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.
October 1, 2023
On September 27, Irene Olson would have turned 97. She missed that birthday by just three weeks. She
was an active person in Roseau all her adult life. She was born in 1926 on a farm near Pencock,
Minnesota, which is in the Willmar area. Her parents were Rudolph and Luella Knochenmus. There were
six other kids in the family when her youngest sibling, Louis, was born in 1934. Their mother died in
childbirth at that time in the old Budd Hospital, which is now the Holter Floral shop . Their family had
moved to Roseau just 6 months before, where Rudolph’s brother Ernest and wife Laura Knochenmus
were farming north of Salol. Ernest had also started a cattle and freight hauling business, the first
trucking line out of Roseau. He picked up their household goods from Pencock with one of his trucks and
moved them to the farm where June and Jim Magnusson later lived.
Within the next couple of years they moved a couple more times and managed to stay together without
the mother of the family, having housekeepers and hired girls and their Grandma Knochenmus to take
care of six kids. Louis, the baby, was being cared for by other people. They lived northwest of Roseau
where Bob Welin’s farm is, then moved to the Strandberg farm in Stafford Township. Irene’s father got a
new housekeeper there, the sister of their Aunt Laura Knochenmus. She was named Emma Bergman and
was a widow with two daughters. Irene said she was a kind and loving person, cooking, cleaning and
sewing new clothes for all of them. Everyone helped with chores at home and on the farm. Rudolph and
Emma decided to get married in 1936, but only a month later, Rudolph died from a throat infection in the
same hospital his first wife had died. It was a tragedy that changed everything for them.
Emma couldn’t care for that big family all alone, even though she wanted to. They were put under the
care of Lutheran Social Services, and placed with families around the region. Paul, Louie, and Irene were
placed with their Uncle and Aunt, Frank and Edna Knochenmus, north of Salol. They walked to a school
about 2-1/2 miles from the farm.
When Irene was a 10 th grader in Roseau High School, she was transferred to Bethany Children’s Home in
Duluth and attended Denfield High School. She later lived with Reverend and Mrs. Clarence Nelson. One
of the summers while living in Duluth, she worked at Dr. Judd’s home in Minneapolis, helping with
household chores and babysitting three daughters. She was only 16 when she graduated, and that wasn’t
old enough to enroll in Nurses Training in Minneapolis, so instead she took a job at Wahlgreen Drug Store
in downtown Duluth, hoping to save enough money to go out to California with her older sister Agnes
and her new husband. WWII had started and it would be easy to get a job there. First she decided to visit
her sisters and brothers in Roseau. While there, Joel Olson invited her to a Valentine Dance at the old
Municipal Building. She loved to dance, and they danced at Badger Friday nights, the Nite Hawk on
Saturday nights, and Malung Hall Sunday nights. She worked at Larry Pelowskis’s Meat Market, and said
after the weekends she was almost too tired from all that dancing to go to work on Mondays. Joel and
Irene were married April 11, 1945 by Reverend Rykken at Moe Lutheran Church. She remembered that
the Ladies Aid served scalloped potatoes with ham, a salad and a bun, and served wedding cake made by
Maurine Flagstad for 50 cents a plate..
Joel was still farming with his dad Emil Olson. He started to drive bus for Malung School, getting $100 a
month. She was getting the same amount for working at Larry’s Market, which was more than other
stores paid. Soon the babies started coming. She had 8 in all, the last one when she was 32. Their oldest
son wanted to go to college, so Joel, knowing he’d need a better income, met with Bob Bergland and he
got into training as a manager of the ASCS (now called FSA) office. When a job opened up there, Joel
applied and got it. They lived in town then and their kids could walk to school and all the other places
they needed to go. Irene took some refresher courses in becoming a secretary and Mr. Almquist asked
her if she’d like to be his secretary. She worked nine and a half years with him until he retired and said he
was the best boss she ever had. She worked one more year for Mr. Melby and then stayed home. But as
busy as Irene was with garden and household duties, she got work at Polaris and worked in several
different areas over 11 years and loved working there. She moved into the sewing department when that
started up with Julaine Kjaer as the first cutter, their leader, and Dick Johnson as head of the department.
Joel was President of the Roseau County Historical Society. Around 1990 he came home from a meeting
and asked if she’d co-chair a Heritage Book project about Roseau County’s people with him. She agreed
to do that. They were constantly busy with that project for two solid years. Bob and Vivian Thacker were
very valuable, collecting stories from people as well as all money and orders for the book. Five hundred
stories were needed to do the book, but they got over one thousand. It was a big success. When Roseau
County was going to celebrate its centennial, Irene got busy on that project, too. She and Rudy Billberg
went to a Commissioners Meeting and they were granted $10,000 to do a Centennial book. Irene spent
four months at her dining room table, reading and choosing articles of interest from County newspapers.
They had the book published in time for Christmas 1995.
That same year, Joel and Irene celebrated 50 years of marriage. Their kids made all the food and
decorated the Malung Hall for a dance and party. She said her grandkids were still talking many years
later about how much fun they had. She said it was the last big event held at the Malung Hall.
Irene had always wanted to have a cabin in the woods, and there was land for sale in Beltrami Forest.
Irene bought 10 acres in the 1970s and 10 more a few years later. The kids cleared the land in 1999 for a
foundation and Mark Geroy built their cabin, which they moved into in March 2000. They had everything
they needed out there and enjoyed coffee parties with the neighbors, playing dominoes and cards. Sadly,
Joel started showing signs of dementia about 5 years later, and Irene knew it was time to move back to
town. She cared for Joel for 4 years at home, continuing her work with the Roseau County Historical
Society putting together stories about the people of Roseau County for 15 years, which she recorded for
broadcast on Sunday mornings from Wild 102 radio station. By that time, it was becoming too hard to
leave Joel home alone long enough to do her story research. She convinced me to take over that project
for her, and soon after, Joel moved into LifeCare Manor. Later, after Joel died, Irene moved into Oak
Crest Senior Housing, then at the end of her life she lived in the nursing home, too. Irene was known and
loved by so many people. She contributed so much to sharing Roseau County’s history with everyone.
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.