John Stafford Axelson passed away on August 14, 2013 in Shoreline, Washington after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 89. John was born on May 29, 1924 in Gloversville, New York, the elder son of Betty Stafford Axelson and Victor Axelson. Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and after graduation from Gloversville High School in 1942, he enrolled at the New York State Maritime Academy at Fort Schuyler, Bronx, New York. For the remainder of World War II, John served in the Merchant Marine and US Naval Reserve on convoys across the North Atlantic. After the war John served as an officer on merchant ships from New York to South America and the Caribbean. He was second officer on the Grace Line ship S.S. Santa Clara, and third officer on the Moore-McCormick Lines vessel S.S. Brazil. It was during this post-war period that John met the love of his life, Kathryn "Kit" Kendall. Their lifelong partnership began when they were married at Sacred Heart Church in Gloversville on July 16, 1949. While Kit taught secondary school, John completed a course of studies in chemical engineering, and was graduated with a B.S. in 1952 from Utica College of Syracuse University. Shortly after graduation he began work at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York. During a 40-year career with General Electric, John Axelson was the recipient of over a dozen U.S. and Canadian patents, including an innovative polymer heat shield for the U.S. space program in the 1960s. John's work at General Electric took him from Schenectady to Erie, Pennsylvania to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and to assignments at Edwards Air Force Base for the X-15 project and overseas. John and Kit raised three children during their long and happy marriage, Erik Peter, Paul Kristian (Kris), and Karla Linn. The family moved to Middletown Township, Bucks County in 1963, where John and Kit lived until 1992. John's love of the sea and sailing was a constant in the family, beginning with a handmade daysailer in 1957 and continuing with a series of larger sailboats. John was a life member of the Delaware River Yacht Club in Philadelphia, where he also served as rear commodore in 1967-71. John and Kit and their extended family especially enjoyed sailing on Chesapeake Bay and, since 1992, on the waters around Bellingham, Washington and the San Juan Islands. John and Kit were also active for many years in Bucks County Democratic politics. Following John's retirement from General Electric and Kit's as a teacher for the Neshaminy School District, the couple moved initially to Camano Island, Washington, and in 1995 to Bellingham. Their retirement was a happy one, with sailing, Kit's writing, and frequent travel. Most days John could be found at their 33-foot-long sloop, Skoal, docked at the Port of Bellingham's Squalicum Harbor. John was extremely proud of his service during World War II, and was an active member of the San Juan chapter of American Merchant Marine Veterans Association. John was predeceased by his parents and younger brother, Thomas Everett Axelson. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Kit Kendall Axelson, by their children and their spouses, Erik Axelson and Deirdre O'Shea of Bellingham WA, Kris Axelson and Nancy Berk-Axelson of Seattle, and Karla Wiencek and Michael Wiencek of Corvallis MT, and by a nephew, David Axelson of Dayton OH. John is also survived by four grandchildren whom he loved dearly: Logan Axelson; Benjamin Axelson; Andrew Wiencek; and Julia Wiencek. The Axelson family would like to thank the staff at Alliance Family Care for loving hospice care during John's illness. Arrangements for private graveside services at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline, Washington are pending.
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Published in Bellingham Herald on Aug. 31, 2013