Bob Olson '65

Bob Olson '65
Nicole Sheldon

As a Young Child, Bob's Life was Turned Upside Down in an Instant 

Bob’s life was turned upside down in an instant when, as an 8-year-old, his father drowned while they were together on a family vacation. Bob was near the beach when the accident happened.  Even after the traumatic experience as a youngster, God brought healing years later into his life. “That healing bore fruit in my future ministries. Now I can remember my dad as a role model in life and ministry.”

After the accident, finances were tight as his mother had never worked out of the home. “I worked on a farm to make a little extra money, and people were very helpful from church, giving us different jobs.” Bob’s four older siblings (three brothers and a sister) were graduates of MA, but it didn’t seem like a possibility for him. A men’s organization called The Twin Cities Covenant Brotherhood contacted his mom through the pastor of their church, Maplewood Covenant, and offered Bob a partial grant to attend MA. This partial grant allowed him to attend, and he worked at school on some Fridays and Saturdays to help cover the $365 per year tuition.When Bob first came to MA, he didn’t know what to expect.  He was very shy and withdrawn because his father’s death had a big impact on him.

“MA was life changing for me in several ways. Two teachers were instrumental in my formation, both spiritually and as coaches and mentors. Bob Bach was there when I came to MA and Woody Larson came my senior year. I had lifelong relationships with both until they passed away.” 

Bob hoped to go to college, but it seemed financially out of reach.  After his senior year, he was given the opportunity to play college baseball, but an injury during summer ball changed those plans and took away the hope of going to college. Woody was very supportive and helpful during that difficult time.  He called Bob and said he was going to be the Athletic Director for the Twin City Men's Retreat at Covenant Pines and asked him to come along to help. Bob had just had major surgery with a cast from his hip to his ankle.  “At this retreat, I was given the opportunity to say thank you to the men for their support. However, I was angry with God because it appeared my future had been taken away from me, and I was very disappointed.”

A Start to Ministry with Hospitality House

Bob Olson '65 with Hospitality House Basketball Team

Bob with a Hospitality House basketball team in 1969.

On the way home Woody said, “You know, I’ve started an organization called Hospitality House Boys’ Club in North Minneapolis, and I think you would be a perfect fit to start working there.”  Bob moved into the community and worked with young men that came from similar backgrounds: not many resources, a lot of single parent homes, and many without fathers in their lives. “It was a passion for those years to work with the young people. We also started a girls’ club and many different activities. In the beginning, it was more of an athletic organization with a Christian emphasis.” Woody’s dream was to eventually have young men and women who grew up in the program take over the program. “That has come to fruition–two guys that we worked with in my early years there eventually became Executive Directors, and some Board Members, staff and volunteers.”

Bob’s tenure was in the 60’s and early 70’s.  He lived in North Minneapolis and at one point, a house donated to Hospitality House that needed a lot of upgrading was taken on as a special project by MA classmate, John Miller. The plan was for Bob to live on the second floor and the first floor was to be used as a drop-in center for Hospitality House.  The evening before Bob was totally moved in, the house was burned down by arsonists. Bob stayed committed and passionate about the ministry, investing his time into young people’s lives.

As Bob was working out of the schools and the parks (they didn’t have a facility except for a storefront and eventually a basement), he met Julie, who became his wife, and they have been married for 50 years.  Two MA classmates, Bruce Dreon and John Miller, officiated at their wedding.  Bob and Julie have been blessed with three children and six grandchildren.

Another Passion Area:  Prison Ministry

After eight years with Hospitality House, Bob worked several secular jobs and began serving in another passion area: prison ministry.  “A lot of people ask me ‘You went from youth work into prison. How does that connect?’ So many people in prison have been forgotten. I really felt the call there.”

He has been volunteering for 32 years at the federal prison in both Rochester and Sandstone with the Charis of Minnesota Prison Ministry. “Lay ministry has been a big part of my life--I thank God for that.” Bob was granted his lay ministerial license through the Covenant for prison ministry in 1991. 

Bob’s dad’s accident at the lake that day affected the rest of his life. 

“There are so many things I remember about my dad. He stands out as being a role model in life and ministry. As a part of the prison ministry, we go in two times a year and put on a three-day weekend and share our stories with the guys. God has really used our stories–the guys have realized that we are people too. We’re imperfect people.”

"Working with Woody as an adult was a very special time for me. He passed away about 10 years ago and I spoke at his funeral. Their youngest daughter was our Junior Bridesmaid in our wedding, and we remain very close to Woody’s family. It’s all because of God working his way through my life and especially through Minnehaha Academy.  I thank God for the life-long relationships I have through MA.  I can’t say enough about Minnehaha and that connection.”

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