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Norma Olson

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Norma Olson Obituary
Olson, Norma

After listening to a bunch of Norma Olson's unsolicited ideas about how our pastor could bring more life and energy to our congregation coming from her bed in a hospital room, he tactfully said, "she's colorful. She's not boring and I can't abide boring people." That was Norma. Letting you know where she stood. Going about the process of living her life in her own way. And invariably that being the right way.

And when she died on June, 29, 2012, she chose to do that in her own way as well, ignoring some of the steps that typically occur when death is near.

Norma was born on December 3, 1930, to Faye and F. R. Brown (Bob) in Des Moines, Iowa. She graduated from Altoona High School (Iowa) in 1948 and in the fall of that year began her pursuit of a teaching career by enrolling at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Upon graduation with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (not a usual degree choice for women in those days and another example of Norma being Norma) she took a temporary teaching assignment at City High in Iowa City. Then it was to West Branch, Iowa, where she taught while her husband was in school. She did almost everything but drive the bus. Girl's chaperone. Supervising the school newspaper. You name it. Her pursuit of a deeper, richer educational experience led to a Master of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1966. And then to an even loftier goal, a Doctor of Philosophy degree which she earned in 1978, while teaching Sunday school, serving as president of the local PTA, president of her faculty association, and raising a family. She was part of the original faculty at the new North Hennepin Community College, then to Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, to Normandale Community College, and finally back to North Hennepin where she finished her career. She had the unique experience of establishing or helping to establish the department of office education at each college where she was employed. During her teaching career, she won many national awards for her research and teaching excellence including the Delta Pi Epsilon award for research, the Robert E. Slaughter award for her dissertation, and the Master Teacher award from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. Her creative flair led to the development of many innovative courses such as International Business, Career Development, Business Ethics and others. Perhaps her most notable achievement was collaborating in a successful grant request to IBM that resulted in the creation of an interdisciplinary course called Creative Problem Solving that broke all the rules about how students would learn and how their performance would be evaluated.

Norma was gifted with great energy and a strong work ethic. She had no time for pretension nor any other kind of self-serving behavior. And she never was caught up in concerns about ethnic background or color of the skin. What mattered to her was the character of the person and the potential that lay within. . .oftentimes potential that others could not see. Her challenge to her family and to her students was to be the best you can be. She had a vision of an end result that was worth all the hard work and sacrifice it took to get there. And she was the ethical role model, the insightful mentor and the loud and persistent cheerleader for anyone who was serious about pursuing their goal.

When her health was good, she served as a co-leader of her church's Stephen Ministry program. She taught Sunday School. She led Bible study groups. And she spent time as a Hospice volunteer.

Her creative mind never seemed to stop working and her family remembers that a solution to a vexing problem like the design and layout of a new home (she built four) would be all resolved by the time they tumbled out of bed in the morning.

She threw herself into her grandma role just like she approached everything else in life. Full bore. There were nature projects to complete. Crazy hats to make. Birds to watch. Sights to see. Trips to take. Midnight snacks in bed. Anything and everything that would make "time with grandma" a special moment and a lasting memory.

She had a passion for gardening and her home in Door County, Wisconsin, was a site for the Sturgeon Bay Home and Garden Walk that annually drew thousands of people to that community. More recently, she developed a deep friendship with a wonderful Hmong lady, and together they poured love into the plants and flowers they tended in the gardens of her Eau Claire home. She brought that same love of the outdoors to her second home on the edge of the Boundary Waters Wilderness at the end of the Gunflint Trail and about 55 beautiful miles from Grand Marais. . .her favorite small town in the world.

Norma never met a dog she didn't like. And every one she owned seemed to take on a bit of her personality and ended up with a heart full of love and tail-wagging joy.

Norma was a teacher to the end of her life. During six months of hospice care she counseled and consoled and offered helpful advice to those who's job it was to minister to her. And when pain medication influenced her dream patterns and stimulated her to talk in her sleep, she remarkably created a tightly crafted lecture on current-day ethics and presented it in five-minute segments throughout the night.

Norma Olson, married at the age of 19, is survived by her husband, Al; daughter, Dr. Cheri Olson (Dr. Doug Nelson) of LaCrescent, Minnesota; son, Kent (Kim) of Wausau, Wisconsin; sister, Shirley Wyrick (Darrell) of Iowa City, Iowa; five grandchildren (Alison, Nicole, Evan, Aaron, Ben); many extended family members and wonderful friends.

Norma, you were an incredible wife. A great mom. A fantastic grandma. And what many of your friends remember as an "amazing lady." Yours was a life well lived.

A memorial service will be at Lake Street Methodist Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on July 16 at 11 a.m., with meeting and greeting an hour earlier and lunch following the service. Suggested memorials in lieu of flowers are Lake Street Youth and Children's Scholarships, the Sua Foundation Nursing School in Liberia, or the Wisconsin Automotive "Wheels to Work" program.

Friends may offer condolences online at www.fullerspeckienhulke.com. Fuller Speckien Hulke Funeral Home, 3209 Rudolph Road, Eau Claire, WI 54701 is assisting the family with the arrangements.

Published in the Wausau Daily Herald on July 11, 2012
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