Park Place’s Olga looks back, ahead
Park Place of West Knoxville resident Olga Kelso lived through the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, World War II and more.
However, ready to celebrate her 100th birthday Dec. 2, “I don’t feel that old,” she said. “I’m surprised that I am that old.
“I find myself to be in better shape than women who are younger than I by 20 years at least,” Olga added
She attributes her longevity to taking care of herself.
“I never smoked — I tried it, didn’t like it — and I’m not a heavy drinker,” Olga said. “I used to have a highball at a party, but I never kept liquor in the house.
“My (late) husband (Jack Kelso) enjoyed a drink,” she recalled. ”But we were never interested in getting drunk.”
Born in 1921 to John and Anna Kapusta, Slovak immigrants in Cleveland, Ohio, Olga grew up in a village called Northfield — 30 to 40 miles south of Cleveland. She was the oldest of five children.
“There were two brothers after me and then two sisters,” she recalled, noting she had outlived them all.
“We lived on Maple Avenue,” Olga said. “There were maple trees planted on both sides of the street.
“We loved it,” she added. “My folks kept a big garden; we had that wonderful Jersey cow, and my mother ordered chicks from Sears-Roebuck every spring.”
Olga remembered her hometown also was a great place for children to play.
“There were open fields all over the place,” she recalled. “As I was growing up, I played baseball with my brothers and their friends.
“I was as good as the boys were, and I loved the game.”
During the Depression, Olga’s father was fortunate. He was able to maintain work because his skill as a blacksmith helped him gain employment in the steel mills.
During World War II, she said her brother, Danny, then 19, “was killed in the war with Japan.”
After Olga turned 21 in 1943, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVE, military unit. She spent 20 years in the Navy, retiring in 1963.
Olga, who was a chief yeoman, and Jack, a chief boatswain’s mate, met while stationed at the Pentagon.
“We met in a little shop near the Pentagon,” she recalled. “I was working on the fourth floor of the Pentagon, for an admiral, and he was working in the basement … in the guarding unit.
“I was terribly shy, (but) I was very impressed with what he was doing, his work, and he was a very nice person,” Olga added.
Still, they would end up seeing each other. She was 35 when they married in 1955.
“My husband had been married before and was the father of a daughter,” Olga said, but noted she and Jack had no children together.
However, Olga does have many nieces and nephews.
One of the highlights of her career was meeting baseball star pitcher, Bob “The Heater from Van Meter” Feller with the Cleveland Indians, who came into the office to meet with the admiral.
“I had to calm myself,” recalled Olga, who had to introduce Feller to the admiral. “I had to think of something intelligent to say.”
Though painfully shy, she still was an avid baseball fan. After Feller’s meeting, she encountered him at the elevator and finally gained the courage to tell him “good luck” on getting a third no-hitter in the Indians’ next game.
When the game was taking place, Olga was at the golf course when she heard people yelling. She discovered Feller, in fact, did pitch his third no-hitter.
“I can’t explain how I felt,” she said, taking a deep breath. “It was such a good feeling.”
Her husband, Jack, died in 1990, then Olga came to Tennessee in 1995, living in Fairfield Glade before moving to Knoxville in 2013. She moved to Park Place with her sister, Ellie, in February 2018.
“I like it here,” she said. “It’s a great organization. They run it beautifully.”