Olson loved the beat of the pep band

Fred Olson died unexpectedly last month. He had taught music and directed the Greenwave band.

Fred Olson died unexpectedly last month. He had taught music and directed the Greenwave band.

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His leadership style was distinctive.

His pep band filled any gym or the Centennial Coliseum will the distinctive beat of fight songs including Fallon’s “Onward Greenwave.”

Fred Olson will be remembered as an educator who built the Greenwave band to several hundred students and led a pep band that energized the fans and teams at both home and away games including Zone (regional) and state championship competition.

The 78-year-old Olson, an avid University of Nevada basketball fan, died suddenly Feb. 24 after watching the men’s Wolf Pack game against Fresno State.

Principal Lou Hirschman hired Olson, an Oregonian who first attended Lewis and Clark College and then transferred to the University of Nevada where he earned a music degree in 1967. Retired Churchill County High School Principal Don Travis, who succeeded Hirschman, said he was impressed with Olson, who played a variety of woodwind instruments in the Nevada marching, concert and jazz bands.

“I would’ve hired him,” Travis said, if he were principal. “He taught at both schools, the junior and (senior) high school. He had 30 students in the high-school band when he started and pushed that to 100.”

Over the next 12 years, the music program, included the concert band, marching and pep bands, the choir and a general music class, grew to about 200 students each year. He also taught music at E.C. Best Junior High School and directed the school’s band, while Cheryl, Olson’s wife, taught biology at Churchill County High School.

Travis said Olson was well liked and enjoyed the community, which had a population of more than 4,000 in the 1970s.

“At first we did not intend to stay in Fallon,” said Cheryl, who was married to Fred for 51 years. “After the first year, we bought a house. We knew this is a great place to teach.”

After teaching for more than a decade, though, the Olsons left education to help Cheryl’s family with their Reno business. In the meantime, though, the Olsons stayed in Fallon and ran the local Maytan Music store, which also included space devoted to photography. They spent many hours on the highway traveling between Fallon and Reno.

“Both were interested in photography, and it took them a long way,” Travis said.

Cheryl said Fred handled the rural communities for Maytan, and the local store rented instruments to band students. She said Fred drove hundreds of miles crossing the state from Fallon to Elko, down to Ely and west to Hawthorne.

“He was driving the van all over with the instruments,” she recalled.

With their store located on West Center Street next to the Elks Lodge and across from the old Lahontan Valley News building, Cheryl said they had a nice combination — music and photography. Although they enjoyed operating their business, the constant 124-mile commute to Reno became too much for them, and the Olsons decided to move to Reno.

Cheryl’s thoughts focused on a time both she and Fred enjoyed, the 1970s, when life seemed to be simpler. During the summer, she said Fred conducted a six-week music camp for elementary students, and his high school students who weren’t working on the farms or for businesses would help him. Working with the budding musicians paid off, and the music program kept growing.

Everyone in Churchill County knew of the Greenwave band. With the band’s participation in various events around the state, the music program was making a name for itself. On every Nevada Day, Cheryl said the school district transported the students on six or seven buses to parade held annually in Carson City. Participating in the parade to celebrate Nevada’s statehood was a highlight of the year, Cheryl said. Not only did the high-school band march the 2-mile distance down Carson Street, but also the junior-high band, both directed by Fred.

Cheryl said the students who rotated through his classes every year loved him.

“They knew he wasn’t looking down on them,” she said. “He helped them do better.”

Mark Roberson served as drum major during his senior year. His wife Carole (Heck) was drum majorette the previous year.

“I enjoyed it. It was fun,” Mark said, adding Olson was his band director from seventh grade to his senior year. “My fondest memories are the trips to San Francisco and all the state tournaments.”

Roberson said he also played in both the pep and jazz bands in addition to the marching band. He said the increase in students to 200 in the music program was unheard of at the time.

Carole, who did her exploratory teaching with Cheryl during her senior year, said the band participated in the Nevada Day parade even if the weather was rain, snow or sunshine.

“It was our most competitive time with our band,” she said. “We had a lot of pride.”

The Robersons reminisced about their time with the marching band, and they said students would practice by marching around the high school with all the turns.

The quick beat and enthusiasm of the pep band captured Fred’s heart, something that carried over to the University of Nevada basketball games. The Olsons also enjoyed the enthusiasm displayed by the Nevada students as they did with the Fallon musicians.

“Pep bands were his favorite,” Cheryl pointed out, adding the Fallon students had to try out to be on the pep band. “They were a very good band,” she said of the Fallon musicians. “They used to play the song, ‘The Stripper,’ and they were very peppy.”

Julie (Arciniega) Richards was a cheerleader in the 1970s. She said the cheerleaders and pep band were a very close-knit group and traveled to Zone and state, whether in Reno or Las Vegas.

Cheryl said the pep band was great for both the players and fans. Although Cheryl lives in Reno, she said the smaller communities such as Fallon, Fernley Winnemucca and Elko have a close relationship with their high schools, something she doesn’t see in the large cities, which she describes as cold and impersonal.

“It’s sad many schools don’t have a pep band or music programs, and they don’t see the need to play at a regional or state tournament,” she said.

During his career, Fred Olson took the marching band to the East-West Shrine Football game in San Francisco and to the Disneyland parade.

“For Fred it was a chance for the kids to see what else is out there,” Cheryl added.

According to Cheryl, she couldn’t have asked for a kinder gentleman who was her best friend for a lifetime.

“When something needed to be done, he kept working toward his goal,” she said. “He was a fighter from the day he was born in 1941.”


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