After working in education in some form or fashion for over three decades, most of which was in Little Falls, Assistant High School Principal Mike Olson is closing the page on this chapter of his life by retiring.
“I am fortunate enough with my age and years of experience, I still qualify for the ‘Rule of 90,’” Olson said. “I just felt that I would like to retire and enjoy good health for as long as I can, and take on another phase in life.”
Olson got his first teaching gig after college at Little Falls in 1989, and with a small detour as activities director in Litchfield from 1999-2001, he has been in Little Falls since.
“I was hired on a Wednesday and got married on Saturday, so it was kind of crazy,” Olson said.
That said, he was excited to come to Little Falls.
“When I first started in 1989, my uncle who was an educator in Browerville, said, ‘Holy Cow! You got a job in Little Falls, that’s a really good district,’” Olson said. “And it was, and still is.”
Olson grew up on a small hobby farm near Hibbing, where his father worked in the mines, which is the life he expected to live when he grew up as well.
However, there was an economic downturn in the early 1980s, which hit the mining community hard, and he went to school.
He attended Hibbing Community College for law enforcement, but after wrestling and playing football there, he was afforded the opportunity to continue his college football career at the University of Wisconson-Superior, where he completed his education degree.
He then taught social studies for 10 years at both Little Falls Middle School and LFCHS.
After he returned from Litchfield, he was the activities director for eight years, until he became the assistant principal in 2009, which is a position he has held since. He got his master’s from St. Thomas and his administration education from St. Cloud State.
Superintendent Stephen Jones has worked with Olson for the past eight years, and said the way he works with people is special.
“Mike is all about relationships, with students, families, staff and the community,” Jones said. “It shows in how effective he is in his job. We will miss his exceptional ability to connect to students in all situations. Students always felt respected by Mike, and they frequently sought him out when struggling with issues in their lives.”
Olson said one of the biggest challenges in his carer was when he first came back to Little Falls in the early 2000s, as the district was dealing with some financial issues.
“Thanks to the character with the people involved, we thankfully passed a referendum and got the school back on track,” Olson said. “I think it has gotten better and better each year since.”
Sports was, of course, a big portion of Olson’s career, as he was a wrestling coach for 17 years, and was the Flyers football head coach from 1994 to 1999.
During his tenure as the activities director in Little Falls he served as part of the Minnesota State High School League Assembly, and following his move to assistant principal, he served on the MSHSL Board of Directors.
“I probably wouldn’t be sitting where I am if it wasn’t for coaching football and wrestling, so sports have been very important to me,” Olson said. “As an AD I got to experience all sports, not just the ones I coached. I really grew to appreciate them all.”
Along with those organizations, Olson is also on the Flyer Athletic Boosters Board, and works with Pheasants Forever.
That is part of what he hopes to do with his newly earned free time — hunt.
He hopes to hunt, fish, work with his dogs, read and of course visit his new grandson and daughter, who live in Cloquet.
However, there are plenty of things he will miss.
“Obviously, I’ll miss the students and the staff,” Olson said. “The staff has been outstanding, way back from the time I started.”
He said LFCHS Principal Tim Bjorge will be especially missed.
“We coached together way back when we started out in education, and then we ended up being a team as administration here at the high school, and that’s been really rewarding,” Olson said. “I couldn’t ask for better bosses than I’ve had.”
One of those bosses, Jones, said Olson was a shining example for whoever fills his role next.
If someone were to describe an exemplary assistant principal at a high school, all that person would need to do is to follow Mike around, and just watch and observe and appreciate him the way we all do now as he heads towards retirement,” Jones said.
While he and his wife do plan to eventually get a place on the lake somewhere between Hibbing and Grand Rapids, Olson said he will remain in Little Falls for the time being.
“I’m not in a hurry to do that, because I love living in Little Falls,” Olson said. “I just want to thank everybody for their friendships, their work, and Little Falls for being what it is — a special place.”