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Olaf Theodore Harken

Obituary for Olaf Theodore Harken

May 6, 1939 - October 21, 2019
Pewaukee, Wisconsin | Age 80

Loving Husband, Father, Grandfather and Brother


Pewaukee lost a gentle giant when Olaf Harken passed away on Monday, October 21st. Olaf was a loving husband, dedicated father, doting grandfather, loyal brother, kind-hearted friend, generous neighbor, curious innovator, marveling astronomer, and a fierce competitor- both on the water and in business.

Predeceased by his parents, Ulla and Johannes Harken, Olaf leaves behind a large, loving family: his devoted wife Ruth, daughters Heather (Neil) Evans, Heidi (Claudiu) Mag, Hilary Harken, brother Peter (Edit Olaz) Harken, and grandchildren Savannah, McKinley, Zoey, Luca, and Nadia. His Pewaukee community, Harken employees, and industry friends all mourn his death.

Olaf, recognized worldwide as a pioneer in the sailing industry, has called Pewaukee home for roughly 50 years. He was born in Indonesia during WWII, where he fled with his mother and brother to New Zealand, Borneo, Australia, and finally California, where they were reunited with his father who had survived four years in a Japanese POW camp. Olaf and his brother Peter went separate directions in college, with Olaf attending Georgia Tech on a swimming scholarship and graduating with an industrial engineering degree. It was during his visits to Madison to see his brother that he started to develop his attachment to the Midwest and an eye for innovation.

His list of sailing industry achievements is long and Olaf always shared the glory, both with his brother and the employees at Harken, Inc. His passion for sailing was a driving force in many of his ventures, whether for business or pleasure. He called Pewaukee Lake home, but also enjoyed cruising around the waters of Cape Coral or chartering a boat in the Caribbean with his family.

Olaf and his wife of 47 years have been extremely generous with their support of the Pewaukee community, continuing education programs, and various sailing organizations. The Harken Observatory at the Pewaukee Library is a testament to his work to share his passion with others. He also loved sharing his many interests with his family, whether traveling with his wife or taking his daughters to the shop to restore fiberglass boats and work on school projects. Olaf and Ruth have welcomed friends from all over the world into their home and their hearts.

In recent years, even as Parkinson's took hold in Olaf, he fought back constantly against the physical impairments, but never gave up or stopped pursuing any of his goals and dreams. His autobiography, Fun Times in Boats, Blocks, & Business was published in 2015 and gave him a great sense of accomplishment. While his dexterity failed long before he finished it, he never lost his playful wit or his ability to tell a great story.

Funeral Service will be held on Saturday, October 26, 2019, at Galilee Lutheran Church in Pewaukee, WI. Visitation is at 11:00, followed by the service at 2:00, and a Celebration of Life at 4:00 at Harken World Headquarters.

In lieu of gifts/flowers, please consider making a donation to the Olaf T. Harken Memorial fund. Donations will support local charitable organizations such as the Pewaukee Library, the Harken Observatory and Pewaukee Astronomy Club, Galilee Lutheran Church, educational and environmental projects, and the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. Checks may be made payable to "Fidelity Charitable" with Olaf T. Harken Memorial Fund in the memo field of your check. Checks can be mailed to the Olaf T. Harken Memorial Fund, c/o Harken Inc., N15W24983 Bluemound Road, Pewaukee, WI. 53072. Desktop site link:

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Yonke & Son Funeral Home

205 Prospect Ave
Pewaukee, WI 53072
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