Olsen was born in Salt Lake City, where he grew up with two brothers and two sisters.
“I enjoyed my youth,” he said. “We had a good time.”
After graduating from high school, Olsen joined the U.S. Navy.
“I was what you call a kiddie cruiser,” he said, meaning that he joined the service before he was 18 and got out before he turned 21.
While in the service, Olsen worked as an interior communications electrician. “Best job in the Navy,” he said. “I got to pick out all the movies and show them.”
He also helped take care of all the interior communication systems on the ship, he said.
When Olsen left the Navy after three years, it wasn’t the end to his military career. He spent the next six years in the Navy Reserve, and another 17 years as a member of the National Guard. During Operation Desert Storm, Olsen was called to duty as a combat engineer. He spent most of his deployment in Germany.
Despite his long military career, Olsen has also kept himself busy with many other endeavors. After leaving active duty, Olsen served a mission in Great Britain for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When he returned to the U.S. at the end of his mission, Olsen attended the University of Utah, where he majored in biology and education. After graduation, he was offered a job teaching in Moab.
“I was still a bachelor then, so I came down to teach school,” he said. “I’d been to Moab several times before, and I liked Moab. But I also needed a job.”
Olsen taught school in Moab for a year before returning to Salt Lake City to work on his master’s degree. During his time in graduate school Olsen was introduced to his future wife by the leader of a church youth group who knew Olsen as a volunteer. She worked as the youth leader’s secretary, he said.
“He gave me her phone number. The coward I was, I didn’t think I’d ever call her, but I did,” Olsen said. “The rest is history.”
Olsen and his wife, Marilyn, were married in 1970. They raised six children together. Also in 1970, Olsen was offered the chance to return to Moab to teach. For the next 32 years, he taught science to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
While Olsen was teaching during the school year, he had to find something else to do during the summer, so he spent 22 years as a firefighter with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
After retiring, Olsen was appointed to the Grand County Board of Education after a previous board member moved out of the district and was no longer eligible to hold the seat. Olsen took over the position less than a year into the original board member’s term. He said he figured he’d be able to sit on the board for the remaining three years before needing to run for re-election.
“They don’t work it that way,” Olsen said.
Instead, he was required to seek re-election the following year. He won the vote and ended up serving two full additional terms on the school board.
“That’s enough,” he said. “It’s good to have fresh ideas, and I think it’s important to have an educator on the board.”
During his time on the Board of Education, the Grand County School District experienced a major financial crisis caused by accounting errors that had been ongoing for several years. At the time, Olsen was in Nashville, Tenn., serving another LDS church mission. He was only two months into his one-year mission commitment when the financial problems were discovered. Olsen offered to resign from the board since he couldn’t walk out on his commitment to the church, but the board asked him to stay on. “There was a lot of teleconferencing,” he said.
Ultimately, Olsen says, the discovery of the accounting errors turned out to be a blessing for the district. With the continual cuts that districts are being forced to make as a result of the economy, other districts are struggling to make ends meet. “We’re basically in recovery mode now,” he said. “We’re in pretty good shape.”
Olsen retired from the school board earlier this year. He says he now has more free time to enjoy his retirement. He’s been spending his time fishing, working part-time at the Rockridge Senior Housing apartments, and watching his grandchildren grow.