The beauty in family history
A little bird told the LVN about a remarkable yet gracious Fallon community member, one who has been touching lives for decades simply by being herself.
Beyond her service to education for over 50 years, Clara Jean Olson enjoys documenting life, exploring genealogy and lending her musical and artistic talents to her church and community, as well as offering the gift of friendship.
“I think she’s amazing,” said longtime friend Sharon Beeghly. “There isn’t anything she can’t do … I just think the world of her. She’s just so humble. She appreciates everything.”
Married 64 years to her husband, Jack, they moved from Idaho in 1961, where they had been teaching, to Churchill County. Olson explained their superintendent in Idaho wanted them to come with him to Nevada, where he was to be the new superintendent for Churchill County School District.
“We just fell into this,” Olson explained, adding when you look back you can always better see God guiding your life. “It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful life.”
The couple still lives in the house they built on West B Street when they moved to Fallon. Olson said she would walk to and from her first-grade classroom in the building that’s now the Northside Early Learning Center.
Olson finished her bachelor’s degree and later became Nevada Teacher of the Year, Churchill County Teacher of the Year and part of Who’s Who Among American Teachers. She taught 45 years and remained a substitute for 13.
Meanwhile Jack — a U.S. Navy veteran with astounding stories and a former boxer in the service and in college — taught as well and became involved in administration, the high-school golf team and sports officiating.
“We’ve lived education,” she said grinning. “If you do it right,” she reflected, “it’s 24/7.”
Olson said when she retired, she felt she didn’t have a lot to do but enjoyed substitute teaching, traveling and time with family. She said she would have a journal but never finish the book, so she started adding photos to accompany the journal writing.
Today she has numerous small, lovely-covered books filled with memories and descriptions of trips, events, holidays and outings. For example, one book features a granddaughter, and Olson said the little one could have it some day if she likes.
Olson noted a lot of books that can be made into keepsakes are larger but she prefers the mobility and ease of a smaller size.
“It’s so hard to lug around big books,” she said. “It’s nice to pick up a small book,” adding it makes it easier to give to people.
At a family gathering for an aunt who had passed away, Olson said the aunt’s grandson approached her; he had found a box of negatives under his grandmother’s bed and had them developed. He thought she could help him identify these people.
Olson said she found her mother’s family history laid out in those pictures. From that experience, she decided to do a special book with pictures and family history — seeking out family history on both sides of her family. Within a year, she had also provided a book for all her aunts, uncles and her own children. She did her husband’s side also.
One story emerged from this, she said. Her uncle Les White on her father’s side had received an old box camera when he turned 12 as part of a town drugstore promotion; it was The Great Depression and families did not have cameras, she said.
“It was the pictures he took on his beloved old box camera,” she said of where the negatives came.
Olson described the camera as bumpy and flat black with a small glass window on top and side lever.
“This camera was to provide pictures for the entire White family for many years,” she said. “He still had the camera when he died in 2012 at the age of 94 … We could have lost all of that, if those pictures were thrown (away).”
Olson shared how the photographs revealed fuller glimpses into the family history including a picture of her brother, who was a barber, beside an old-fashioned red leather barber chair.
Titled “The Old Red Barber Chair,” the barbershop photograph would go on to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Olson emphasized her entire family’s genealogy record has been inspired by and stemmed from the images captured by White’s camera.
“I just believe people should start writing their life story,” she said, adding to not have them in boxes or without a date. “Journaling, family life stories and pictures can be the threads that when woven together keep families close. Each day is a picture. Capture it and hold it dear.”