An Interview With...
First of all, how do you pronounce your last name and what is its origin?
(Ol' shesh' Ski') The ski portion translates to where the person carrying the name is from. Olszewski is someone who lives by the Alder Tree (Olsza) or makes his living from the woods (lumberman, carpenter, woodsman, etc.).
Where were you born? When did your ancestors come to the United States and where did they settle?
I was born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania. On our Dad's side of the family, our grandparents when they were children came to the U.S. from Warsaw, Poland and settled in Western Pennsylvania. Our Dad was William Vance Olszewski, one of 10 children (5 brothers and 5 sisters) which our grandparents, Joseph Olszewski and Mary Runewicz Olszewski raised in the town of Glassmere, PA. On our Mother's side of our family, her father was Michael G. Ajak (Aciak) and he was born in Bytca, Slovakia on 29 September 1884. He married Theresa Luciak who also was from Czechoslovakia. They had 7 children to include 3 brothers and 3 sisters; one other brother died at an early age. Our Mother's name was Anna Marie Ajak. The family grew up in Natrona Heights and Tarentum in Western Pennsylvania.
What did you enjoy most about your Navy career?
I joined the Navy at 17 when I left High School in 1957. Everything I ever did in the Navy, I enjoyed. It was exciting to be going to some place new and serving my country in a critical period of time - the Cold War. History tells us about our previous wars fought on foreign soil, but few recognize the "Cold War" as nothing like the World Wars, Vietnam, and Korea ever happened, but behind the scenes in order to keep peace, much did happen.
I spent nearly 13 years on Active Duty in the U.S. Navy from 1957 to 1970 serving aboard submarines and worked in Naval Intelligence. In 1970 and now having an "instant family" to include a wife and 16-year old daughter, I decided not to reenlist in the Navy. I believed I had more to offer outside of the Navy so I took my Honorable Discharge, and immediately took at position as a Civil Servant working for the U.S. Government's Department of the Navy in the Washington, DC area.
During the next 10 years while I was a Civil Servant, I was also a Navy Reservist. Staying in the Navy Reserves allowed me to complete a total of 23 years and retire which was very significant. Today, January 2007 I draw retirement and health benefits our Government provides.
Where did you grow up?
Until I joined the Navy, my family lived in Natrona Heights (my brother Bob calls it Birdville). I liked baseball, played in a "Hot Stove" league. I was a pitcher, second base player, and left fielder. The local "Hot Stove" league was played during the spring and summer. I guess it was one way of keeping our youthful energy out of trouble. I took piano lessons for 11 years and today can't play a lick. We had a grand life up until our dad passed away at a young age of 43. I was 14 and Bob was 9. That hit the family so hard.
Natrona Heights is located about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, PA close to the Allegheny River. It was then a small town of about 15,000 people. Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation was one of the primary employers. Agriculture was another major business in the area.
When I was growing up as a young boy, I never traveled outside of Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania except for an occasional trip to Shaker Heights, Ohio to visit relatives. Sometimes, I'd go as far as Northwestern Pennsylvania to fish or "camp out" as a Boy Scout which I really enjoyed. Visiting Lake Erie with the family was always exciting, catching scores of Bluefish.
What different careers have you had?
As a young boy, my Dad and I picked and sold fresh strawberries from our garden. Later as a teenager, I worked cutting grass at Mt. Airy Cemetery in Natrona Heights, PA. I also worked as an upholsterer (when I was in High School to make some money) and I also had my own landscaping business: cutting grass, planning and caring for people's yards.
I have been a Submarine Sailor, Yeoman, Intelligence Research Specialist, Systems Engineer, Project/Program Manager, Capture Manager, Marketer, Business Developer and Vice President of a Sales Management Company. Additionally, my wife and I owned and operated 3 gift retail stores. Currently, I am a Writer, Historic Researcher, Home Wood Worker, President of Olszewski Enterprises, Incorporated and an e-Marketing Developer.
I have also worked at several Virginia Wineries serving and telling customers about many varietals of wines. As an Account Manager, I sold wine wholesale to restaurants and retail stores. I founded and served as Charter President of the Heritage Hunt Chapter of the American Wine Society for nearly 3 years. As a freelance writer, I have written articles for the Bull Run Observer, a newspaper in Manassas, Virginia and many articles for the Virginia Wine Gazette, the Washington Golf Magazine, and the American Wine Society Journal. I am an advocate for the Virginia Wine Industry.
