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Paynesville, Minn., woman to be installed as first female chaplain for West Central Disabled American Veterans Chapter 34

Dena Olson of Paynesville will be installed as the first female chaplain for the Minnesota Disabled American Veterans Chapter 34 at a ceremony Wednesday at American Legion Post 167 in Willmar. Olson, a disabled Air Force veteran, and her husband will hold key positions in the organization, which is looking to attract new, young veterans from across west central Minnesota. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — The West Central Chapter 34 of the Minnesota Disabled American Veterans will install its first female chaplain this week.

Dena Olson of Paynesville, a disabled Air Force veteran, will be installed along with other chapter officers during a ceremony Wednesday at the American Legion Post 167 in Willmar.

Her husband, Kenneth “Trapper’’ Olson, will be installed as senior vice commander. Other officers to be installed are Arne Gynild, commander; Joel Carlson, junior      vice commander; and Steve Ellingboe, treasurer.

Officers are elected by chapter members. The new officers will be installed by Brown County Veterans Service Officer Greg Peterson. Peterson will become the new Minnesota Department commander in early May.

Outgoing Chapter 34 Commander Ruben Hoglund of Willmar said having a female chaplain is something new for the chapter, and he said Olson will do a good job.

“She’s got the qualifications and is very interested in helping veterans,’’ said Hoglund.

Olson became interested in the office after watching other chaplains. She saw how they conducted themselves, watched what they did and how they helped and served other veterans.

She and her husband discussed the different offices that were available and that the chaplain’s office was one of those positions that needed to be filled.

“I’m willing to step up and do what I can to help the vets out in the capacity of the job that I am taking on,’’ she said.

Chapter Adjutant Jim Dokken of Willmar, who is appointed by the chapter commander, says each state has a DAV department. He said the Department of Minnesota had a female chaplain from Little Falls several years ago. He said there are other female chaplains in the DAV but not in the West Central Chapter until now.

Dokken and other members are pleased to have a younger couple like the Olsons in the chapter. He said every chapter in Minnesota is looking for new, young veterans. He said a combination of younger and older veterans keeps the organization going.

“We’re just glad to have both of the Olsons because they bring youth and they bring a lot of interest in serving,’’ Dokken said. “That’s really the key is to get people that want to participate and they are definitely interested in participating and we’re glad that we have them.’’

Olson said the chapter is always looking for other veterans that are willing to join and help serve fellows vets.

“If they are a veteran and they want to help veterans, we’re one organization that is looking for others to help us help them,’’ she said.

The West Central Chapter has 266 members. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a large number of disabled veterans. DAV members are working to enroll all eligible veterans in Veterans Administration health care, said Dokken.

He said the chapter has done that over the last couple of years by hosting informational seminars in Willmar. The chapter also provides other services to veterans.

“That is really our big job. Our chapter will help them if they can’t afford it. The Department of Minnesota will help them. The Minnesota Department is leading the nation in new members this year. Enrollment can go in spurts, but with new folks like the Olsons, that will encourage other younger veterans,’’ said Dokken.

Olson will be visiting ill and hospitalized veterans. Also, she will pray with them if they wish and be present to help support the family when a vet passes.

One of Olson’s biggest supporters is her husband.

“I believe having a female veteran in the position of an officer in that level is a step ahead because there is a great number of women veterans out there and people do not realize necessarily that they are a veteran,’’ he said.

Olson said she hopes to reach out to other women vets with the message that they are not alone out there.

“We’re all in this together. Our brothers at arms out here are willing to help us and stand by us and help us get the recognition that we as women vets deserve as well,’’ she said.

“We are not second class to our male veterans. We are equal to them and that’s the message that needs to be got out because so many women vets are treated as second and we’re not,’’ she said. “We are equal to our male vets and everyone at this table will say the same thing.’’

For more information about the Disabled American Veterans, visit

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150