Remembering Owen Eliasen

Owen was a junior at UWO who passed away on Feb. 8


Courtesy of Eliasen Family

Owen is ready for adventure

Joe Shulz, Writer

Owen Eliasen was adventurous. He loved sailing and skiing, and he shared his passion for the outdoors with elementary school students that he taught to sail and ski.

The UW Oshkosh junior, just one month shy of his 21st birthday, died on Feb. 8 at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa due to a rare strain of coxsackievirus, commonly known as hand foot and mouth disease that attacked his heart.

Owen’s mother, Sara, who works in UWO Admissions, said the virus is especially common in toddlers and college-age men.

“If Owen had not been home, he would have called, and I would have said ‘get some Nyquil,’” Sara said. “It’s one of those things where I feel like people should be a little more aware.”

Owen’s father, Steven, said Owen was misdiagnosed four times by doctors in Oshkosh, three times in urgent care and once in the emergency room.

“[There are] 200,000 cases a year nationwide,” Steven said. “Half of the cases the subjects will exhibit no symptoms. There’s a very small sliver that’s fatal, and that happened to be what Owen had. Adding that I want to be careful here, there were four chances to diagnose in Oshkosh, by four visits to the doctors, and they missed it each time.”

Steven said Owen was something of a Renaissance man in the sense that he was interested in a lot of different things, including film, music, sailing, traveling, Scandinavian culture and world cuisine.

Sara Eliasen
Owen Eliasen on graduation day

“He loved Door County and the Great Lakes, really any beautiful spot on the Great Lakes,” Steven said. “He just loved places, loved experiencing and traveling and always with no fuss or no commotion. We’d travel sort of on the cheap, or by car, or camped, or slept in the car sometimes. It was all good; he just loved any adventure and travel, and yet that doesn’t do him justice.”

Sara said Owen was a Level 3 U.S. sailing instructor and that he was competent and confident in anything he tried.

“He was well loved, very patient, kind and had a very steadfast gentle way about him,” Sara said. “I think for the kids that really wanted to learn to sail fast, he was a bit of a father figure.”

Steven said Owen was always willing to try new things and would never back down from a challenge.

“This summer, for example, he was asked by a friend of ours to take 12 sailing families out on Lake Michigan on a 34-foot diesel motor yacht,” Steven said. “He, at age 20, is piloting this boat, responsible for 14 lives out on Lake Michigan. He was competent and skilled enough at his young age to do that.”

Owen’s sister Isabella, also a UWO student, remembered one time when the two of them and a friend went to Door County with the the plan to sail from Peninsula State Park to Sister Bay and back.

“We made it out of the bay and onto the lake and then the wind died,” Isabella said. “So, we decided, ‘OK, we can either try to paddle to Sister Bay or we can turn back right now.’ The three of us decided ‘we can’t just turn back; we need to keep going’ even though there was no wind. We had plans to do other things that day and that took up the entire day.”

Sara said Owen enjoyed the challenge of getting into a prestigious university, which is part of the reason he went to St. Olaf College in Minnesota for two years before transferring back to UWO to be closer to friends and family.

Sara Eliasen
Pictured is Owen [second from left] enjoying his time skiing with family.
“We were proud of him in deciding to return,” Sara said. “He had almost a full scholarship to St. Olaf. To walk away from that and to be a little more grounded in life, that was his goal. Not all studying and grades and professional accomplishment and prestige, but to have a balance.”

Steven said Owen always brought out the best in people.

“I would find myself thinking ‘I would do well to follow that model if I could never be judgmental and be agreeable, and always take on risks and challenges and quietly go about doing my best,’” Steven said. “It was an inspiring life. We were lucky to have him and he set quite a mark for a lot of people.”

Owen is survived by his parents, Steven and Sara, and sisters Grace and Isabella.