I created, wrote, and published the Olszewski Miniatures Newsletter for fans of Robert Olszewski, who is my brother.
Did you live in any other countries or experience other cultures or languages as a child?
No – in my later years, I learned Bahasa Indonesia pretty well, enough to get me around town. Polish was always interesting to learn; I tried, but gave up as it was too hard. My Grandmother spoke nothing but Polish and my aunts would be there to interpret for me. I loved them for it. If you don't use it, I decided you'll lose it.
When you left Navy, where did you settle and what did you do after you returned to civilian life?
I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia when I met my wife, Betty, in 1968. We married that year and I finished out my last two years in the Navy in Norfolk. Betty and I have been married for 38 years now, our daughter and her husband, Jeanne and Patrick Gentry, have given us two wonderful grand daughters, Ashley and Kelsey. The "girls" are in college right now.
When I left the Navy in 1970, I was asked to become a civil servant and transfer to Washington, D.C. My wife, Betty, and Jeanne (16 years old at the time), and I moved to Alexandria, VA. Jeanne finished high school in Alexandria, Betty worked for the Alexandria School System and I worked in Suitland, Maryland as an Intelligence Research Specialist (Civil Service).
We built our first home and lived in Woodbridge, Virginia for 5 years then built a new home in Manassas, Virginia where we lived for the next 20 years. During this time in addition to my working for Civil Service, I decided to start my own gift and home accent and craft retail business, Country Cousin. Also, during this time, I went to night school at the Northern Virginia Community College where my daughter, Jeanne, was taking nursing classes. I graduated in 1976 with a degree in Business Administration. Guess what? Jeanne and I graduated the same day! It took me five years of night school and she took two years. It was a special moment in our lives.
My family and I have lived in the Northern Virginia area ever since.
Have you traveled very much since leaving the military?
My work required me to travel and I visited many places. I have traveled to Europe to include: England, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Canada, and just about all of the United States.
How did each career prepare you for the others?
One learns as much as they can and all my careers have contributed to the other at one time or another. Rather than a specific career over many years, I preferred to have many careers over my life by being always ready to take on new tasks.
Each new job, task, or assignment always drew something from my previous experiences. Even today, working on my brother's web-site (www.olszewskistudios.com), is a good example. It requires organization and management, writing, graphics creations, research, etc. My earlier marketing skills, organization skills, research and presentation, and many others are contributing or allowing me to quickly establish what is needed to launch a new business venture.
My brother also has learned much about the world of art and coupled with my world of business, we make a great team bringing to fruition this new venture. And, the neat thing is, we are doing it without the help of external resources.
What did you like best about the variety of jobs you have had? Which has been your favorite?
Whew - toughie... I would say doing what I am doing, at the moment, and that is developing the Olszewski Studios web site, working with my creative brother, on the new project. I love the creative challenges and fortunately, I am using those I learned as a junior and senior high student taking such classes as art, printing, and shop.
I believe firmly that anyone needs to take creative classes along with their major areas of study. Creativity will help one move to the next level.
Has technology changed your life and what you do today?
Absolutely, as I love the Internet and I consider it a great tool. I find it especially helpful when I ponder an answer to a question. If I am in need of an answer, I jump on the Internet. It is fascinating how much one can learn in a short time. I read the Da Vinci Code and it opened me up to look at religion differently. The history that resulted in my research on the subject was awesome and I became interested in the Knights Templar and their objectives. I was awestruck at the way Catholicism evolved and how people were treated during the dark ages.
Another is the access to allow anyone to learn anything, anywhere. And as we were building our TUNNY reunion list, it was especially helpful.
During my System Engineering years in the Government and at Litton/PRC, I developed a concept called the "Global Education Model (GEM)" which in effect took on its own life as the world embraced technology in their everyday lives. The GEM concept was fundamentally allowing what Imagiverse.org does - using the Internet to learn anytime, anywhere, anything!
However, available technology should not be taken for granted. It is an enabler for one to grow intellectually. Use it as a tool to achieve your objectives.
I remember in my Navy days when we used IBM paper tapes to track movements of merchant ships. That was the available tool at the time and we used the tool to enable us to do the job easier, and with fewer resources. In later years, I was the project manager of a system, which automatically tracks millions of merchant ships movements around the world.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
Art, Shop and Printing. Oh yes - recess. I also belonged to the Harbrack High Leisure Club.
