Robert (Bob) Lee Olson, age 71, passed away peacefully in his Arizona home on July 11, 2021. Robert fought with unwavering hope and courage to overcome bone marrow cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure while serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War. Robert was surrounded by his loving family during his final days.
Born in Spokane, Washington, to Leonard and Zelma Olson, on August 6, 1949, Bob was the youngest of five children. His childhood in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was one of riding bikes, swimming at the city beach, building forts, sledding in the snow, trying to steer clear of the principal’s office, and running free with neighborhood friends. From his teen years to the present, his passion was restoring classic cars. Bob could be found cruising the main drag, Sherman Avenue, along with every other teenager in town, any night of the week.
Robert enlisted in the US Army in 1967 and served two tours of duty in Germany and one tour in Vietnam. He acquired the rank of Sergeant and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for life-saving heroic action while under enemy attack. He returned home to Coeur d’Alene in April of 1970, where his future wife, Wendy Jeanne Nichols, then a Junior in High School, had been waiting for his safe return. Robert and Wendy were married on July 22, 1972, in the First Presbyterian Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Robert took advantage of his GI Bill, earning an Associate Degree in Applied Science at North Idaho College and an Advanced Associate Degree at Spokane Community College. The couple resided in Spokane, Washington, for 15 years. They welcomed their son, Jarrod Lee Olson, into their family in 1975, and their son, Chad Lawrence Olson in 1977.
Robert worked at Kaiser Aluminum as a foreman and then as a Territory Manager in the automotive aftermarket industry for Champion Spark Plug Co, Dana Automotive, and Bardahl Oil Manufacturing. A job transfer relocated his family to the Seattle area, where they lived and worked for 32 years. Bob traveled extensively during his career in sales. A highlight of this career was a business trip to Japan, where he was given the red-carpet treatment and even sang karaoke with the CEO while the geishas mopped his brow. After 30 years in the culture of highly competitive sales, a road-weary Bob was fortunate to transition to working for a small family-owned business, A & A Wood Stove Store. His exceptional sales skills and ability to relate to customers were highly valued by the owners.
In retirement, Bob and Wendy enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time with their children and grandchildren. A move in 2017 to the active adult community of Encanterra in Arizona opened a new world of social opportunities, activities and entertainment, travel, friendship, and club memberships like the Veterans Club, Encanterra Car Club, and Hiking Club. In the first two years following their move to Arizona, Bob and Wendy enjoyed many memorable adventures together. They rode jet skis in the Caribbean, explored the national parks of Arizona, Utah, and Canada, introduced the younger grandchildren to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Jedi Training School in Disneyland, and took to the sky for celebratory graduation trips to Germany and Ireland with their older grandchildren. With complete optimism and certainty that the oncologists at MD Anderson Cancer Care Center were mistaken, Wendy and Bob had planned a riverboat cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. Sadly, it was canceled by both Bob’s prognosis and pandemic travel restrictions. So big dreams transformed into simple pleasures of holding hands and watching hummingbirds at the feeder, safe and socially distanced visits from family, and coffee on the patio with the guys.
Robert will be remembered as a man devoted to his family and friends: A man with a strong work ethic, a ready smile, a hearty laugh, an enthusiastic handshake, and a great story to tell. He was a good neighbor to all.
Robert is survived by his beloved wife, Wendy; his son Jarrod and wife Laura of Arizona; son Chad and wife Kendra of California; his grandchildren, Cameron, Travis, Oliver, and Heidi; his brother Leonard and wife Janet of Coeur d’Alene; his sister Marilyn of Coeur d’Alene, several nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters-in-law. He was preceded in death by his parents, sisters Arnoletta and Donna, and his brother Edward.
Robert will receive military honors and be laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Cave Creek, Arizona. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers a memorial donation to MD Anderson Cancer Care Center of Gilbert, Arizona; Banner Hospice of Gilbert, AZ; or VFW post 7968 of Apache Junction, AZ.
Bob has left his Earthly vessel and moved on to a realm that is gone from our sight. All aspects of his strength, honesty, humor and the love he shared will be sorely missed. But he will remain present in the hearts of his family and friends forever.
Rest in peace our beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend. We will love you for always.