Gary Olson loved teaching enough that he retired twice, and was still teaching months before his death.
A memorial service for the longtime Columbia Basin College math professor and dean is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Gjerde Center.
Olson, 70, of Burbank, died on June 7 after battling esophageal cancer for several months. More than half of his life was spent in the Tri-Cities, and for the entire time he worked at the college.
“He was a fixture here at CBC,” said longtime friend Curtis Crawford, the college’s dean of math and sciences. “A lot of people know him as the guy who smokes a pipe.”
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Olson was part of the committee that hired Crawford 27 years ago, and even before that the dean had been in Olson’s math class.
“He joked that I can always go back and change that grade,” Crawford said.
Olson tried to retire the first time before being promoted to dean of math and sciences, a position that he held for about seven years. Then tried again after leaving the dean’s job.
Both times he was drawn back to the classroom. His final retirement from the higher-level math classes came after fall semester, when the disease claimed too much of his strength to continue teaching.
“Even as he sat at home, that was one of the things that he missed,” Crawford said. “He missed teaching.”
Very few people were without an opinion about Olson, Crawford said.
“He used to say, either people loved him or hated him,” Crawford said. “He always sounded a little gruffer than he was, but he was the kind of guy that if you lovingly turned around and gave it back to him, you would become his favorite student.”
Mike Durst, an adjunct instructor, said in a post on the professor’s memorial website that Olson had a brilliant mind and was an expert teacher.
“I will miss most his friendship and just seeing him smile,” Durst said. “He had a remarkable smile that would brighten up anyone’s day.”
Crawford remembered his sense of humor as well, describing several moments of Olson’s wit. He often ended tests with jokes, and even as the disease was claiming him he had a quick quip.
He leaves behind a wife and five children.
A memorial scholarship has been set up in Olson’s name. Send a check or money order to CBC Foundation, 2600 N. 20th Ave., Pasco, WA 99301. The checks should be made out to CBC Foundation, with “Gary Olson” on the memo line. Credit card payments can be made by calling 509-542-4436.