By Cynthia Edin
LeRoy Olson hit the world running on July 11, 1920, and hasn’t stopped since.
Born the first of seven children on a farm in the small town of Almont, North Dakota, his adventurous soul took him on a wild ride, from being kidnapped as a baby by the Mandan Indian tribe (obviously found and returned), to hitchhiking around the country with only a couple of dollars in his pocket and money left over on his return. His stories are amazing and include him taking a bath in the Reflection Pond by the White House, followed by a night on a nearby bench covering himself in newspapers to keep warm and being woken by the Police early the next morning with a warning to get a move on.
In 1943 he married his wife Vera Joerse and moved out west where over the next few years they had four daughters. They recently celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary.
Working for Remington Rand, he became one of the first electronic engineers in the country and was sent to New York for training on the new UNIVAC computer which, at that time, was the size of a small room and you literally walked into it.
Years later he was involved in a number of business ventures including designing and selling off-trail motor bikes and sno-mobiles, became part owner of a legendary mine in Idaho and, with a partner, purchased three world-famous de Havilland Comet airplanes from the son of the president of Mexico. The Comet was the world’s first jet airplane, built a few years before Boeing did.
He and Vera moved to Redmond in l969 where he bought McPhee Realty and 12 acres on top of Novelty Hill, endearingly referred to by some as the “Chicken Farm.” He had a metal windmill dismantled in North Dakota and painstakingly rebuilt it on their property where it still stands today. With several large buildings on the property, one which is large enough to be seen from outer space, he rented out storage space to a variety of businesses like Honeywell/Sunstrand. For many years the City of Redmond stored their Christmas decorations there and the Redmond Historical Society stored their belongings there as well. He also ended up storing enough replacement parts for the Comet to pretty much build an entire airplane. He eventually donated one of the planes to Everett Community College and it went on to Paine Field in Everett where it is slowly being restored and is, at some point, to be moved to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
When they moved to Redmond, he also began accumulating adjoining properties in the downtown area, eventually building the Cleveland Street Square shopping center which was sold in 2003 and renamed to Redmond Center.
LeRoy and Vera were also “snowbirds.” Owning large motor homes over the years, they traveled the country, including a jaunt up the Alcan Highway in Alaska and for years spent their winters in Arizona.
In 2007 they picked up and moved to Spokane to be near two of their daughters and returned to Redmond in 2016 where, once again, they are living on Novelty Hill, this time not on the farm but in a town house.
After 100 years, his adventures have slowed to a trickle but the stories have not. He has three surviving daughters, seven grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren to keep his stories alive. LeRoy was―and is―an amazing man. A true historic treasure.
Editor’s Note: Upon reaching the age of 100 years, Redmond Historical Society members are named as Honorary Members.