Remembering John Ohlson, a good citizen



  Note: Longtime West Sacramento resident John Ohlson died last week at the age of 97. He lived a rich and rewarding life, spoke numerous languages, saw the good in everyone, and was always interested in everything that was going on around him. He loved the written word and his West Sacramento home of more than half-a-century was always cluttered with books, newspapers and magazines. He was kind, gentle, a reservoir of knowledge on countless subjects, and he will be greatly missed by all those who knew, respected and loved him.

  The following “About Town” article about John and his beloved wife, Grace, written before her death in 2000, is reprinted below in his memory. John and Grace were a loving and energetic team who together made West Sacramento a much better place to live, and he would not want to be remembered in any other way.

JOHN OHLSON in 2007 (courtesy photo)

John Ohlson’s Swedish parents raised him in the American Midwest, where he graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in psychology. Grace Kneedler spent her youth in the San Francisco Bay Area and received her degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley.  While they were doing their graduate work in the late 1930s (John at Stanford and Grace at Berkeley) they met at a small lunch party arranged by mutual friends.

“Grace was very bright and interesting,” recalled John.  “She was also cute and had a sweet disposition and I liked her right away.”

When World War Two came along, John was drafted into Civilian Public Service and soon found himself stationed at the Duke University hospital in North Carolina.

“Grace and I kept in touch through letters for quite some time,” remembered John, “and in 1945, we were married in Chicago.”

After the war, John took a teaching position at Duke University, Grace went to work for the Tuberculosis Society, and they also began raising a family.

“By about 1950,” said John, “Grace really wanted to get herself and our children away from the steamy heat of North Carolina, and when a civil service position opened up in Marysville, I took it and we moved back to the West Coast.  Less than a year later, a similar job became available in Sacramento.  We settled down in West Sacramento where everything was still affordable and we have been here ever since.”

John and Grace are probably best known in West Sacramento for their many years of very active participation in local politics.

“I guess my interest in politics really began back in North Carolina when I was trying to help organize workers in the cotton mills of Durham,” said John.  “It was really hard to do, because back then, many of the wives didn’t think they should register to vote.  Believe it or not, they didn’t consider it lady-like, and they were also worried that their vote might cancel out their husband’s.”

John, who has been active in the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee for decades, says it’s actually Grace who is mostly responsible for their interest in local issues.

“Grace’s political activism goes all the way back to her father’s experiences as a union man,” said John.  “She learned at an early age that somebody has to look out for the average citizen and hold politicians accountable, because if you don’t, there’s no telling what those rascals will do.”

“I wonder if the community really knows just how valuable the Ohlsons have been to this area over the years,” said Art Edmonds, a former District One Supervisor and East Yolo’s first real political force.  “They’ve  played an important role in just about every problem we’ve faced, from getting us better water to drink to making sure we have a quality library. Grace has always been good at understanding issues and then tirelessly working to improve things.  She’s been somewhat controversial at times, but I think a lot of that is because she doesn’t back down when she thinks she’s right.  She’s truly been instrumental in moving our community forward and what I think really sets her apart is the fact that her involvement is never personal.  She doesn’t seek to benefit herself. She just wants to make West Sacramento a better place to live.”


BY DARYL FISHER, News-Ledger columnist

“Grace has been such a wonderful advocate for education,” said Linda Brooks, a former member of the Washington Unified School District Board of Trustees.  “She has served on both our board and on the Los Rios junior college board, and she is very knowledgeable about the numerous problems facing public education.  Her concern for the students of this area is genuine and she has worked very hard to improve their educational experience.  She can always be counted on to do the right thing and get other citizens involved, and I admire her tremendously.”

Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan, West Sacramento’s first mayor said, “First of all, let me say that I’ve lived next door to John and Grace for many years and they’re great neighbors.  Secondly, although Grace and I have been on the opposite sides of the political street quite a few times, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her.  She is extremely steadfast in her principles and is always a worthy adversary.  She is without question committed to her community and West Sacramento is better off because of it.”

“When I was young,” recalled Grace, “there were always wonderful discussions at our dinner table, often about politics, and I guess I have always had a passion for asking questions, especially after I learned how to get some of the answers.  So I guess if there’s any excuse for my actions, it’s because I was raised that way.  Plus of course it’s fun.”

  For relaxation, John and Grace like to read, visit their children and grandchildren, and also spend time high up in the mountains. Some of their happiest times have been spent together in and around such beautiful places as Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass.

“We’re addicted to the high country,” said John, “and we try to get up into the Sierra as often as we can, usually twice every summer.”

John and Grace have two children, both of whom live in the Bay Area.  Their daughter, Mary, is employed by the Social Security Administration, and their son, Nils, works as a financial analyst for the University of California at Berkeley.  They have three grandchildren.

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