Merle Chester Olson

Merle Olson, a third-generation resident of Alexandria MN, passed away on Sunday morning, December 20, 2020. He was 88.

Merle was born on November 3, 1932 to Chester and Annie (Nyquist) Olson. His elder sister, Arlue (Olson) Beheng, was Merle’s lifelong best friend. As a child, Merle loved swimming and fishing at his family’s cottage on Lake Le Homme Dieu. He completed high school in Alexandria in 1950. After studying one year at St. Cloud Teacher’s College and then working in Yellowstone National Park, he received an Associate’s Degree in Mechanical Drafting from the University of Minnesota in 1954. He then proudly served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, where we worked on a Navy ship in the Pacific as a code breaker until September 1956. Upon his return, Merle met his future wife and married Nancy Ann Patterson on June 27, 1958. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Architecture in 1960 from the University of Minnesota and the couple settled in Robbinsdale, MN, where they raised three children: Laura, Mitchell and Jennifer. Nancy was a schoolteacher and Merle made a lifelong career at General Mills as Facilities Manager at the firm’s corporate headquarters. They were married for 35 years.

Merle returned to Alexandria upon his retirement and lived on Lake Ida for a time, then later near Lake Agnes. He was active in the American Legion, sat on the board of Lake Geneva Cemetery, was a member of Alexandria United Methodist Church and an avid golfer. Merle had a passion for vintage military aircraft from WWII. He worked tirelessly for years to get a WWII airplane museum built in the Alexandria Area. As a volunteer for the Douglas County Historical Society, he conducted research on the history of the Alexandria Airport and local aviation heroes, such as Alexandria’s own WWII Ace pilot “Bud” Peterson. He built museum-style displays that can be seen at the airport today and is memorialized there for his contributions to local aviation history. His other fascinations were family memorabilia and genealogical histories which he meticulously assembled and archived, as well as his favorite sports team, the Minnesota Gophers.

Merle was a man who lived a life of joy and gratitude to his final day. He was unceasingly kind to others, had a wonderful sense of humor, and a great appreciation of music. Merle never wanted to leave his home, and this wish was granted due to the dedication of his family and a dedicated group of caregivers.

Merle’s sister Arlue Beheng was a constant and ardently loved companion. They attended church together every Sunday and saw each other multiple times per week these last few decades, until COVID-19 interrupted their ability to be together. Merle was preceded in death by his parents, Chet and Ann, and is survived by his sister Arlue Beheng, his former wife Nancy Olson, and his children: Laura, Mitchell and Jennifer. To his last day, Merle was quick to share his warm smile and his easygoing manner with all those he loved. He was a gentle giant and to say he will be missed is a great understatement.

Due to COVID restrictions, a visitation was held at Anderson Funeral Home and a brief funeral at Alexandria United Methodist Church on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. This spring a full memorial service and celebration of life will be held in his memory. Arrangements are with Anderson Funeral Home and Crematory.

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