Cover photo for Jan Henrik Kiaer's Obituary
Jan Henrik Kiaer Profile Photo
1928 Jan 2023

Jan Henrik Kiaer

February 6, 1928 — January 9, 2023

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Jan Henrik Kiær, January 9, 2023. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years and died peacefully in his sleep.


He was born on February 6, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York.  Shortly thereafter, his parents separated and he moved with his mother, Beret Holm to Oslo Norway where he grew up with her, his aunt Randi, and his grandmother. While his mother served as a secretary and translator for the Norwegian King, he was sent to boarding school in Marseille, France where he lived until the outbreak of WWII.


During the German occupation of Norway Jan and a friend ran afoul of the German occupation forces when they were caught writing anti-Nazi slogans on the Oslo sidewalks. They were listed a month later for extradition to the internment camps overseas. Feeling that escape was essential, they put into play a plan to cross into Sweden late on Midsummer night when they suspected all the German soldiers would be drinking and partying late into the night. They hoped they would cross the border unhampered to Sweden. Their escape involved stealing a rowboat and crossing the fjord at midnight. Upon reaching the Swedish shore, they were immediately taken by the Swedish police that informed the boys then age 14, that they had seen the same boat at least a dozen times. After a 6 month stay in a camp for Norwegian refugees, his mother also escaped Norway with the King’s entourage. After Jan and his mother were reunited In England, they went to London where her husband Tord worked at Allied headquarters. Being a teenager, he was given a uniform and worked as a runner. Hating the job, he enlisted into the Norwegian Navy at the age of 15 and was assigned as a gunner’s mate on a merchant ship. He served all over the Mediterranean and the coast of Africa. His work in the Navy also took him on the dangerous convoys between London and New York where he was wounded by shrapnel in his leg.


After being honorably discharged from the Navy, Jan entered the Gymnasium preparatory in Vettakollen, Oslo, where he achieved graduation in two lines of study, language and mathematics, in only one year of study.  After graduation, he came back to the United States where he began employment as a draftsman in the New York Architectural firm owned by a friend of his father.  A work colleague and best friend, Gunnar Sundt,  convinced him to quit his job and hitchhike across the country to see the real America. At one point they were offered a ride by a hillbilly in Kentucky who insisted that they stay overnight with his family.  One of his daughters was attracted to Jan’s friend and this encounter ended in disaster with the boys running from the house in the dead of night with bullets flying over their heads.


They finally arrived in Seattle, where many Scandinavian immigrants were thriving after the war. They decided to both enter the University of Washington.  Jan achieved a Bachelor in both general studies and one in the School of Architecture. During the winter months he spent time traveling the country as a member of the US Ski Team where he competed in Ski Jumping, Cross Country Skiing, and Nordic Combined events. He became a member of the US Olympic team and won a national championship in the Nordic Combined event.


While at the UW he met his life long partner Alita Ronhaar, who became his soulmate for 70 years!  After graduation Jan and Alita gave birth to their first child Erin. After finishing his MBA in marketing, Jan began working in the pre-fab housing construction industry. Missing the creativity of architecture, he changed careers and joined the Eero Saarinen offices and had a very small part designing parts of the visitors center of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Thinking he missed his family and homeland, Jan took his young family to Norway so he could work with his father who was also an architect. Together along with his father's team they designed the American Embassy in Oslo which still stands today as a great artistic and design achievement. Upon completion of this project, the young family moved to Seattle where Jan started his own firm, Jan H. Kiaer Architects AIA.


Jan became quickly known and well-respected among his peers and colleagues. During his long career Jan designed two Seattle Times AIA homes of the year.  In spite of these residential achievements, his office  focused mainly on commercial buildings, several of which are still easily recognized today. Most notable of his works are the Kroger-owned QFC Grocery Stores, Hagens, Pay-n-Save stores, US Navy commissaries in Alaska and Washington, several University of Washington buildings, and Ernst Hardware stores. He would often mention his time building Navy bases in the Aleutian Islands where the soldiers kept their eyes peeled at all times on the border. He thought it a bit spooky to look across the sea at the visible shores of the Soviet Union only miles away with big guns pointed at him.


In February 1966 Jan and Alita adopted their second child, Sean. Jan and family settled on Mercer Island where he and Alita built a loving home for their children and ever-present Old English sheep dogs. In the 70's Jan and family moved to American Samoa where Jan designed many of the public safety buildings still in use today and became Deputy Director of Public Works. Upon return to the Seattle area, Jan and Alita lived in various architecturally designed homes in North Seattle, Bellevue and Bainbridge Island where he resided until his death.


Jan really liked to approach life with a quiet gentle perspective. He devoted much time to charitable activities with the Lyons Club, the Rotary Club, and the Mercer Island Saddle Club. While living on Mercer Island, he, like so many other homeowners, experienced difficulties with raccoon damage. He sought out information on how to handle raccoon issues and discovered that on the island there were two groups fighting about this. One group wanted to kill them all, the other wanted to educate island residents on how to live peacefully with them through changes to their own behavior. Keeping with his gentle personality, he attended the meetings of the second group who quickly made him their president. He wrote numerous articles to the local paper with tips on how to avoid entanglements with raccoons. A frequent giver to such organizations as Green Peace, The Sierra Club, ACLU, Save the Children, Save the Monarch Butterflies, and many many other organizations, he always maintained a willingness to help others in need.


Not only was Jan an accomplished skier, but he was also a very accomplished sailor as well, winning many sailing regattas in the Puget Sound region. He owned many sailboats, from his first a Columbia 28 to his beloved Cal 40, naming every single one Alita after his beloved wife.  In his old age, he joined the Seattle Yacht Club’s mini 12 sailing fleet and continued his racing well into his 80s. He maintained his SYC membership until his passing.


Arrangements are entrusted to Cook Family Funeral Home of Bainbridge Island.

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Celebration of Life

Saturday, January 21, 2023

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Pacific time)

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Saturday, January 21, 2023

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