These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Look Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
September 10, 2023
As schools start up for the new fall season, I thought it might be fun to talk to some teachers who taught in
Roseau County over the years. Today I’ll tell you what Shelia Olson shared with me about her school days.
Shelia was born in Malung to Gust and Lena Brandt, one of 11 kids. She attended what was known as the
Brandt School in Malung for 2 years while the family members still at home were living with her dad’s brother
following the death of his wife. When she was ready for 3rd grade, her mother decided they should move to
Roseau, and they moved into a small house south of downtown on Main Street near the water tower. She
completed her high school education at Roseau High School.
One day as a Senior, Shelia saw her classmate Clarice Medicraft coming from the Principal’s office holding a
piece of paper. She asked Clarice what she had and was told it was an application to go to teacher’s training at
Thief River Falls. Shelia decided that was a good idea and went to get a form for herself. Clarice and Shelia
became roommates that fall on the 2nd floor of a teacher’s house and shared the two bedrooms there with
another lady from Strandquist while attending teacher’s training.
Teacher training took nine months in Washington Elementary School’s 2nd floor. There were about 15 students
in her class, and they all did student teaching at Washington School and Northrup School at the east end of
Thief River Falls. Then it was time to find jobs. She remembers it as a long, drawn-out process that stretched
into August for her. Then Charles Christianson, Roseau County School Superintendent, recommended that she
check into an opening at the Salol school, vacant due to Mrs. Gustafson’s departure. She had to track down all
of the School Board members individually, including one out in the hayfield and others in their homes. At the
end of that interview process, she was offered the job of teaching 1st and 2nd graders in one room. Shelia
remembered that Renee Vagle was one of her first 1st graders. There were fifteen 1st graders and seven 2nd
graders. By the next year, there were twenty-two new 1st graders and fifteen 2nd graders. There were too many
for that small room from the year before, so another building was attached to the school she taught in, and her
desk was in the middle of the two classes.
The Salol School had no amenities, but with 2 grades in a room, there had to be some busy work for the class
not being taught. She described a method of duplicating papers that the kids could color on while she worked
with the other class. It produced copies similar to those from a mimeograph machine but said the originals
were drawn with a special pen on a gelatin-like surface on what was similar to a cookie sheet. She recruited her
dad to help her copy pages from her old color books onto those surfaces. The drawings would have to be
washed off with soap and water so the gelatin sheets could be used again.
She said the Salol School had no plumbing, and the rooms were cold. She remembered wearing boots in the
classroom to stay warm. It was heated with wood and possibly oil. She didn’t have to fire up the stove or
sweep. There was a janitor to do that. The big school building that we can still see in Salol (now turned into an
apartment building) had an outhouse with two sides, one for boys and one for girls. The other two school
buildings shared an outhouse. Living in Roseau with no car, she paid the other two teachers to give her a ride to
Salol with them each day. Salol had hot lunches served by the cooks, who she remembered as two Mrs.
Mellstroms, and Dora Ladd.
She said there was no Music or Phy Ed teacher to relieve you during the day. Teachers were responsible for all
of that. But she said the kids were good. She remembered that during winter, Phy Ed, she’d take them to the
skating rink and spend a lot of time tying skates. Shelia was single then, but she had noticed a nice man
who seemed to be at the rink a lot, and he helped her with the skate tying. She asked her fellow teacher Grace
Stordahl, who he was. Grace told her his name was Ray Olson and that tying skates wasn’t part of his job, but he
was making it part of his day and getting to know her. They eventually got married and raised a family. He did a
lot of refereeing making it to the college ranks over time.
Ray and his brother Duane Olson decided to farm in Swift, Minnesota. Charlie Christianson took her there to
meet the school board of the Swift School. She was hired to teach the 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders, filling an opening
left when Eleanor Snow retired. She said there wasn’t a mean kid in the Swift School. She could drive three
miles into Swift to work. She said the Swift school had indoor plumbing and she had a nice warm schoolroom.
There was no hot lunch program there, however. Eloise McKinnon, mother of her student Timmy McKinnon,
sometimes brought a hotdish for the kids. Most days the kids brought cold lunches. She said the parents were
wonderful in Swift. The mother of one of her first graders was Aggie Hollrah, who had been a talented singer
for many years. She’d sometimes come in and do music with the kids. Shelia remembered that “Puff, the Magic
Dragon” was one of their favorite songs. Shelia taught there for three years before she and Ray moved back to
Roseau. Shelia has stayed in touch with Aggie’s daughter Suzanne, who is now a university professor in
She went back to Salol to teach again after moving away from Swift. In order to get a job in Roseau, she had to
get her Bachelor’s Degree, which she did after 19 years of teaching, by taking classes many summers and
driving one day a week to Bemidji. Five weeks of student teaching and observing was required to graduate.
Several options were posted and she sat back as all the young gung-ho new teachers chose their class of special
interest. As one of the more experienced graduates, she waited until the end and what was left was walking
kids to the pool, which she did with good humor. She also did some student teaching at Haug Leo School,
where she and two other teachers stayed in the attached teacherage. Haug Leo also had a nice big gym.
When she was ready to graduate from Bemidji, she told her husband that she was going to attend graduation
exercises. The teaching graduates had their ceremonies with the other college Seniors. As she stepped out onto
the football field, she saw one of her former 5 th and 6 th grade students, Bruce Falk, standing ahead of them,
escorting the graduates in for their diplomas. When she got to Bruce, she asked him what he was doing there.
He just shrugged and didn’t answer. So she asked the girl walking in with her who told Shelia that Bruce was
the top male student in the Junior class that year, and it was his honor to be an escort for graduation. He later
became her dentist back in Salol.
Shelia continued teaching at Salol until they consolidated with Roseau in 1970. She coached hockey out there
along with Ray, and her son Bruce Olson was one of her students and players. He didn’t mind her coaching him
in Salol but asked her not to stand in the box when they played Thursday Night League games in Roseau. He
only wanted his dad standing in there during those games. Another of her students was Jay Ness, who keeps in
touch with her. He tells people that Shelia remembers him dipping his paintbrush in her coffee cup (by
accident) when she had set it down on his desk when she stopped to help him with an art project one day.
She taught in Roseau after consolidation until about 1979, when Mr. Halvorson asked her to consider teaching
at Malung. She was happy to do that, going back to the school she first attended as a little girl.
After Ray died, Shelia married Ray’s brother Duane, and they now have a home in the Beltrami Forest. She told
about a Thief River Falls couple who bought a cabin in the same area. She recognized the wife as one of her
practice teaching students, and recognized the husband’s name, Ron Anderson, when introduced. Shelia had
attended her niece’s graduation in Thief River Falls, and his name was also on the list of graduates that day. She
told him she had been at his graduation and brought the bulletin from her scrapbook to show him.
Clearly, Shelia is a memorable teacher to many people.
Thank you to (www.roseauonline.com) for letting us share our county’s history with your listeners by donating air time, studio time, and production staff every week.