Walking newspaper man Olaf Elze dies

Olaf and Helen Elze in their later years.

Credit: Courtesy Elze family
Olaf and Helen Elze in their later years.

Olaf Elze, who was well-known in Sunnyside as an editor and publisher, died Friday, Sept. 13, at Astria Sunnyside Hospital emergency room. He was 82.

According to his daughters Kristina Platsman and Kelly Jaspers, Elze had been saying he wasn’t feeling well in the two weeks leading up to his death. He was living with his wife, Helen, of 59 years at Sun Terrace Assisted Living.

“I believe his heart just gave out,” Platsman said. “I think his heart was just tired.”

People rarely saw Elze driving a car around town. Whether he was picking up an advertisement, taking pictures or going to an interview, he shunned the car in favor of his legs, Platsman said.

Elze, an immigrant from Germany who spoke “proper “English with a light accent, came to Sunnyside after losing an advertising sales job in Seattle. The agency he’d worked for closed down.

Elze’s daughter said he came to Sunnyside without knowing what or where it was. They said Elze and then Sunnyside Sun publisher Virgil Hillyer, “hit it off immediately.” He was hired and stayed in a town that was as far as could be culturally from his native Germany.

Sunnyside Mayor Julia Hart, an Elze protege, was saddened by his passing. She said the news brought back warm memories.

“Olaf gave me my start in community newspapering back in January of 1975. That first exposure to Sunnyside, under his leadership served me well. Rarely did Olaf and I agree on any topic, but while maintaining I was wrong, he always listened.”

Elze became the publisher in 1979 when he partnered with Prosser Record-Bulletin Publisher Rich Gay and Toppenish Review Publisher Jim Flint to purchase the newspaper. The group sold the Sun to Eagle Newspapers of Hood River, Ore. in 1984, and Elze was no longer a publisher.

In 1986, Eagle purchased Tom and Bonnie Lanctot’s Sunnyside Daily News. Lanctot stayed at the new Daily Sun News as publisher. Lanctot merged the papers and retained the role of publisher. Elze became the editor.

“I was so sorry to hear of Olaf’s passing,” Lanctot said from his home in Hood River. “He was a good newspaperman and editor.”

Elze worked nearly all of 27 years at the Sunnyside Sun and another 13 years at the Daily Sun News. He retired the last day of January 1999.

“I admired Olaf’s many works of community service, including being a member of the noon Rotary Club and a long-time member of the hospital board of directors,” Hart said.

Lanctot remembered Elze mentoring younger employees and was always encouraging with a great sense of humor. He was also a cheerleader for Sunnyside.

“Although he hasn’t been working in the business for the past 19 years, Sunnyside has lost a real strong community person who actively helped make our community, for more than three decades, a better place to live and raise a family.”

“Besides being an employee, Olaf was a friend,” Lanctot said. “He was someone I relied on and could always count on. We had many conversations on general business issues around town. We would visit on a myriad of other issues. Those conversations, I have missed for a longtime. His acumen for news writing and issues of the day was outstanding. He loved Sunnyside and his passion for newspapering was on display for all to see.”

Hart said: “When, in the mid-1980s, the Sun and the Daily News merged, he stepped back into the reporter role, one at which he excelled. He and I shared reporter space at the Daily Sun News. I always thought he enjoyed getting me riled up over disputed news stories. I wasn’t always a gracious loser.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Helen and their daughters Kelly and Kristina, and families.”

Kristina and Kelly announced Sunday that there will be a funeral service Saturday at 2 p.m. at Smith Funeral Home, 528 S. 8th St. in Sunnyside. There will be a private family burial on Friday, they said.


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