"Our Friends on the Acres"
Thov. H. Olson
The distinction of being the oldest resident of Marion township, Clayton county, belongs to Thov. H. Olson. Mr. Olson celebrated his 87th birthday anniversary Sunday at the home of his son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Ole E. Olson, which whom he makes his home. The Olson home is located about a quarter of a mile east of Gunder.
Thov. H. Olson was born February 25, 1853, on a farm six miles south of Gunder, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Ole Hanson. "Yes, that's right," Mr. Olson explained, "my father's name was Ole Hanson. According to the old Norwegian custom, I was named after my father. They took the name 'Ole' and added 'son' to it - Oleson. I dropped the 'e' and made it just plain Olson."
Although Mr. Olson is 87 years old, he can clearly remember events which occurred in his youth. He enjoys a joke just as well as people many years his junior. "I haven't any middle name," the aged man stated. "My mail was often mixed up with other Olsons, so I just adopted my father's last initial, which was 'H'. There are more Olsons than people." He laughed heartily about the magnitude of the Olson family, then proceeded to tell the early history of his life.
"When I was two months old, my father drowned in Turkey river about three miles west of Elkader. Dad came from the old country and was an old hand at logging. With the help of Tov Wettleson, who also had gained much experience in the old country, trees were felled from the Olson farm west of Elkader, and were being floated to the sawmill at Elkader. (ed: Tov Wettleson was the father of Wettle Wettleson, who was the subject of an earlier chapter of this column.) "It was in the spring of the year and the river was high. About half way down the river to the mill, a whirlpool attracted the attention of Mr. Wettleson and my father, who stepped out of their boat to push the logs in a different direction. They both accidentally stepped on the same log, and it was only a miracle that one of the men was saved. Another man in the boat held out a paddle and Mr. Wettleson was pulled into the boat."
Mr. Olson's mother passed away when he was four and a half years old, so he lived with the Helge Engebretson Grunhoved family, two miles southeast of Gunder for 11 1/2 years. He was confirmed when he was 15 years old, then he went to work for the Grunhoved family. "I worked eight months for them, receiving $8 a month," Mr. Olson reminisced. "When they paid me $64 all at the same time, I thought I was a rich young man. Then I left and lived with the Halver Halverson family in Highland township. My only brother, Hans, was also at the Halverson home. Mrs. Halverson, our aunt, was our only living relative."
In those days schoolhouses were very few and far between, so Thov Olson obtained an education by attending classes which were held in various farm homes. Two types of teachers held classes: parochial teachers, who were paid by the families; and English teachers, who received pay from the county. Twenty and sometimes 30 children would attend school in the biggest room of a farm house. It was his only opportunity to learn, and Mr. Olson received a fine start in life. Throughout the years he has kept abreast of the times.
"I didn't like farming, so in the spring of 1870 I hired out as a carpenter's apprentice. After four months I took a similar job, working under Michael Kirkeberg, one of the best carpenters in northeastern Iowa. After two years with him, I felt as though I knew plenty about the carpenter business, so in 1872 I hired out to Cornelius Morgan, a contractor who was building the Marion church. "When that job was finished I decided to go into business with John "the fiddler'. We worked together as partners that summer, building three houses. I think we each earned a dollar a day for our labor. After working a year with another carpenter, Ole Quernanes, I quit the partnership business and went at it alone. I guess I had more luck than sense, because I immediately contracted to build a house for Gutorm Gregreson in Highland township. It was the first house I ever built alone. Before the summer was over, I had constructed two additional houses and a barn."
Mr. Olson stayed at the carpenter trade for 40 years, before moving to his farm east of Gunder, which he purchased from the Rev. Ole Waldeland, pastor of the Gunder, Clermont and Norway Lutheran churches. He purchased 90 acres for $1,000.
On June 10, 1878, he was married to Miss Sarah Mork, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Engebret Halverson Mork, at West Union. For 14 years they lived with Mrs. Olson's parents, then when Mr. Olson quit the carpenter trade, they moved to their own farm. Mr. Olson went to work and repaired the home and constructed other buildings on the property. He lived in this house until 1933, when Mrs. Olson passed away. Then he moved next door to the home of his only son, Ole E. Olson. The two properties consist of 137 acres in all.
Thov H. Olson has been totally blind for three years, but he has a keen mind and follows the world's progress by listening to the radio or having his son or daughter-in-law read to him. He likes to speak of his carpenter experiences and explained several bad falls he took in his younger years. He fell 32 feet once, but he landed on a pile of loose dirt and wasn't injured. Another time he fell 22 feet from the roof of the Marion church in Gunder but he landed on his feet and escaped injury. "My worst fall was only 12 feet," he said, "but I landed on a rock pile. I was badly shaken up, and a boil on my hip, which had been paining me, bore the brunt of the fall."
Mr. Olson was taken ill in January, but he is up now, and says he is feeling better than ever. He was one of the organizers of the Farmers Savings bank at Clermont in 1913 and served as the first vice president. He was a member of the board of directors of the bank for six years and served as a notary public over 50 years in the Gunder community.
~Postville Herald, February 28, 1940
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