Wallace M. "Wally" Olson (1932 - 2015)

  • "Wally and I were colleagues through the founding years of..."
    - Lyle Hubbard
  • "This saddens me, I had no idea he passed away. We last..."
    - Sheilah Etheridge
  • "Wally was my colleague and friend more than three decades. ..."
    - John B. d'Armand, D.M.A.
  • "RIP Wally, enjoyed the 20 years we worked together at JDCC,..."
    - Ron Silva
  • "It is with great sadness that we just learned of Wally's..."
    - Mike Paradise

(3 Oct 1932 – 21 Dec 2015)
Wallace Mark Olson, age 83, passed away in Juneau on December 21, 2015. Although in declining health, his death was unexpected. Wally, as he was known to family and friends, was born in Breckenridge, Minnesota, to Melvin C. Olson and Anna Mae Connolly. He grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, graduating from grammar and high school there. In 1950, Wally began a liberal education at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota, and after two years went on to St. Paul Seminary for bachelor's and master's degrees. Wally came to Nenana, Alaska, in 1962 to serve community needs and remained until September 1965. During these years he developed a deep respect for Alaska Native culture and history. After moving to Fairbanks, early in 1966 Wally was employed by the University of Alaska to teach anthropology and serve as assistant director of training for Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Part of this job required visits to seventeen Native villages in interior Alaska. Wally continued teaching and pursued a master's degree in anthropology. For his thesis, in 1967 he moved to Minto, rented a cabin, and interviewed the Native community. Wally earned his second master's degree in 1968 and continued teaching in Fairbanks until 1971. In 1972, he and Marie Williams of Juneau married, a union lasting thirty years. From 1972 to 1994, Wally taught a diverse array of Alaska studies and classical philosophy at Juneau-Douglas Community College, which in 1980 became the University of Alaska Southeast. During the 1980s, he became interested in Japanese culture and taught himself enough Japanese to take a sabbatical in Japan to conduct research. He made many friends there, who recently visited Juneau and were toured about by Wally. In 1991, he published "The Tlingit: An Introduction to Their Culture & History", now in a third edition. During the 1990s, Wally became interested in Spain's exploration of Alaska, taught himself enough Spanish to translate the records of early explorers, and took a sabbatical to Spain to research Spanish-archived marine logs. At retirement, for "Outstanding Service," Wally was awarded the rank of Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus. In 2002, he published "Through Spanish Eyes: The Spanish Voyages to Alaska, 1774-1792." Some of his many honors include election as Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, recognition for Lifetime Contributions by the Alaska Anthropological Association, and with the Alaska Historical Society, presentation of the Evangeline Atwood Award for Sustained Outstanding Contributions to Historical Activities in Alaska. Wally is survived by a sister, Valeria King in Wahpeton, North Dakota; a brother, Kermit, in International Falls, Minnesota; and many nieces and nephews and their families. As requested by Wally, no funeral service will be held. Memories and condolences may be posted online to Legacy, which will be shared with his extended family. Wally is remembered for the courtesy and friendliness he brought to every meeting, and a buoyant sense of humor that often lifted spirits. He was a learned and prodigious scholar who shared his knowledge with humility. As a teacher, Wally was engaging and always pressing his students to think for themselves and explain their thoughts. With friends and family, Wally was considerate, generous, and loyal. He will be deeply missed. Those wishing to honor Wally's memory may do so as Wally sought to do-by listening, learning, and helping those in need.
Published in The Juneau Empire from Jan. 17 to Feb. 16, 2016