Mandan News

Guest columnist: Round trip to Europe $3,500; growing up in Mandan – priceless


Immediately upon graduating from MHS in 1966, I set out for Wisconsin, where I soon began to enjoy the college experience. My education plans were quickly placed on “hold” for four years, as the Vietnam War began to escalate, and my textbooks were replaced with less friendly instruments. In short, college and grad school followed my first enlistment; a return to the Army for seven more years; and 26 years as a “civilian” with IBM before reaching retirement.

Over these many years, I have encountered countless individuals who upon learning of my North Dakota upbringing, expressed ignorant opinions of how terrible it must have been to grow up in the plains of North Dakota. Although my life has been lived both abroad and in States quite far from “home,” my head and my heart will forever hold Mandan dear as a gem in the rough.

I hope you will indulge me with the opportunity to share my story of what made Mandan so special to me, contrary to the opinions of so many U.S. “foreigners.”  Perhaps you knew my father Clarence Olson, who worked in the Lewis and Clark Hotel until his death when I was but 4 years old. Hopefully you were blessed to know my dear mother Katherine, and equally fortunate enough to have sampled her culinary skills at the Lewis and Clark Café, Olson’s Café or the Mandan Country Club. Mom had to work very hard to maintain a life for her family in the wake of her husband’s early passing.

Being a small town, many of the Mandan townspeople were aware of our situation, and I will be eternally grateful for their kindness which ensued. It is my hope that these examples of kindness will instill pride in your friends and neighbors, and better yet – incite others to give back to Mandan in their own special way.

I will never forget Frankie and Betty Wetsch, who would “look the other way” to allow me and my little dog Butchie to hide inside of the comic book rack at their store. Perhaps you saw my tiny hand reaching out to grab the latest issue of “The 3 Mouseketeers” or Superman, pulling it deep inside for a private reading; or you saw my dog’s tail wagging as we made our routine exit out the back of the store – Butchie anxiously awaiting the bone that Wentzel the butcher was sure to have in store for him.

I regret to have forgotten the name of the tire store and of the store people at the opposite end of the Lewis and Clark block. I will never forget the fun times however, spent crawling through the many “tire tunnels” which the store beckoned me to explore. I can still smell those tires.

And then there was the local taxi cab store next to my mother’s café. I was buddies with many of the cabbies, and particularly with Nick. If you ever took a taxi to Bismarck in the early ’50s and wondered who the young kid was riding shotgun… that was me.

Let me not forget my Uncle Tony and Aunt Rose Pfau, who opened their family and home up to me when my mother passed away prior to my senior year at MHS.  Working for Tony, and many of his plumbers, was quite a lesson in life. Perhaps it was your elderly mothers (because there were many) who had their plumbing fixed, but were unable to give Tony his due. Their gratitude was reward enough for him however, and it was on such days when his smile was the widest.

There are numerous other Mandanites to salute; however, I will not bore you any further. Is there any question however, that I would have a truckload of ammunition to fire away at the North Dakota critics? I assure you that I have taken many opportunities to set the record straight – that there is no place on earth, better than Mandan – to be from. I bore witness to countless life lessons in human kindness by so many, and I have been gifted with a new definition for “priceless.”

The 45th reunion for the MHS Class of 1966 is scheduled Aug. 5, 6 and 7.  It is my hope that I can attend to return to the “Home of the Braves.”