John Ohlson was known to us at the Sacramento Friends Meeting as a warm, kind, and gentle man. He was generous in his service to the Meeting. Conversing with John during fellowship was to enjoy his warm smile, the twinkle in his eye, and his narrative charm.
John may have lamented the diminishing capacities of his tenth decade (he could no longer hike the highest elevations of the Sierras and had to give up driving) but he never complained and spoke of the losses only with gentle humor directed toward himself. If fact, you would seldom have a conversation with John without a taste of his uplifting humor. He was a man with earnest and abiding hopes for the betterment of the human race and benevolence toward all.
But John was much more to the Sacramento Friends Meeting. He was a link with our beginnings that no current member experienced.
John had become familiar with Quakers from a college professor. When he moved to Sacramento in the late 1930's, he began attending the Sacramento Meeting, a small group that, as of June, 1939, had been gathering for just a few months. John recalled that when he arrived for his first meeting, the clerk, Mabel Pound Adams, explained silent worship and then asked, "Does that daunt thee?" It did not, nor did her plain speech and the bare walls of her home.
Notes from the Meeting archives give a sense of John's early involvement:
April, 1940: John filed a report to Meeting for Business about his call on the State Superintendent of Public Instruction concerning the proposed Compulsory Military Training at the University of California.
1940-41: John took the minutes at several Meetings for Business
February, 1941: John reported to Meeting on the conditions of the inhabitants of Louis Camp [evidently a destitute area of wooden shacks].
March, 1941: John described to the Meeting for business his luncheon meeting with the assistant director of a local housing project.
April, 1941: He read to Meeting a newspaper article about Richmond draft officials ignoring provisions for conscientious objectors.
June, 1941: John volunteered to investigate a new kind of mimeograph machine being used at a local church. [The Meeting subsequently purchased one.]
June, 1941: John read a note on conscientious objectors. He offered to make some needed friendly calls on certain persons.
June, 1941: John was nominated (and presumably served) as Assistant Clerk
March, 1942, found John in alternative service at the San Dimas Civilian Public Service Camp, along with Ronald Chinn, another young man from the Sacramento Meeting. John wrote to thank the clerk for the farewell call. A letter from Ronald the following month noted that John's "training in statistical methods is being put to good use in our forestry laboratory here." Ronald continued describing the camp: "Work relations are pleasant, and the work we do is at least useful, though not urgent. There is, of course, a general feeling of dissatisfaction among the boys at not being given an activity more dramatic, more pressing, and more worthy of their training and abilities." An article inserted next to Ronald's letter noted that the C.O. camp at Dimas Valley was proving "invaluable in developing the extremely technical flood control project for the San Dimas Valley."
John later described how he had signed up for overseas service, but during his training at Earlham College, federal legislation was passed to prevent C.O.'s from serving out of the country.
John, his wife, and two young children moved back to Sacramento in the early 1950's, and John became active in Meeting again. The minutes of December, 1955, refer to him as former clerk and recorder, and he is shown as a member in 1958. During the mid-fifties he served on two marriage clearness committees, lettered at least one marriage certificate, was nominated (and presumably served) as an Overseer, wrote a Sermonette for the Sacramento Bee, did newspaper publicity for an AFSC regional meeting, and was on a Meeting committee to study the problem of the length of time that worship should last.
In 1959 he was not nominated for any position. John later recalled that because of weekend family responsibilities he ended his Meeting involvement. It was not to resume for almost 50 years.
After John's death his family held a memorial program attended by well over one hundred people with an outpouring of honor, respect and affection for him.
John was born in Connecticut and grew up in Chicago. He graduated from Northwestern University and did graduate work at Stanford and later at Duke. He and Grace Kneedler were married in 1945. Living in West Sacramento since 1950, John worked as a psychologist at the California State Department of Mental Hygiene and at the California Youth Authority.
John and Grace were legends in West Sacramento for their community involvement. They were active on most major issues. John went door to door to register voters and to encourage the turn-out on elections days. He was a member of the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee for over fifty years. He volunteered for the library, the historical society, and the art guild. He demonstrated the 19th century printing press at the Sacramento History Museum for years. He did print-making and collected books and stamps.
John loved spending time with his family, especially the summer trips to Tioga Pass. He is survived by his daughter, Mary B. Ohlson; his son, Nils Ohlson; and numerous grandchildren, nephews and nieces.