Democratic activist recalled for her tireless fight for people

  • Sat Nov 13th, 2010 6:41pm
  • News

By Katya Yefimova Herald Writer

CLINTON — Elsie Swan Olkonen was only 5 feet tall, but everyone noticed when she walked into a room.

The fearless community activist who rubbed shoulders with big-name politicians died Oct. 22, just days shy of her 93rd birthday.

She rarely talked about herself. Her actions spoke for her, said Evert Olkonen, her youngest son. Whether it was checking on elderly neighbors, leading a protest in the streets of Clinton or helping a senator’s aide write a law, she fought tirelessly for causes and for people.

“When she was right, she didn’t back down, and she wasn’t afraid of anything. I never saw fear in her,” Evert Olkonen said.

His mother was a longtime chairwoman of the Island County Democratic Party. She always found a way to bring people together to solve a problem. When people disagreed, she often said: “We are all Americans. Get over it.”

Photos with U.S. Sens. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, who was Evert Olkonen’s godfather, and Warren Magnuson decorate Elsie Olkonen’s home. Signed photos of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are displayed on the dresser and on the piano in the living room.

Evert Olkonen, 56, grew up seeing important people around the house. His mother always was going to meetings, but she always made breakfast and dinner.

He has fond memories of his mother and father, Albert, together. If one of them was leaving a function, he or she would always find the other to kiss goodbye.

Elsie Olkonen was born the youngest of five children on the Swan family farm in Clinton. She graduated from Langley High School two years early and at the head of her class. Family history has it that the superintendent gave the valedictorian honor to another student, stating that someone older and bigger than Elsie would appreciate it more.

In the 1950s, she became a correspondent for the Whidbey Record and later for The Herald.

Elsie Olkonen’s memorial service was full of energy, just the way she would have liked it, Evert Olkonen said. Friends and family remembered a full and wonderful life.

“It’s been hard to not see my Mom and her big, shining smile and eyes. But she had a great life,” he said.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452;