Mourners pay respects as Jennie-O founder Olson laid to rest
WILLMAR -- Family and friends remembered Earl B. Olson Saturday as a man who was hard-working, generous and down to earth. Mourners filled Vinje Lutheran Church Saturday morning to say farewell to Olson, who died Dec. 11 at the age of 91. The son...
WILLMAR -- Family and friends remembered Earl B. Olson Saturday as a man who was hard-working, generous and down to earth.
Mourners filled Vinje Lutheran Church Saturday morning to say farewell to Olson, who died Dec. 11 at the age of 91. The son of Swedish immigrants, Olson parlayed hard work and ingenuity into founding Jennie-O Foods. The Willmar company, now owned by Hormel, has become one of the world's largest producers and processors of turkeys.
Don Handahl, who worked with Olson for 52 years as Jennie-O's administrative vice president, called him "one of a kind."
"No one has made a greater impact on this community in the last 50 years than Earl Olson," he said.
Dr. Paul Dovre, past president of Concordia College in Moorhead, said Olson and his wife, Dorothy, were generous benefactors to their community.
"He never held back. He brought energy and enthusiasm and a can-do attitude," Dovre said.
Vinje Church -- where Olson was a longtime and active member -- was filled almost to capacity for the simple, hour-long service that featured traditional hymns and Christmas carols and Scripture readings by four of Olson's granddaughters.
After the service, the family hosted a turkey dinner in the church fellowship hall.
Private burial was in Fairview Cemetery, where Olson's wife of more than 60 years, Dorothy, is also buried. Dorothy Olson died in 2000 at age 85.
Mourners heard about Olson's public side -- the man who built a business into one of the region's largest private employers, the man who was a pioneer in vertical integration, who over his lifetime donated millions to causes such as Concordia College, the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA and the Dorothy A. Olson Aquatic Center.
They also heard about a more private side of Olson as a grandfather, colleague and friend.
Handahl recalled the late-night phone calls he used to get from Olson. "When there was something on his mind, he wanted to take care of it now. ... He worked until there was no one awake to talk to," he said.
He described how Olson enjoyed making the rounds of the Jennie-O employee lunchroom or company dinners.
"You'd see him walking around with a coffeepot in his hand, talking to people, asking them how they were," Handahl said.
To his family, Olson was a patriarch who valued family ties and set an example of hard work, fairness and generosity, said Molly Olson, one of Olson's 14 grandchildren.
"The legacy he left us is an inspiration to all of us," she said.
Almost until the end of his life, Olson went to the office nearly every day. At age 87, after undergoing a triple bypass, he was back at work within a week.
He was someone who "saw work as a blessing," Molly Olson said.
Her tribute brought smiles as she revealed family details such as Olson's fondness for sugar and his quick, dry wit.
Olson, who'd had prostate cancer for the past year and a half, told his family during his final days, "I've had a good life," Molly Olson said.
"I think there was a part of us that expected him to live forever," she said. "He savored every moment and he wanted to do so much more."