RIP Kevin Olish

Kevin Olish died suddenly this weekend. How suddenly? I saw him working at the New Pioneer Co-Op on Saturday. He died Sunday afternoon.

You might not know his last name, but if you shopped at the Co-Op, you knew Kevin Olish. He was the chatty guy who wanted to talk with you way more than any other grocery store checkout clerk on earth. As one of New Pi’s longest-serving full timers, seeing Kevin on his customary register #1 was one of Iowa City’s dependable experiences, and for a lot of people, shopping there won’t be the same.

Kevin’s passion outside of work was music. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Rock music going back to the 1970s, and loved Jazz as well. You would see Kevin out at local venues, sporting bright red ear protection muffs, supporting his favorite local bands. The last conversation I remember having with Kevin was about how much he was looking forward to this year’s Mission Creek Festival.

I don’t know very much about Kevin’s personal life. According to the New Pioneer Fall News Letter, Kevin was from Cedar Rapids, had lived in California for several years before moving to Iowa City in the 1990s. He has been at the Co-Op since 1996. What has endeared him to me over the years is his knack for memorizing the Co-Op member numbers of his regular customers. I’m sure he knew more PLU Codes for Co-Op products than anyone else there as well.

When someone is dependably present for so long — more than a quarter of my life, for example, and nearly the entire lives of many of his younger co-workers — you can begin to take them for granted. When they’re gone you realize the unique way they have touched and enhanced your life. I think Kevin would have enjoyed knowing how many people lives he touched.

Category: Community/News


  1. Whether it was a must-see metal show at Gabe’s, an upcoming obscure astronomical event, or even the minutiae of his personal prescription regimen, Kevin never failed to enrich my shopping experience. I always went straight to register one, no matter the line, and I will always cherish my time spent hovering near the exit as Kevin finished an arcane oration, while simultaneously ringing up the next in line. I think a fitting tribute would be the permanent shuttering of register one, because it is his, no matter who stands there, and shopping at the co-op will forever lack something vital without him.

    1. Nice one Matt, I believe Kevin would disagree. He loved most of us as much as we love him. New Pi will never be the same without him, all we can do is remember all the great times we had and be thankful to have known Kevin.

  2. Who’s working on the tribute Metal show? Speaking of a fitting tribute- with all of his favorite local-ish bands.

  3. I was always glad when Kevin was working — he never failed to call me by name, and his red herrings always brought me out of a -20 degree funk. He was very friendly, uncomplaining, lovely person. I’m very sorry to hear that he is gone.

  4. so sad. but he shouldn’t have died. we his coop family need to find out what went wrong when he went to the hospital last week “feeling like he was having a heart attack” and was sent home, all tests ok. it won’t bring him back but it might save another life…

    yes. thinking what matt says but more so….kevin was the best there was about the whole block we are going to city council to discuss tues night. with a moment of silence, please. for kevin. he was too alive to be dead…….the blog is good. thanks

  5. I moved to IC in 2006. Kevin was one of the reasons I loved living in IC. He was a warm, engaging, and friendly…the world needs more people like him.

  6. Kent – thanks for the tribute. Kevin was a constant – he was always there for us, being himself, connecting with us, sharing all kinds of information and opinions, interested in all of us. I will miss him.

  7. Kevin and I were housemates in Santa Monica, CA for a few years. This piece describes him well and he played that same role at Co-opportunity the co-op in Santa Monica.

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