Donald L. Olsen

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 5:09 pm

Donald L. Olsen, 88 and his wife Wilma T. Olsen, 82, of Decorah, died Saturday, June 6, 2015, in a traffic accident at the intersection of Highways 9 and 139 two miles east of Cresco. Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Friday, June 12, at Decorah Lutheran Church, with Rev. David Sorensen and Rev. Bryan Robertson officiating. Organist is Kathy Murray. Soloist is Jane Kolarich (“An Evening Prayer” and “A Perfect Day”). Congregational hymns (“How Great Thou Art,” “The Old Rugged Cross” “On Eagle’s Wings”). Casket bearers are Matt Amundson, Zach Busch, Bob Byerly, Craig Chyle, Steve Courtney, Mike Kelly, Steve Klemme and Matt Olsen. Interment is at Phelps Cemetery in Decorah, with full military honors by Helof Holm V.F.W. Post No. 1977, Bernatz-Symonds American Legion Post No. 163, D.A.V. Hamre-Giesen Chapter No. 8, AMVETS Post No. 96 and the Iowa National Guard. Visitation is 4-7 p.m. Thursday, June 11, at Decorah Lutheran Church, 309 Winnebago Street, and Friday beginning at 10: a.m., one hour before the service, at Decorah Lutheran Church.

Donald Lavern Olsen was born Aug. 19, 1926, on a farm near Winthrop, in Buchanan County. He was the first-born son of Jens and Grace (Follmer) Olsen. His first eight years of education were attained in a one room county school. He graduated from high school in Hazelton. During his high school years, he was an active participant in scrap drives for the WWII war effort, and his sophomore and senior summers were spent working in the munitions plant at Chamberlain Manufacturing in Waterloo, making bomb casings for the war effort. It was understood that most high school young men would be drafted after graduation. Buchanan County had developed a program that would select one senior to be sent to Camp Dodge in Des Moines to experience the first two weeks of Army training and life. Don was selected to represent Buchanan County. None of the other draftee men knew that Don would only be there for two weeks. When Don got back to the school, he had to visit all the high schools in Buchanan County and meet with the senior class boys. It was thought they would all be better prepared by them having had a chance to visit with one that had already experienced being there. The experience he had at Camp Dodge was valuable to him as well. After a few weeks following his graduation he went to the Court House in Independence for the purpose of enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He did not even tell his parents that he had enlisted. They found out about it when he got the call to report. He was inducted in the Navy at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis and then was sent to boot camp at Camp Moffett at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Following boot camp, he was sent to Purdue University for Navy electrical school training. After graduation from there, he was sent to serve in the Pacific fleet. He first was assigned to an APL in Subic Bay at the Philippine Islands. He wanted sea duty if possible, so requested a transfer to a destroyer. To get that, he had to give up his EMC rate, but in a very short time, he received this MM (machinist mate) rating. He served on the USS Gleaves DD423 until helping put it out of commission at the Charleston Navy Yard the late fall of 1946. While Don was in the Navy, his parents had moved to a farm south of Fayette. Having been raised on a dairy farm, he pursued that occupation for several years, but found his interest in the sales field to be of more interest to him. He worked as parts manager and auto sales for Allen Motors in Elkader for a couple of years. He then sold insurance for two years in an assigned territory with an outstanding record. This promoted him as company supervisor of sales people in all of Iowa, with a few counties in both Illinois and Nebraska. He was then promoted to general manager with recruiting and training responsibilities. He had 45 full-time salesmen when he left that company and was hired by a competitor as their recruiting and training director. He then traveled and conducted new agent training schools from Montana to Ohio. He enjoyed the work but did not like the traveling schedules that was required and resigned. Having been of Norwegian decent, and having a strong interests in the culture and heritage, he then became a field manager for Sons of Norway. His past experience was an asset that they recognized. He began to organize new Sons of Norway lodges. He organized one at Story City, Canton, S.D., Forest City, Des Moines and Omaha, Neb.  After moving to Decorah, he organized Valdres 503 Sons of Norway. Once again the travel schedules became too demanding. He resigned that office and was elected to serve on the district board. He served on the Sons of Norway District Board for the next 17 years, serving as district treasurer, vice president and president, while also working in the insurance business locally — first with Security Agency in Decorah for more than 10 years, and then as an independent agency until retirement in 1995. Don is well known for his music with his “one man band.” He played the Norwegian chromatic accordion with MIDI synthesizers. He had recorded two cassettes and 10 CDs. His music can still be heard on Old Time Music radio programs. He played for the residents of every nursing home in Northeast Iowa and southern Minnesota and truly did enjoy doing it. He also played both days of Nordic Fest each year for 27 years. Don also had a love for flying. Don’s wife Wilma shared his interest in this hobby also. They had 23 different airplanes over a period of 30 years. Don used those airplanes for both pleasure and business. He always said, “One can think more clearly and better appreciate life when flying because all problems seem so much smaller when looking down on them.” With Don’s fondness for dance music, one would often see Don and his wife Wilma on the dance floors of many area ballrooms. Of course they were most often seen at Matter’s Ballroom in Decorah. Don favored the music played by the big bands of the 1940s and 1950s, including modern, swing, country and polkas. Don was a member of Decorah Lutheran Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Veterans for Foreign Wars and American Legion; he was a 32nd degree Mason and a life member of the Sons of Norway.

Donald and Wilma are survived by their four children: Scott (Debra) Olsen of Kirksville, Mo., Rick (Janet) Olsen of Minneapolis, Minn., Sheila (John) Sogge of Sioux City and Sonja (Kevin) Beallis of Naperville, Ill.; six grandchildren: Erik Olsen, St. Louis, Mo., Mindy (Robert) Thomas, Herman, Neb.; Vaughn, Britten, Morgan and Karson Beallis, Naperville, Ill.; great-grandson Maxus Thomas and great-granddaughter Sarah Thomas of Herman, Neb. Don also is survived by one brother, Norman (Roberta) Olsen, Latimer; and two sisters, Dorothea (Burton) Odekirk of Fayette and Marie Eisenman, Grinnell. Wilma also is survived by two sisters, Josephine Trapp and Harriett Lambert and a sister-in-law Eleanor Hart of West Lafayette, Ind. Fjelstul Funeral Home in Decorah is serving the family. Online condolences may be made at

Preceding him in death were his parents, Jens and Grace Olsen.

Wilma and Don: Two halves of the same soul, joining in life’s next journey.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to one of the following organizations in Don and Wilma’s names:

Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, Kansas 66675;

The Salvation Army National Headquarters, P.O. Box 269, Alexandria, VA 22314;

Lutheran Disaster Response
c/o Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA Gift Processing Center, P.O. Box 1809, Merrifield, VA 22116-8009 ,;

Samaritan’s Purse, P.O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607,

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