Dennis W. Olson, age 78, of Watertown, passed away peacefully into the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, surrounded by loved ones.
He was born Feb. 11, 1940, in the farming community of the Donnelly, MN area, as the second child of six born to Willie and Pearl (Smith) Olson. Having lived on the family farm until his teens, he fondly remembered his childhood as a time closely spent with a large and loving extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
At the age of 8, Dennis contracted poliomyelitis and spent the next year of his life away from his family, hospitalized in Minneapolis, where he was blessed to be a patient of Sister Kenny, whose innovative polio treatments offered the best outcomes. Dennis returned home able to walk with a brace and crutches, and with a fierce determination not to let his disability stop him from living a full life in a world that had not yet become handicapped accessible.
His courage, ingenuity, and brute strength allowed him to find a way to achieve what he needed and was often a source of amazement, admiration, and even sometimes alarm, to others.
In his early teens, Dennis’ family of origin moved to International Falls, where his father worked for Mando paper mill and his mother opened the first pizza parlor in town.
Shortly after his graduation from International Falls High School in 1958, Dennis married Joan Buttner from Fort Frances, Ontario. Together they raised six children, living first in Milwaukee, and then the northern Minneapolis suburbs, before returning to International Falls in 1968.
Dennis made a career as a life insurance salesman. Over the years, he worked independently, as well as for Lutheran Brotherhood and Sons of Norway, earning multiple Salesman of the Year awards. His children fondly remember how when he returned from time spent on the road, he would sometimes bring them giant-sized lollipops, Slow Pokes, and other delightful treats.
In 1970, when son Barry started to skate at age 2, Dennis’ love for youth hockey was born. He spent many hours at outdoor rinks attending hockey practices and games, and for several years, was heavily involved in administration of the International Falls youth hockey program.
Having attended and been confirmed at Zion Lutheran Church, upon returning to International Falls as an adult, Dennis served on the church council during the years that the church was under the leadership of Pastor Mark Jerstad.
His children remember him as most happy in the time spent at their family cabin in Ontario, Canada on Red Gut Bay of beautiful Rainy Lake, where they spent idyllic summer days swimming, water skiing, fishing, and just hanging out on the dock. In a boat full of kids, Dennis had endless patience dealing with snags and netting fish. A skilled walleye fisherman, seldom did the boat return to the dock without a limit of walleye.
Dennis also loved to partridge and deer hunt. He was a formidable opponent in cards, especially in gin and cribbage. He was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, through which he formed many friends.
After the end of his marriage to Joan, Dennis returned to the Minneapolis area. It was at this time that he became active in wheelchair basketball and softball. From 1995 to 2005, Dennis played for the Courage Center Rolling Twins in the wheelchair softball league. He developed many lasting friendships from his time playing softball, and experienced some great trips with his teammates to national championship tournaments in Denver, Houston, Chicago, and New York City.
Dennis was preceded in death by his parents; brother-in-law Jack Jensen; sister-in-law Jackie (Veeder) Olson; great-grandson Kacee, son of granddaughter Shannon Nagle; and great-granddaughter Montana, daughter of granddaughter Aleesha (Olson) Wahlstrom.
He is survived by siblings Jeri Jensen, Paulette (Wayne) Penick, Sandy (Tommy) Aitken, DuWayne Olson, and Gary (Ercie) Olson; children: Denni Jo (Jerry) Lester, Sandee (Charlie) Gaines, Lisa (Freeman) Besch, Jaci (Russ) Nagle, Pauli (Jim) Rancourt and Barry Olson; 21 grandchildren; and 33 great-grandchildren (and still counting).
Dennis leaves to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren a legacy of love for God, family, Rainy Lake, fishing, hunting, sports and card games. More than anything, he leaves them a legacy of fighting the good fight and finishing the race with a “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Memorial Mass of Christian Burial took place Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 11 a.m. at the Church of St. Mary in Waverly. There was a gathering of family and friends from 10 to 10:45 a.m., prior to the Mass, in the Parish Center of the Church of St. Mary. Private family inurnment at a later date will be in Summit Cemetery in Morris.
Arrangements were with the Iten Funeral Home in Delano.