Olaf Kvamme was heavily involved in the Nordic Heritage Museum and, though he did not live in Ballard, was very much part of the community.
Obituary: Olaf Kvamme, community leader, honorary Ballardite
Obituary courtesy of the family
Olaf Kvamme died peacefully on Sept. 27, 2013, in his sleep in his home at Horizon House in Seattle surrounded by his loving family. A remarkable man, he demonstrated charm, wit, integrity and intelligence while contributing so much to his family and to the community. He is considered an honorary Ballardite for his heavy involvement in the Nordic Heritage Museum. Olaf was a beloved father, brother, friend and colleague and he will be missed greatly. He was 90 years old.
Olaf was born on the family farm in Kvamme, the valley outside of Bergen, Norway on June 21, 1923. He came to the United States at the age of two months with his parents, Eli Alvhilda (Rivenes) Kvamme and Johannes Kvamme. His earliest years were spent in Tacoma in the Hill Top neighborhood where he attended public school through the third grade. One by one, his uncles from Norway came and boarded with them. It was from his family, and these uncles, that he learned the Norwegian language and the stories, nursery rhymes, and songs for which he was famous all his life.
The family moved to Fife where Olaf attended Fife schools through high school and worked on Japanese American farms in the area. Many of his classmates were Japanese and were evacuated to internment camps. While they were interned in Puyallup, he would ride his bicycle to the fairgrounds to visit his friends.
Olaf enrolled at Pacific Lutheran College and completed his freshman and sophomore years before being inducted into the Army. Although he never saw combat, the next four years were filled with adventure. Olaf completed basic training and was offered placement in the Norwegian American ski unit, but rejected the assignment. After earning high scores when tested for his suitability for language training, he received specialized education in Japanese language studies at the Universities of Chicago and Michigan. He completed this training just as the war was ending in 1945. He chose to spend one year in Japan with the occupation forces as an interpreter and a proofreader of the daily intelligence summary issued from General Douglas McArthur's office.
He remembered those years with great fondness. He ended active duty and continued his military service in the army reserves, where he served in military intelligence units. He retired from the army reserves in 1974 having achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He remained active in the Japanese Military Intelligence group in Seattle where he was a minority member and continued to attend the regular luncheon meetings for decades.
Olaf could never resist the opportunity to try out his Japanese language skills, typically on complete strangers. One of his great pleasures was to watch a group of Japanese girls giggle as he spoke Japanese to them on the streets of Europe or Seattle.
Olaf received a BA degree from Pacific Lutheran University and completed his studies at the University of Washington. He started his teaching career in the high school in Kapowsin, Washington, in 1948 and in 1949 began an impressive career in the Seattle Public Schools. After spending 4 years as a teacher at Colman Elementary, he went on to be vice principal at High Point Elementary and principal at both Colman and Madrona Elementaries for the next 8 years. His special talents in dealing with groups, his integrity, his sensitive approach to community issues, and his administrative skills prompted his appointment to the central office. He served the district for the next 26 years in Director and Assistant Superintendent positions. He ended his career as the Director of Community and Governmental Relations, serving as the district's lobbyist.
Extremely proud of his heritage, upon retirement Olaf plunged into all things Norwegian in the community. He gave untold service and energy to the Nordic Heritage Museum and the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association. His vision, dedication, and hard work led to the creation of lasting projects which benefited both the Norwegian community and the city in general.
1988 was the first of over 20 years that Olaf served as chair of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association. Under his guidance, student and the teacher exchange programs were begun, an annual Seven Hills Walk in Seattle to replicate the Seven Mountains walk in Bergen was initiated, and an annual Grieg concert by young piano students was started.
Olaf served on the board of the Nordic Heritage Museum and was president from 1990 to 1995. In addition, he was an active proponent of the preservation of Scandinavian heritage, collecting publications and ephemera to augment the museum's collections. In 1995, he and Lisa Bergman, music director, initiated the Mostly Nordic Concert Series. As a member of the Territory of Washington Sesquicentennial Commission, he researched the churches in the state that worshiped in Scandinavian languages prior to statehood. This research culminated in an exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum and established an impressive archive at the museum. His raspaballer dinners (Norwegian potato dumplings) offered at the annual auctions for the museum always prompted spirited bidding.
Olaf Kvamme’s numerous awards include the St. Olav Medal bestowed by King Harold of Norway in 1996, King County Outstanding Public Employee of the Year by the Municipal League of Seattle in 1981, and the Spirit of Liberty Award from the Ethnic Heritage Council in 2003. The mayor of Seattle proclaimed Olaf Kvamme Day on May 12, 2012 because of his valuable contributions to the city.
Olaf was part of a very large and close extended family. Gatherings of 50 family members or more are not uncommon. One of the favorites was the annual grilled salmon picnic Olaf hosted each September.
Travel was one of his pleasures and he visited most of the European countries, several in Asia, particularly Japan, and once to Kenya. He delighted in going to McChord Field or Whidbey Island Naval Air Force Base and hopping on a military plane to go anywhere it was headed.
Olaf was preceded in death by his wife of 35 years, Aileen (Trostad) Kvamme, in 1982. He is survived by his four children Steven Kvamme, Marvin Kvamme (Lee Gresko), Jan Kvamme (Stephen Conway), and Kay Plommer (Douglas), six grandchildren, seven great grandchildren, and Mary Henry, his dearest friend and steadfast companion of 29 years.
He is also survived by his five siblings Marion Holcomb, Esther Finley, Ruth Fordice, John Kvamme, and Donald Kvamme (Janet), his brother-in-law Norman Trostad, and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family suggests that any donations in his memory be made to the Nordic Heritage Museum.
A Memorial Service will be held at Seattle First Baptist Church on Sunday, October 20 at 3:00 pm.
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