Did you have any teachers who made a memorable impact on your education? If so, what made them special?
Nah - Maybe those who were very pretty!
What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects?
Math. I just couldn't get it, didn't understand how I would ever use it.
How did you cope with any classes that you did not do well in?
I struggled, parents didn't know (Dad was too busy making a living at the steel mill, and Mom had an 8th grade education). This was pretty much the norm for the area. The Anglo-Saxons, Germans, English, Irish versus the Slavs, Poles, Hungarians, Russians, etc. A good accountability of separation is found in the book Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town which is depicted in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1800s/early 1900s when the steel industry evolved. The Anglos had the management positions, and the rest were laborers who worked long and very hard for less money.
Did you have to cope with any difficult times growing up?
After I had my double bypass five years ago, I had some difficulties with emotions. I'm still dealing with some, but not as serious as they've been. The experts say such operations affect Type A personalities more than others. I think about our Dad's death a lot - trying to figure out what kind of person he was, i.e., how did others look at him? I'm convinced I have a lot of his traits - fun loving, creative, hard working, congenial, and perhaps complex. Reading "Homestead" also provided some answers in that my Dad was a steel worker, a crane man. He died at 43 years of age which the writer, William Serrin, of Homestead points out was an age usually near the end of one's career in the steel industry.
Your parents sold the red brick house (subject of one of your brother's paintings) to build another home. What happened after your father passed?
Moving from that red brick house was a major change as we moved to an apartment in Birdville which was above a grocery store. This was to be a temporary situation as Mom and Dad were looking to build a new home elsewhere. When he died unexpectedly at the age of 43, this was now elevated to tragedy level. Mom dealt with his death the best she could and having to take care of two boys, Robert and Raymond. With the money she had from the sale of the "red brick house" and what Dad had, she purchased a piece of property and built a new home. It had two bedrooms and Bob and I shared one of them. I did all of the landscaping, planted the grass seed, the shrubbery, and when I turned 17 two years later, I joined the Navy.
How did this affect you as a young teenager?
Looking back, the only way these connect is I'm always pushing the envelope today as I did when I was a teenager. Maybe I'm in a rush to do as much as I can because of the impact of Dad's loss of his young life. So, as a young teenager, I was always in trouble according to my Mom. I guess she didn't understand my method of learning things and that was by doing them. Essentially, I was fearless!
Do you have any advice for young children in this situation who may read this?
Keep pushing the envelope and learn as much as you can about anything AND don't give up - don't ever give up! Recently, a young man of 37 years of age died because of a skateboard accident. He had a wife and three children, two girls and a boy who was 8 years old. If the father would have been wearing a helmet, he probably would still be here. I've been lucky to have lived as long as I have. Push the envelope, but in today's world, be careful! Be very careful!
What did you dream you would grow up to be?
I never dreamed of what I would be and only dreamed of what I wasn't going to be - a steel mill worker like my Dad and die at such a young age.
Did you realize any of those early dreams?
The many careers I've had are evidence of those realizations.
If you could relive your life, would you choose the same path or would you like to do other things?
No. I was able to manifest a lot of different skills, talents, experiences, and met a tremendous amount of wonderful people. I did not mention this before, but those Navy officers I served with and for in the Submarine Service were great for me and because of our close association, they understood me and as a result I learned a lot from them. To this day, I keep in touch with many of them and, every chance I get; I thank them for taking me under their wing.
23) What words of wisdom would you like to share with those who read this interview?
Work hard at whatever you do - the rewards will come! Establish a "life strategy" as early as possible defining what it is you want to do, want to be, where you want that to take place, and then identify what it is you need to make it happen.
I did not define my "life strategy" until I was about 40 years old (27 years ago), but as I analyzed where I had been, where I needed to get to, I realized I was already well underway.
The exercise of defining my life strategy resulted in the following statement: I have the skills, experience, and resources to achieve realistically my life strategy to include - a financially comfortable and exciting life.
Do you have a favorite quote?
"I'm not retired! I just have another career but now, I pick and choose what I do, when I do it, and who I do it with." ~ Ray Olszewski
Check out Ray's children's book, Chucky the Car:
- 9 January 2007
22 April 2010
© 2007 - Imagiverse Educational Consortium