Kenneth Olsen, Former Vons President & CEO, Passes Away At 99

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Grocery industry veteran Kenneth Oscar “Ken” Olsen passed away peacefully on March 4 in the comfort of his Southern California home. He was 99.

Born June 13, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Olsen was the son of Norwegian immigrants Sophia Abrahamsen and Mikal Marcellus Olsen. He was enrolled at NYU when the war broke out and changed the direction of his life; Mr. Olsen served in the Army artillery for five years and was honorably discharged at the rank of major. The journey from New York to California led him to meet his future wife and settle in Los Angeles.

Ken Olsen with Sarah Wehling of Costco.
Ken Olsen with Sarah Wehling of Costco.

After the war, Mr. Olsen started work at Vons and almost as quickly as he moved through the military ranks, he ascended the corporate steps to his eventual appointment as president and CEO.

“Ken oversaw many of the innovations we enjoy in today’s supermarket and was a driving force behind Vons as the leading grocery chain in Southern California,” his obituary reads.

Mr. Olsen received numerous awards that recognized him as a retail and civic leader, among them the Sydney R. Rabb Award, the highest honor in the food industry, and Man of the Year Among Christians and Jews.

He served as president of the WAFC in 1974 and presided over the WAFC’s annual convention in April that year in Vancouver.

Mr. Olsen’s faith and his family were his fortune. He is survived by the love of his life, Dickie, sons Chris, Paul (Judy), Ken (Mary), Steve, and daughters Pat (Mike) Smith and Jodi (Tom) Kelly. He was preceded in death by son Mike (Pam). Mr. Olsen’s spirit is carried on through his children, 18 grandchildren and 33 great grandchildren, his sister Margaret Leach, and an extended family of relations and friends from every walk of life.

“Those who’ve taken his lessons to heart will ensure that friends who are sick never feel forgotten; that those who make life easier, like the mail carrier, gardener and trash collectors are never forgotten; will put everything back where you found it; turn out the lights; keep phone calls short; and understand that the RMA (right mental attitude) makes all the difference in life,” his obituary continues. “Most of all, those who carry on Ken’s spirit will live fully every day and follow his dictum: Be responsible, be charitable—it’s a wonderful life.”

Mr. Olsen served on numerous boards, including the Archdiocese of LA, St. John of God, Carl’s Jr., Sports Chalet, St. Anne’s, Loyola High School, the Wilshire Country Club and 10 years as a trustee at Loyola Marymount University. He was VP of the LA Chamber of Commerce, and in retirement became a founding member of the Food Industry Crusade Against World Hunger. Baptized into the Lutheran religion, Mr. Olsen converted to Catholicism, citing the devotion and goodness of his wife, Dickie, with whom he celebrated 75 years of marriage last November. With a deep belief in the teachings of Christ as his compass, Mr. Olsen was a daily communicant who tried to live the message of the Gospels. He was accepted into the Knights of Malta and St. Gregory and supported dozens of local and international charities, but few touched his heart like Little Sisters of the Poor.

“Dickie was Ken’s counterbalance, and it was with her that his world opened up to embrace all life had to offer. They spent 66 of their 75 years together in the same home in Hancock Park. Now, as a loyal and faithful servant of the Lord, we believe he has moved on to heaven,” Mr. Olsen’s family writes. “Thank you for showing us the way, Dad. We love you.”

A celebration of life will be held Tuesday, March 13, at 10 a.m. at St. Brendan’s Church. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Little Sisters of the Poor or the City of Hope.

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About The Author

A word nerd, grocery geek and two-year member of The Shelby Report. She is a proud new homeowner and a great lover of avocado toast.

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