Olsons honored for 91 years of service

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Long before they came to Faribault in 1969, and before they ever met each other, Lyle and Ruth Olson could each see themselves making a career out of working with students.

Growing up in the small western Minnesota town of Marietta, Ruth knew she wanted to become a teacher. She was also interested in sports, so after high school she enrolled at Augsburg College in Minneapolis where she majored in physical education. Ruth got her first teaching job 70 miles south of Marietta in Pipestone, where she met Lyle. He had been farming for several years, but never forgot the career advice he received from his high school social studies teacher.

“He told me I would make a good teacher and I should probably go into education,” Lyle said.

After farming for seven years, Lyle received his degree from Augustana College in Sioux Falls. The Olsons got married and were expecting their first child when Lyle accepted a teaching job in Detroit Lakes for the start of the 1968-69 school year. A year later the family came to Faribault where they would live and work for the next 50 years.

Lyle taught social studies, sociology, economics, government, world history and US history, working primarily at Faribault High School and occasionally at the junior high level during his 30 years as a full-time teacher in Faribault Public Schools. Ruth served as assistant coach for the Faribault gymnastics team that qualified for the first state competition in Minnesota in the early 70s, and returned to work full-time in 1978, serving as a teacher, secretary, paraprofessional and in various other roles in the schools. During this time she also began running the scoreboard for wrestling meets, a role she would continue for 40 years.

“I was always interested in sports. That was my first love, so that kind of drew me into teaching,” Ruth said. “I’ve enjoyed staying connected and being part of the activities.”

The Olsons retired in 1999, but their desire to help students kept them coming back. They spent the next 20 years serving as substitute teachers in the district before stepping away this year.

“We always planned to sub. Probably not for 20 years, but we did,” Ruth said with a laugh. “It’s still fun to be around the staff and the kids. I’ve always enjoyed facing the challenges and all the learning that goes on.”

Lyle continues to enjoy building relationships with students and establishing personal connections. Sometimes he does that by pointing out that he taught the student’s parents or even their grandparents.

“My philosophy all along has been that education is a vehicle to deal with kids,” he said. “It’s always been important to me, even when subbing, to talk to kids and try to relate to them.”

Living in Faribault for 50 years, and serving in Faribault Public Schools for a combined 91 years, the community has become home for the Olsons. Their son graduated from Faribault High School in 1987 and their daughter in 1989.

“I’m a super advocate of Faribault,” Ruth said. “We have come to love the community and the people and have chosen to stay here. It’s been wonderful. There’s always a few ups and downs, but I would say 99 percent of the time everything with the administration and school board has been positive all these years.”

Much like after their first retirement in 1999, the Olsons plan to stay plenty busy now that they’ve retired from substitute teaching. Both Ruth and Lyle continue to volunteer at the high school, at their church and at the hospital. Ruth is a member of the Faribault Booster Club and hall of fame committee. Lyle mows the trails at River Bend Nature Center and is a representative for the Southeast Minnesota Education Association at the state legislature.

“Lyle and Ruthie have been an instrumental part of Faribault Public Schools in so many ways, including connecting with students, mentoring other staff, helping to get the community involved with the schools, being parents themselves, and being life-long supporters of our students, staff and community as a whole,” said FPS Human Resources Director and former student in Mr. Olson’s sociology class Nicole Yochum. “They have dedicated over 90 combined years of their lives to our school system. They are true examples of exceptional community members.”

The Olsons were recognized for their service to Faribault Public Schools at the Aug. 26 school board meeting and before the first volleyball game of the season on Aug. 29.

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