Family memories of Olaf Elze recall stories, grand humor

Recalling their lives with Olaf Elze, his daughters Kristina Platsman and Kelly Jaspers shared, with the Daily Sun News Friday afternoon, some of the fun moments and stories he shared with them. Kristina and Kelly were remarkably composed, considering their father had died just hours earlier. There was reason.

“He had a great life,” Kristina said.

Kelly related one of the interactions with their dad, which they hated then and laugh about now. It was a weekend morning wake-up ritual unlike any other. It always came at seven o’clock.

“He’d wake us up Saturday morning playing John Phillip Sousa marches as loud as he could,” Kelly said. “He’d bang on pots and pans and march into our room.”

“There was no way to sleep in,” Kristina said. “He wanted us up at seven every day.”

“He still had his alarm clock set for 6:30 when he lived at Sun Terrace,” Kelly said. “I’m sure it drove mom crazy.”

Elze and his wife, Helen, lived together at Sun Terrace Assisted Living at the time of his death. They had 63 years together.

“They just missed 64 years,” Kristina said.

Elze was born in Berlin, Germany in 1936, the year Adolph Hitler was trying to demonstrate the Aryan Race’s dominance over all others at the Olympic Games in Berlin.

“He always said he was born during the Olympic Games,” Kelly said.

“He was born two weeks before the Olympics,” Kristina added.

“We never told him. We just let him believe it,” Kelly said.

Although that part of Elze’s story was funny, living in Germany at that time was not funny at all. Elze’s older sister was a member of Hitler Youth. Once the Nazis called her, she had no choice, Kelly and Kristina said.

Elze was 9 or nearing 9 when the war ended. He never forgot those experiences as he set foot on America in 1954 and grabbed onto the American Dream. Without fail, he stood for the Star Spangled Banner — flag and song — and pledged allegiance to the country.

“He loved America,” Kristina said. “He was very much a patriot.”

Eleze became a naturalized citizen in 1959.

Before World War II ended, the sister was sent to the Russian front as a member of Hitler’s army. She went with 244 other girls. Only she and l6 others came back.

Things weren’t much easier at home when the allied powers started to carpet bomb German targets. With hopes that he would survive, Elze’s parents sent him away from the city to live on his grandparents’ farm in the German countryside.

As the bombing intensified, Elze’s parents knew they needed to get their daughter, back from Russia, and themselves out to the farm. They caught the last train to go that way.

“The next day, the apartment complex they lived in was bombed,” Kristina said.

Kristina and Kelly said life began to normalize soon after the war ended. The Elzes and their friends were back to mountain hiking and snow skiing.

But one day, when Elze was 12, he startled his community with an innocent stunt. There was a church whose bells were rung during the war when a bombing raid appeared to be imminent. Elze and a friend decided to ring those bells, and the community went into a panic.

“The police were called, and the boys were taken in,” Kristina said. “Dad’s mom had to go to the station to sign him out.”

Not much later, Elze’s life started taking fortuitous turns. His sister married an American GI and found a new home in Seattle. She invited him to come over and, at 17-and-a-half in 1954,

Elze boarded a ship at the Port of Dusseldorf by himself. Within a year, his parents came over, and Germany started to become a family memory.

Arriving in Seattle, Elze enrolled at the University of Washington. With credit for some of his high school classes, he earned a journalism degree at the age of 20. Then he went to work in sales for an advertising agency. It was a great day.

Soon there was an even greater day. Helen Hunt, a young woman working for the AAA, came to Seattle on a 10-day getaway she had won for top road map sales for the company.

Elze was assigned to accompany the tour group she was with. He sat next to her on the third day, took off her glasses, put them on his face and said: “My God, let’s get married and live off your pension.”

Helen was smitten. She hung out with Elze for the rest of the tour, and he proposed on the 10th day. She accepted and went back to Kentucky, where they planned to marry. The first thing Elze did at the reunion, after three months of separation, was to reach out and attempt to hug Helen’s cousin. “Over here,” Helen said, claiming her man.

The Elzes were married on Dec. 30, 1955, but not before Elze shocked Helen again. He told her the company he worked for had gone out of business, and he had lost his job the day before traveling to Kentucky.

“But,” Elze said, “I have an interview with a newspaper in a little town named Sunnyside.”


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