"You Can't Take It With You"
as told by Gary Olsen - April 2007
I believe in the philosophy that you can’t take it with you. As life moves on and I’m 87 years old now, you don’t want to end up with a bunch of “I wish I would have’s.” I had three misfortunes in my life that shaped who I am from an early age. I was born to Norwegian parents in Holton. My father, Ole, was 65 years old when I was born and my mother, Gina, was his second wife. My father had many vocations in his lifetime, first a sailor, then a lumber mill worker, next a pastor and finally a farmer. He never learned English, which was a hardship with his first wife, as she didn’t speak Norwegian. After she passed, he went back to Norway and made sure that he found a wife who spoke his native tongue. Life was hard on the farm. My mother came from a well-educated family in Norway and she bore the farm life in Holton with difficulty. When I was 9 my first misfortune struck and our house burned down. We then moved into a 3-room “poverty” house in Muskegon and sadly my mother died 2 years later of dropsy. That was my second misfortune.
I overheard my mother talk to her friends in her final days of illness “what is going to happen to my little boy?” For she knew that with my father’s advanced age and health that I would likely be an orphan soon. When I was 13, my third misfortune came to pass and my father died. It was then that my cousin, Clara Anderson and her husband Andrew took me in as one of their own. I called them Aunt Clara and Uncle Andrew out of respect and I grew up along side their son, Robert, who was one year older than me. Bob and I attended Muskegon High School and we were close friends for years.
As I reflect back now on that time with a mature, senior mind I realize the sacrifices and caring decisions that Aunt Clara and Uncle Andrew made for me. Uncle Andrew was the head custodian at Muskegon high school and well loved by staff and students. He also was a sports enthusiast and saw to it that I learned to ski along with the rest of the family. We were members of the Pontaluna Ski Club and active participants in ski jumping. I worked up to jumping over 100 feet in the air. I lived with them until I was 24 years old and was drafted into the armed services during WWII in 1943.
Upon returning to Muskegon, I met my wife Doris at the roller rink one night. I had a really nice car in 1941 and she told me later, “you didn’t make that much of an impression on me, but boy I liked your car!” We have 2 boys, Steve & Dan and a daughter, Sandra, who have blessed us with 6 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. My two sons now operate the family business, Northern Machine Tool Company. There were once 6-8 other tool & die businesses in Muskegon. Now, we are the only ones left– its not that we’re better, we’re just stubborn. I still go into the office everyday - the building is one city block, so I use an electric cart to get around.
I created the Gerhard O. and Doris E. Olsen Memorial for Andrew and Clara Anderson Fund to honor the gift of love, family and home they gave me. The fund provides scholarships for Muskegon High School graduates.