Jeanne Vester Olsen
August 15, 1930 – July 30, 2020
Jeanne Vester Olsen died peacefully on 7/30/20 after a long and gradual decline in her health. She was 89. Born 8/15/30 in Westfield, NJ, the youngest child of William Irwin and Helen Hawkins Vester, her childhood was shaped by the travails of the Great Depression: after moving from the ancestral home in Washington PA, her father lost his job on Wall Street and the family lost their house, but persevered. Her early experiences were also shaped by the sacrifice of her two brothers, who were both MIA/KIA, PFC. Richard in the S.S. Leopoldville sinking in WWII and Capt. John (USMA ’46) in Korea. She graduated from high school in Somerville NJ and then from the College of William and Mary in 1952, where she was on the President’s Council, sang in the choir, was a member of Chi Omega sorority and received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for inspiration and citizenship.
Following a short period working for Prentice-Hall Publishing in New York City (while living at the YWCA), she met and fell in love with a young chemical engineer from Minneapolis, Ray Olsen, who had just taken a job at Esso Engineering. Their marriage would last 60 years and take them all over the world. This included a series of overseas assignments in the 1960s: adventures to Tokyo, The Hague and London with opportunities to explore much of Japan and Europe during a period of relative “pax Americana.” This included visits to most of the famous museums, car trips to Mt. Fuji and along the Rhine in a VW bug, and experiences that stretched from extended stays in 5-star European hotels to attending bullfights while camping through Spain and Portugal. Between trips abroad the family lived first in Morris Plains, then Chester NJ, where Jeanne served as hostess for bridge and dinner parties as well as family holiday feasts, serving sensational gourmet meals. She was also responsible for “holding the fort” as Ray’s career required multiple long separations when serving in the Army in France, and during refinery work in Sumatra, Sardinia and Sweden. Despite these demands she got her NJ teaching certificate in 1972, completed a Master’s degree in Learning Disabilities from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1977, and taught the gifted program in the local school district for a decade.
In 1986 the couple took re-assignment to Baytown Texas (Ray as Chief Safety Engineer, Exxon Chemical Company) where she discovered an affinity for the place and love for the people that would last the rest of her life. Their home in Bay Forest in Clear Lake allowed her to indulge in her passions for entertaining a wide circle of friends, for reading, family time, politics, as well as travel to parts of the world she had previously “missed” such as Australia, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Turkey. The older she got the more she loved to play tennis, which she continued competitively into her 80s.
Following Ray’s death in 2014 she moved in with her daughter Lisa and family, where she continued to focus on conservative causes and her efforts to promote them. Her favorite toast was “To Our Republic.” With her passing our country loses a determined supporter and a true patriot. She is predeceased by her husband Ray, her sister Ann Kingsland and her son in law Eckhard Podack MD PhD. She is survived by her 4 children and 8 grandchildren: John MD (Kristie) Olsen, Lauren MD, Margaret and Emily (Capt. USMC); Kristin Podack, Eilika; Karin (Jonathan) Nye, Carolyn DVM (Kyle), Christopher (Rita); Lisa (Scott) Stout, Ethan, Evan. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Shriners Hospitals for Children, where a tribute is set up for Jeanne Vester Olsen. Shriners Hospitals for Children, PO Box 1525, Ranson, West Virginia, 25438, (844)-739-0849, www.lovetotherescue.org
- Shriners Hospitals for Children