stopping and finding tombstones of their family members. When they were ready to plant their feet again, they bought a lot in Yuma, Arizona, where Dad built a house for Mom and him, by designing and doing a considerable amount of the work. There are many friends that he met in Yuma, but he always looked forward to when his boys and their families would come and visit them, or they would make the pilgrimage back up to Washington State for the summer months.
That is what Walter did through his life, but it really tells you nothing about who he was.
He was proud. He was always in your corner and always there to help out wherever he could. He lit up whenever his boys or grandkids walked into a room or when he talked about them. He was always the first to say, “All on one check and bring it to me.” He was a man of honor. He was a dedicated husband and father. He instilled the deep passion for the outdoors into each of his boys. There are many stories with many friends that would take a novel to fill. He was tough, but fair, ornery, but would do anything for you. Loud bark with a soft heart.
While he was successful in his own right throughout his career at the Boeing company, if you had the chance to ask him what his most successful accomplishment was, the two things at the top of his list would be his almost 60 years of marriage to Mom and his boys, who he helped raise into successful men in their own rights.
He taught us that the definition of success was to leave the world a better place than when you got here and, with that in mind, Walter H. Olsen, Dad, Pa, Pops was extremely successful.
He was preceded in death by his father, Kenneth P. Olsen, Sr.; his mother, Grace Johnson; his brother, Conrad Olsen; and his sister, Connie Coty.
It is with great sadness that he leaves behind the love of his life, our Mom and his wife of 59 years. He also leaves behind his brother, Kenneth P. Olsen Jr.; sister, Carolyn Ressler; his three boys and their wives, Walter (Dianne), Lincoln (Lori), and Shayne. Further, he leaves behind six grandchildren; five bonus grandchildren who absolutely adored him; and many nieces, nephews, and their children, all of which loved him dearly.
Was Walter Hartvig Olsen a hero? While he did not save any cities from certain peril, if you asked Mom or any of his sons or grandkids, they would swear that if you looked close enough, you could see a cape. He truly was our hero, our role model, our Husband, our Dad, and our Papa.
There will be a celebration of our hero’s life on July 10, 2022, 2:00 p.m. at Walter Jr.'s home in Yelm. Please come and share your memories of Walt.
In lieu of flowers, the family would be grateful if you could take a moment and please jot down a little note of your favorite memories that can be passed along to his grandchildren.
Please leave condolences or share memories and photos on the Tribute Wall to the left.