March 22, 1999
Oscar Roloff was a man of many words, most of which he happily and generously shared with his readers through his memories of long-ago days, his adventures in the Navy during World War II, and the characters he discovered on his trips around the Eastside.
"From Oscar, we have come to expect a dry sense of humor and a wit, coupled with a slice of history to enrich our perspectives," Woodinville Weekly features writer Deborah Stone wrote following a July 1998 interview. "He has made people come to life in a colorful and entertaining way..."
Those stories came to an end on Monday, March 15, when Oscar Roloff died at the age of 80 following a lengthy illness.
Born Aug. 3, 1918, near Union Gap, Washington, into a German family, the second of three sons, Oscar's childhood and its hardships were ongoing themes in his stories. He told of foster families, some bad and some very good; long walks to school; skinny, barefooted cousins; the badly-advised purchase of a decrepit horse; the harvesting of pig weed for hogs; waving to a train whose engineer he discovered 70 years later was his uncle; and a country in the throes of the Great Depression.
Oscar wrote of his childhood, "The secret to success is to remain a farm kid and never change."
After graduating from high school in 1938, with few jobs available in Eastern Washington, Oscar enlisted in the Navy, where he served for the next 20 years, gathering more memories and stories.
He was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese in 1941 and was aboard the USS Tucker when a crewmate was the first to return fire against the attacking planes.
On Oscar's 24th birthday in 1942, the Tucker hit a mine in the Pacific and sank. In 1993, he wrote of the incident, remembering the young pilot whose bravery saved 200 sailors, including Oscar, who was badly in need of saving since he had never learned to swim.
Again, Oscar was in the right place at the right time in June 1944 with a ringside seat when Allied forces landed at Normandy in France on D-Day. As an observer of the action, he wrote of seeing General Eisenhower. By 1949, he was a Navy correspondent stationed in Tokyo where he covered the Korean War for three years. That was followed by five years in Washington, D.C., as editor for the Navy recruiting magazine.
Oscar's pride in serving his country was always evident. He wrote several articles admiring those who had suffered in protecting America, and was pleased when he was honored with a marker in the World War II Memorial at the state capitol in Olympia. When he retired from the service, his rank was Chief Correspondent for the Navy.
Following his return to Seattle, Oscar attended the University of Washington, earning a degree in psychology and a teaching certificate. He spent 11 years as an elementary and junior high teacher on Mercer Island. It was there, when I was a first-year teacher, that I met Oscar for the first time, certainly never thinking our paths would cross again thirty years later when I would become his editor. Since that time, his stories and homespun folksy writings have been featured in many Eastside papers.
When he started writing for the Woodinville Weekly, he made his philosophy quite clear. "I won't work in an office [or] sit at a desk," he wrote. "I'll go out into the hinterlands and ferret out my own characters. No one tells me a dang thing ... I'm an independent cuss."
Of the cancer that eventually claimed him, he allowed his readers to follow his long fight, and in fact credited the many prayer chains for his remissions.
Oscar also credited achieving his 80th birthday to hard, physical work. As long as he was able, he spent three to four hours a day clearing land, chopping wood, planting vegetable gardens, and turning old tree stumps into flower planters. "Of course, I tire, and The Man Upstairs looks down, smiles, and suggests rest. At 80, I sit down and chew on a carrot or spud," he wrote.
The collection of memorable characters he found as he wandered the back roads and farms of the area became popular with readers of all ages. Recalling some of his most memorable stories is sure to bring a smile or tear to many. It's difficult to choose among them, but some of the most unforgettable were:
"How My Pearl Harbor Medal Became a Loaner," "My Search for Young MacArthur," "The Russian Hermit," "Alma and her Hollow Stump Wart Killer," and "The Marine who Went Straight to the Top." Another favorite was "Where Time Stands Still," in which he wrote, "While preserving yesterday's rare past, I hope younger people can take time to peer at what once was."
Oscar was preceded in death by his first wife, Helen; son, Sam; and two brothers, Milton and Ray. He is survived by his wife of 15 years, Elaine; daughter, Riana Roloff and her husband Luis Torres; stepdaughters, Karmen and Leslie Hudlow and Colleen Hill and her husband John; four grandchildren, Michelle, Andrew, Ashely, and Austin Hill.
Memorials may be made to a charity of the donor's choice. Memorial services for Oscar Roloff will be held Saturday, March 27, at 1 p.m. at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kingsgate, 11611 NE 140th St.