Merlin Stanford Olson was born the 3rd of six sons to Stanley and Gladys (Gaard) Olson on September 10, 1935 in Colfax, Wisconsin. He left this world on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the Powell Valley Care Center.
Merlin grew up in Colfax with his parents and five brothers, Wes, Stuart, Mark, Dale and Fred. Although born with a bad leg, he still managed to work on area farms and play four years of high school football, basketball and baseball. During his senior year he was the starting middle line backer in football, and had a batting average of 425 in baseball with no errors and at least one hit in every game of the season. The highlight of his high school sports career was going to the State Tournament for baseball in 1953, at a time when there were no class divisions (Colfax has a pop. of around 1000).
After graduating from Colfax High School in 1954, Merlin moved to St. Paul, MN with several of his friends, and after finding no suitable long term work because of lack of military service, entered the US Army in January of 1955. He was stationed on Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, where he was able to continue playing sports. He played starting guard on the company basketball team and starting catcher on the fast pitch softball team, earning him the starting catcher position of the All Island All Star Team. Serving on Eniwetok required a secret clearance as they witnessed the dropping of 17 Atom bombs and 2 Hydrogen bombs on nearby islands. He was honorably discharged as a corporal in 1956. Four of his five brothers also spent time in the military, with Wesley going to Korea during the war.
He attended the University of Wisconsin at River Falls on the G.I. Bill of Rights, graduating in 1963 with a degree in education. One of the most memorable times of his life came at UW-River Falls when he met John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby and was able to spend some time visiting with them. He moved to Saco, MT in 1963 for his first teaching job, then on to Stanford, MT, where he taught High School English, was assistant football coach and head wrestling coach. He was always proud that one of his wrestling teams at Stanford High School (a Class C school) wrestled a Class A school and won 45 to 3. In his teaching and coaching career he was much more proud of his students achievements as contributing members of society than in their win/loss record, although he recognized the value of winning in regards to self concept, ego, pride and the U.S. Army saying, “Be all you can be.” He enjoyed the closer one-on-one relationships that coaching offered, with the opportunity to influence more than just with classroom learning, like reminding his players to show respect to their parents and let them know it, telling them to maybe shake their father’s hand and tell him you are glad you are his son, or to go home and give your mother a hug and tell her you love her. In 1968 he moved to Billings, MT to earn his Masters in education, then moved to Powell, WY in 1969 where he taught Middle School Special Education for 3 years, before earning an endorsement in school administration from the U of WY. He worked in many areas of administration for the remainder of his career, writing federal grants, ensuring compliance with the new federal law 94-142, as curriculum director, and many other capacities. With School Board approval, during his tenure all new programs/ classes/ personnel added in the district came through his office. With the help of federal funds, he brought the first computers to School District #1. He was instrumental in bringing Career Education to the state of Wyoming, and served as head of the Wyoming Career Education Board. He was also appointed to the US Office of Education on Career Education in 1976, serving as a member of the National Advisory Council, meeting several times a year in Washington, D.C. Merlin believed that educators should get out and see what was happening in other areas of the country in education, and over the years attended conferences at the University of Wisconsin, Rutgers, UNLV, Montana State-Billings, Gallaudet U in Washington, D.C., University of Wyoming and Idaho State University.
Active in community service, Merlin represented School District #1 on the Powell Valley Chamber of Commerce, becoming President in 1974. He was also active in the Powell Elks Lodge, becoming Exalted Ruler in 1983. He worked on many community projects over the years.
In 1959 Merlin married Irene Rankin in St. Paul, Minnesota. They had two children, Leda and Nathan, and were later divorced. In 1979 he married Dorothy Long, and increased his family with two more daughters, Corey and Kelly Long.
In 1983, Merlin left education and he and Dorothy bought Kragler’s Dime Store in Powell. He always felt that it was a fun store to own, with the penny candy display and the mechanical horse game, bringing many fond memories to the adults and children who patronized the store. The mechanical horse was donated to the Homesteader Musuem by its owners after the sale of Kragler’s. He ran the store until his retirement in 1996. Merlin & Dorothy have also owned and managed rental property for several years in Powell. They enjoyed traveling, especially going to see the children and grandchildren, and returning every five years to Colfax for Merlin’s class reunions, and special once a year reunions with special friends from his high school class, Arland and Sandy Buckner, Gene and Darlene Close, and Russ and Ann Knutson.
Merlin’s motto for his life was, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me”, and he lived this all of his life. He accomplished much in his lifetime, all through hard work and perseverance.
Merlin is survived by his wife, Dorothy of Powell, children Leda Chancler and Nathan Olson of Amarillo, TX, Corey and Patrick Nolin of Surprise, AZ, and Kelly Long of Powell; grandchildren Jesse Olson and Kristen Massey; Taylor and Chance Olson; Lauren, Harrison and Ryan Nolin; and Levi Rogers; brother Fred and Annette Olson of Surprise, AZ, Sharon Olson of St. Paul, MN, Tresa Olson of Gilbert, AZ; in-laws Pam and Lester Larsen of Great Falls, MT, Connie and Steve Thull of Powell, WY and Ron and Penny Howell of Laurel, MT, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Stanley and Gladys Olson, brothers Wesley and Barb Olson, Stuart Olson, Dale Olson and Mark and Lola Olson; and mother and father-in-law, Keith and JoAnne Howell.
Funeral services were held at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, March 18th, at Hope Lutheran Church, with internment to follow at Crown Hill Cemetery. Refreshments will be served at Hope Lutheran following the service. Thompson Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, please make a contribution to the charity of your choice.