Otto Aage Ewaldsen

Otto Aage Ewaldsen

Otto Aage Ewaldsen, 90, passed away peacefully on June 30, 2011. He was born October 6, 1920, in Syracuse, N.Y. He grew up on the East Coast, taking an early interest in the military in high school R.O.T.C. Living first in Washington D.C., and then in Savannah, Ga., he also became involved in competitive fencing.

Otto enlisted in the U.S. Army, October 1, 1939, at Ft. Screven, Ga. He was transferred to the Base Map Plant in 1940, to Corozal in the Panama Canal Zone. He taught fencing there on the side and enjoyed sailing his boat.

He was very proud of his military service, fondly remembering his days in the Pack Artillery with his horse, Tony, and his mule, Peaches. He developed life-long bonds to his fellow soldiers, maintaining contacts throughout the years. This friendship survives with his dearest friend, Frank Captain, of Staten Island, N.Y.

August 15, 1942, he was assigned to Camp White, Ore., with the 650th Topographic Engineers. It was there he fell in love with the beautiful little town of Medford and met the love of his life for 62 years, Phoebe Helen Swem, who preceded him in death in August 2005.

He would leave his young bride and new son, Eric Otto, in March of 1944, for Finschafen, Papua New Guinea. In July 1945, he would head for the Philippines. In August 1945, his unit had just finished a huge printing of the maps for Japan when they would learn Hiroshima had been bombed.

By September, Otto was headed for Ft. Lewis, Wash., where he would take his leave of the Army and return home. He would continue his military service in the Reserve Officers, retiring in 1980, as a lieutenant colonel, after distinguished service at the Pentagon.

Otto settled in Medford, Ore., and joined the family business, SWEM's Book and Gift Store. Phoebe and he would build it into the region's resource for fine china, books, gifts, and later, oriental rugs. In 1969, they opened Ewaldsen Galleries, exclusively to sell oriental rugs. As the business grew, so did the family. Otto also founded the first data processing center in the region in 1960, MEDPACC. This was later sold and became Rogue Valley Data Processing.

As he built his business, he also served the community in a number of roles. Member and president of the Medford School Board, a Rotarian, Toastmaster (state speech champion, 1948), Red Cross, Chamber of Commerce (president 1956), Downtown Merchant Association, Southern Oregon Historical Society, founding member of the Camp White Military Museum, and member of Zion and Ascension Lutheran Churches, where he served in many leadership roles as temporary pastor, choir member, and soloist.

Otto never lost his love for the Pack Artillery and, in 1969, he moved to eastside property where he could have his horses. His friend, Frank Bash, and he would make several pack trips down the Pacific Crest Trail, which one year included the adventure of Otto having to track down his two runaway horses in the wilderness for a week. A devastating house fire in 1990 prompted a move to the city.

After retiring from his business, he worked to build the Oriental Rug Retailers Association, and increase the knowledge and reputation of dealers. He was regarded as an authority on carpets and was frequently sought out as an expert witness. His system of classification is used to this day by many textile museums. Through their love for oriental rugs, Otto and Phoebe enjoyed many trips abroad to deepen their knowledge and network.

Otto and Phoebe moved to Port Ludlow, Wash., in 1994, and enjoyed a carefree and fulfilling retirement. During this time, Otto published a book about wartime map making, Mapping Was Our Mission. They also continued to travel extensively throughout the U.S. Their love of history, patriotism, and service to others translated to the support and membership in museums all over the country, military associations, churches, and the Medford Gospel Mission.

Otto is survived by his children, Hans (Cheryl) Ewaldsen, Karen (Frank) Callahan, and Maria (Charles) Cookson; his grandchildren, Katharine Fuller and Forrest Callahan; and five great-grandchildren.

Otto was the last of his generation of Ewaldsens, being preceded in death by his sister, Elizabeth (Betty) Parsons; and his brother, Paul Ewaldsen.

Interment will be at the Eagle Point National Cemetery, at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to the Medford Gospel Mission, Zion Lutheran Church, or the Camp White Military Museum.

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