Roger Olson was blessed with a great gift. The gift of teaching. He was a great educator, whether at home, in the classroom, in the gymnasium or on the field, Roger was always sharing information to help young people grow in their knowledge. Roger passed away on Saturday, but several former Fergus Falls students benefited from his wisdom through the years.
I have the deepest respect and admiration for Roger. He was an outstanding teacher and coach in the Fergus Falls School District and impacted many students with his wisdom and knowledge through the years. Roger was one of those people who was born to teach and I know he loved helping young people learn. I also got to work with him in the broadcast booth for over 20 years and treasure the conversations we had on our travels to games. He was an outstanding color commentator and made our broadcasts so informative and enjoyable. His greatest accomplishment, in my opinion, didn’t come in the classroom, in the gymnasium or on the field. It came in the home. After losing his wife, Kathy, to a heart attack in the early 80’s and with three young kids at home, Roger became a single parent. The job he did in raising Steve, Mitch and Kim is remarkable. The evidence is in the fine adult citizens they have become. What a great legacy to leave behind. I will miss my friend, but I am richer for having known him.
One of my favorite stories about Roger came from his late high school baseball coach, Dick Buntje at Battle Lake. He told me when Roger was playing for him it was like having a coach on the field. On one occasion, with Roger playing shortstop, the Battlers were in a jam as their starting pitcher was having control problems. Dick turned around to look at his lineup card which was pasted to the dugout wall to check out his pitching options and decided he needed to go have a talk with his pitcher to settle him down. When he started to head toward the mound he saw that Roger was already conversing with the pitcher and as Dick told me, “I knew Roger was saying exactly what I would have said, so I just stayed in the dugout. Sure enough the pitcher settled down and we got out of the inning without any further damage. Roger was the calming influence we needed and he had such a knowledge of the game. I knew early on that he would be a great coach.”
I asked former Fergus Falls basketball coach and retiring Bethel College Athletic Director Bob Bjorklund to share some thoughts about Roger, who served as an assistant with Bob in basketball and was a coaching colleague in football.
"When I arrived in Fergus Falls in 1980, Roger and I had an immediate connection because of our familiarity with each other through Battle Lake and Henning ties. It wasn't long before we would become closely bonded and form a friendship coaching together in both basketball and football. Roger was totally devoted to the well being of students and consistently demonstrated his interest in helping them achieve good results."
Bob also shared this memory about Roger's impact on the 1984 boys' basketball section title, saying, "I valued the scouting expertise of Roger and look back with fond memories on the defensive plan he masterminded to shut down St. Cloud Tech in the 1984 section championship game. We hadn't played a triangle and two all year but Roger was convinced it could be effective and I'm sure glad I listened to him! He had particular nuances that were a part of his ideas and the beauty was in the detail of how he could see it happening in his mind's eye. He was humble in any mention of taking credit for that game plan tactic just as he was with so many other accomplishments throughout his career."
Roger ran the B team for Bjorklund, "It was always reassuring to know that our B team basketball program would be focusing on fundamentals that would translate well into being prepared for the next level. He was deeply invested in team building strategies and was inspiring to commiserate with during bus trips or hanging out with at coaching clinics. The focus of his actions was not to bring attention to himself but to be of service to others. He was a great friend and colleague."
Stuart Klovstad shared the following, "Roger was my basketball coach nearly 50 years ago. I remember his favorite saying, “He who hesitates is lost”. He meant basketball is so competitive that you work so hard for an opportunity and it lasts only a second so you better not hesitate. His coaching style was similar to Dave Retzlaff for he treated his players with respect and I cannot ever recall Roger losing his temper. He got the most out of his players. My teammate Brian Draxten said it best. “You have so much respect for him you always gave it your best because you did not want him to be disappointed with your effort.” Roger knew a player could have limited talent but limited effort was never acceptable."
Fergus Falls High School graduate Fritz Skinner shared these memories of Coach Olson, "I consider myself lucky to have played on one of Coach Olson's teams, and as a self-proclaimed math guy, I simply loved his Algebra class.
First on Algebra, I was so excited to share with my daughter some of the math tips that Coach Olson shared with me. I'll share one here. That you can do basic multiplication by nine on your fingers! Simply, hold down the finger which is being multiplied by nine. The fingers to the left are tens and the fingers to the right are units. For example, 9 x 2. Hold down your second finger (from left to right). There's one to the left and eight to the right which makes 18. It works for multiplication of 9 by 1-10. After all these years, I still think that's so clever. It makes me smile and I think of Coach.
In basketball, Coach Olson was the first basketball coach that I remember to show confidence in me as a player. I think he did that for everyone on our team, but that confidence was an empowering force for me personally. I made a lot of mistakes on his sophomore team that year, and am so grateful for his patience, teaching style, support and confidence.
As I remember it now, he helped guide us through the experience of playing basketball, and helped us learn throughout. It was as though he was a partner in the experience, helping us solve a problem. A coach you could trust. The memory of playing basketball with my friends for Coach Olson is one I cherish. I know there's many former players that would agree with me too."
If you have a story about Roger or would like to add a comment to this article please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will include it.