BioA: Olsen, John/Gladys (70th – 2017)
Surnames: Olsen, Holmes, Smith
Source: Tribune/Record/Gleaner (Abbotsford, WI) – 16 Aug 2017
Olsen, John/Gladys (70th – 16 AUG 2017)
(Written by TRG Editor Dean Lesar)
For 70 years, John Olsen’s beloved bride, Gladys, has always been in reach. Right there in his wallet in his back pocket, her now time-tattered high school graduation photo he has carried with him since 1946, before they fi rst said “I do.” And meant it.
John and Gladys, long-time Loyal residents who now live in Marshfield, were married on Aug. 16, 1947, at the Loyal United Methodist Church. Rev. Lee Holmes officiated. John’s brother, Floyd, was the best man, and Gladys’ friend Lavonne Smith was the maid of honor. They knew then what they still know now — at their 70th anniversary — that they wanted to be together.
It was such a different time, 1947. A world war had just ended, and John was just home from an 18-month Army stint that took him to the Philippines. The Great Depression was still a fresh and painful memory. America was about to embark on a period of great economic growth, but folks like John and Gladys did not know it yet. They just realized that whatever was ahead for them, they wanted to take it on together.
John and Gladys both grew up in the Loyal area. John was one of seven Olsen children and was born north of Greenwood. His family moved to a farm north of Loyal when he was in second grade, and he attended the Pleasant Ridge country school near Unity. Gladys, meanwhile, was born in Eau Claire but moved to Loyal at a young age and attended Loyal-area grade schools.
In junior high, they first met.
“I spotted him right away in band,” Gladys said. “Gee, I thought he was cute.”
Gladys played clarinet while John was a drummer. It took him a little while to ask her out, but they were dating by the time she was a freshman and he a junior at Loyal High School. Their first date was on April 4, 1943. Gladys’ birthday was the next day and John’s was the day after that. They went to see “A Yank at Eton” starring Mickey Rooney, at the Loyal theatre.
“That’s all there was to go to. It cost us probably 25 cents,” Gladys said.
The couple dated regularly through high school, and John, at fi rst, was spared from military duty because of a bad back. That changed when the war ended, as those men who had been declared 4F as unable to fight were now drafted into service. John entered the service in 1946 and was stationed at various sites in the U.S. before he shipped out for the Philippines. His first duty was as a guard of U.S soldiers who had gotten themselves into trouble. With his back giving him further problems, he spent time in a military hospital. After that, a job as a base librarian opened, and he was assigned there between stints of guard duty.
While John was in the service, he and his future wife did more than just keep in touch. Between them, they penned and mailed 677 letters, each one numbered to make sure they hadn’t missed any correspondence.
When John was finally discharged in June 1947, he and Gladys were ready to repeat their vows. Less than two months after his return, they did just that, at the ages of 21 and 19.
“We just wanted to be together,” Gladys said.
They took a quick honeymoon trip to see one of John’s Army buddies and made it to Ironwood, Mich., Duluth and St. Paul. For the first nine years of their marriage, they farmed with John’s father. When it came time for the family to sell, John and Gladys decided a farm would not be in their future. Instead John went to work for several years at Noeldner’s Implement in Loyal. After that, he worked for 24 years as a maintenance engineer/ custodian for the Loyal School District.
Gladys was a stay-at-home mom until the 1970s. After she started as organist for Trinity Lutheran Church (the couple became members because Floyd Olsen was an ordained pastor), Gladys went to school at UW-Stevens Point to earn a music degree. In her 40s, she roomed with four young gals who were more traditional-age college undergrads. Gladys also later obtained a degree in library science, and worked as the Loyal School District’s media specialist for 14 years until retiring in 1993. She also taught piano, organ and guitar in her basement for many years. After retirement she was a library board trustee for the county, city, Wisconsin Valley Library Service and Wisconsin Library Association, and was selected as Trustee of the Year by the WLA in 1994.
John was active in the Loyal community as the Olsen family grew. He was on the board of education and the fi re department, and served as president of the church council.
While busy with careers and civic involvement, the couple raised four children, and lost a fifth as an infant. Their daughter, Sue, and her husband Herb Olson live now in Gilbert, Ariz. Son Carl served in the U.S. Navy and worked for Boeing and now lives in Seattle. His wife passed away in April. Son David and his wife, Deb, live in Barron, where he works in maintenance in the turkey industry. Their youngest, Jean (Mick) Braun, shares her time between Arizona and Phillips. John and Gladys have eight grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and one step-great-grandchild.
Camping was an activity that kept the Olsen family together. As the kids were growing, they’d pack up the tent and take the clan on the road, visiting many in-state spots and places outside Wisconsin. John and Gladys enjoyed those trips and ones they later took on their own. Through the years, they made it almost coast-to-coast in their travels, slowly moving up over time from a tent to a remodeled school bus to a trailer to a motor home to several fifth-wheel units.
They also spent 20 years in retirement wintering in Arizona. The dry and warm winters were good for both of them.
“We think that’s why we are so healthy,” Gladys said. “It makes a difference.”
The Olsen's did have a major health scare in January 2014 when John was diagnosed with fourth-stage non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Treatments were effective, and he has been free of the disease for more than two years, although he has yet to regain all of his weight and strength.
John credits the strength of prayer for his recovery. It’s also been an important part of the Olsen's lives as they have dealt with times both rewarding and trying.
“When I was taking chemotherapy in the hospital, every card had a prayer in it, and if it didn’t, they (the sender) wrote a prayer in it,” John said. “I just feel like that’s why I’m here today.”
The couple’s faith in a higher power has given them the strength to get through troubles, like the death of their daughter after just a few days.
“A lot of prayer, your faith carries you through,” Gladys said. And so can common courtesies between husband and wife, John and Gladys both say. Those, too, helped them fi nd their way through the travails of seven decades of marriage. “We just learned to give and take a little,” Gladys said. “We were able to communicate — that’s very important. Show appreciation for what your spouse does. Tell them you love them once a day. Now we do it twice a day.”
The couple hesitates to give advice to today’s young couples, as there is no comparison to how things were in late 1940, and what they are today. John and Gladys didn’t get around much in their young days, as everything from gas to tires was difficult to get because of the war. Gladys was released from school to pick beans for the canning factory, again for the war, paid by the pound, and “not very much” at that.
“We both grew up in a war and Depression,” Gladys said. “You had to get along without. You didn’t know you didn’t have anything because everybody was poor.” John said in their day, wives were expected to stay home and raise the kids while the husband earned a living. That’s not so anymore.
“Life is so different for them today,” he said of couples just getting started. “All of the women are working. That makes such a difference. We had to be together all the time because we were on the farm. We had to work together.”
John and Gladys sold their Loyal home two years ago and moved into a Marshfield apartment complex. There Gladys has been busy organizing photos and other family memorabilia, and writing about various chapters in the family’s life. She did one volume on John’s military years, and another on their wedding/anniversaries. She plans to do one on each of her and John’s lives, and perhaps those of the children.
The family held a 70th anniversary celebration for John and Gladys on Aug. 13 at Wildwood Park in Marshfield. Almost all of their children and grandchildren were there, as was a precious keepsake in John’s wallet, a small time-worn photograph of the gal he chose to marry 70 years ago. It’s been with him always.
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