John was born to Henry and Anna (Bathum) Olsen on August 18, 1939, in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Cass Technical High School as a tool and die maker and used those skills to work his way through the undergraduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, class of 1961, then went on to receive his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering in 1966. He married Kathryn Pope on June 15, 1964, in Du Quoin, Illinois.
As a newly-minted Ph.D., he joined Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories in Seattle, Washington, and he and Kathy purchased a home on Vashon Island. John co-founded Flow Research Company in 1971 and was a pioneer in the development of the high pressure water jet cutting machine, the first of which was created in his Vashon barn shop. He is known in the industry as the “Father of Water Jet Cutting Technology.” After several Flow spin-offs, John joined with partners in 1993 to launch OMAX, a company that builds and ships water jet cutting machinery worldwide from its headquarters in Kent, WA.
John is survived by his wife, Kathryn; sons Eric (Andi), Carl (Jennifer), William, and Stuart; daughters Anne, Sonja and Karen; and four grandchildren: Patience, Connor, Elle and Lukas; sister Karen Perla (Guido), nephew Guido, Jr. (Larisa), niece Bianca Perla (Rusty Knowler), grand-nephew Orion and grand-niece Isa.
John died surrounded by loved ones in his Vashon home on February 14, 2019 following an 18 month battle with brain cancer. Special thanks to the Alvord Brain Tumor Center at the UW Neurosciences Institute, Providence Hospice of Seattle, Vashon Home Care Network and the many friends and neighbors who supported his family with prayer, positive thoughts, encouraging letters, and meals.
John was known for his brilliant mind, his technical innovation and expertise, his generosity, his sense of humor, and for designing machinery anywhere and everywhere on whatever paper was on hand, from table napkins to church bulletins. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, friend, employer and mentor and will be missed by many all over the world.
A memorial service and reception will be held at the Vashon Presbyterian Church on Saturday, March 23, at 2:00. An off-island celebration of John’s life for all who loved this great man is being planned for what would have been his 80th birthday in August.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in honor of John H. Olsen ’61: MIT Memorial Gifts Office, Attn: Bonny Kellermann, 600 Memorial Drive, Room W98-500,Cambridge, MA 02139 or to the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, P. O. Box 2031, Vashon, Washington 98070.