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Lake Country Faces: Longtime educational assistant retires - Olson helped Nisswa kindergartners for 23 years

Miriam Olson, recently retired educational assistant at Nisswa Elementary School, works with preschoolers Logan Carpenter and Hailey Velasco.Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal1 / 2
Miriam Olson, recently retired educational assistant at Nisswa Elementary School, works with preschoolers Logan Carpenter and Hailey Velasco. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal2 / 2

Little did Miriam Olson know that a blind date would lead to a 26-year career at Nisswa Elementary School.

Olson retired Oct. 31, having spent the majority of her years at Nisswa School as an educational assistant in kindergarten classrooms. She worked with early childhood students this fall, and with special education students for the past three years.

After growing up and graduating from high school in Bensenville, Illinois, Olson ventured to Minnesota to attend St. Paul Bible College (now Crown College). She graduated in 1973 with a degree in Christian education and returned to Illinois. In the fall of 1974, she came back to the college, where she was the assistant dean of women for two years.

"It was through a student from Nisswa that set me up on a blind date with Larry," Olson said of her husband and the reason she landed in Nisswa.

That student and friend was Elaine (Holmgren) Johnson, whose father was pastor at Nisswa Community Church when it was located next to the elementary school.

"She said, 'I have a young man from church you need to meet,'" said Olson, who had never heard of Nisswa but visited for that blind date with Larry Olson.

"I thought I'd never see him again. Two weeks later he contacted me," she said.

They married in May 1976, and Olson made the permanent move to Nisswa. Larry's career was in construction, and he built three houses for his family, never more than a mile from Nisswa Elementary School, which he had attended. The Olsons' three children also attended school there.

Olson started volunteering at Nisswa School and was asked to take over the preschool reading program.

"So I'd read stories and have a craft for the kids to do that went with the story," she said.

She became known as the "laminating lady" when she volunteered to do the elementary school's laminating at the high school, which at the time was the only place with a laminator.

In 1991, then-principal Bob Hurst asked if she wanted to be the kindergarten assistant.

"I thought about it, and I decided I would do it for one year," Olson said, noting if she didn't like it, she would then quit.. "After a year I was hooked."

She worked with the school's two kindergarten teachers at the time, Judy Lykins and Linda Anderson, who each taught all day, every other day. Olson worked with Lykins for 16 years, then with kindergarten teachers Jackie Reinke for a year and Joe Koman for six years.

"I liked, of course, seeing the new kindergartners come in, seeing where they started in September and where they ended in May - to see the progress, to see those little light bulbs go off when they finally got it," she said.

Olson fondly recalls the special programs they did to enhance students' learning, such as the kindergarten circus in Lykins' class, the teddy bear picnic, gingerbread house building and grandparents' day.

As the only educational assistant at Nisswa School for a time, Olson got involved with the union and was president of the Educational Assistants Union for six years.

Olson worked with kindergartners for 23 years, until the spring of 2014. The move to working with special education students was hard at first, but then Olson loved it. Besides her love for the kids and the job, Olson said the Nisswa School staff is like family.

She said her job was perfect as a mom. She was able to be home all summer and on school breaks with her children.

Now Olson looks forward to spending time with her children and 10 grandchildren. Larry is building the couple a retirement home - in Nisswa, of course. Olson also hopes to travel, do quilting and read more books just for fun. She also wants to spend time with her mom.

She will miss working with the staff and students.

"It's been a great career. I've enjoyed every bit of it," she said.