Bud Olson: Editor in Chief | Centennial

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a chapter written by Benay Nordby, former news editor of The Courier-Herald

I had no particular sense about the importance of agriculture or livestock. Even though I lived in “The Breadbasket of the World,” (California) and one of the nation’s leading dairy states, I could not tell the difference between, say, a Holstein cow and a Jersey. I was a real heifer.

My inexperience with farming became all too apparent when, as newlyweds, my husband Lynn and I made the decision to move northward to Enumclaw, a city of 7,000 population in Washington state.

The move was for the sake of Lynn’s young career in city management. It was a traumatic departure for our families, who, I think, hoped it was temporary. For me it was simple. We had no children yet, few belongings and a desire to live in a climate with real seasons. It also put 1,200 miles between me and my splintered family. They would find their own path. I never realized how rocky it would be. For the time being, the excitement of a new marriage and a new job for Lynn made it easy for me to leave them behind.

Though we made the move primarily for Lynn’s benefit, I also wanted a new job. I was confident I could start a real career, perhaps at the local newspaper.

Lynn was hired as the new assistant city administrator. We checked into King’s Motel and were greeted warmly by the clerk, who said she had read about us in the newspaper. We were stunned that our arrival warranted publicity—aånywhere.

As a writer, I hoped for a career in the media—copy writing for an ad agency or television news production. There were no such opportunities in Enumclaw at the time.

So I entered the office of The Courier-Herald feeling like Mary Tyler Moore approaching  the intimidating Mr. Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the biggest sitcom on television at the time.  In this case, it turned out to be Mr. Olson who graciously offered me part time work, like a stringer. Well it was a start.

It didn’t take long to realize the change to rural Washington would take some cultural adjustment, which is a euphemism for keeping your mouth shut.

“Just give it some time,” Mr. Olson advised me. “Just watch and learn and don’t try too hard.”

Robert Olson was a towering Swede. He edited the Enumclaw Courier-Herald for  30 years, guarding the integrity of the weekly newspaper from his glassed-in office on  Cole Street. Mr. Olson was tall and imposing like the Douglas firs that surround the  little Northwest city. Ironically, his friends called him “Bud.” Hovering over the staff at 6 feet, 4 inches, he surely weighed 300 pounds. His big bay-window chest  filled his editor’s chair from side to side. Nearly 70, he was still a sturdy man in his  Florsheim wingtips and dress trousers. He usually chose a cardigan sweater to wear over  a collared shirt and tie. His long pale cheeks had creased and his dark hair had grayed.

His bushy eyebrows and kindly eyes gazed at me over the glasses perched on his nose, giving him a grandfatherly demeanor. I never could have called him “Bud.”

Mr. Olson was worldly but loved his small town home. He was born there in 1911. Except for his education at Stanford and a tour of duty in the peacetime Navy,  his focus and loyalties seemed to rest on Washington state and in particular, Enumclaw.

His weekly column was informal and he mused on anything he could spot from  his office or by peering left to right out the two storefront windows at the entrance to the newspaper office. It was disconcerting for some of his readers to see their personal errands and private business made the subject of a newspaper column. Their movements were forever recorded in the bound editions of the Courier-Herald kept in the basement  of the Enumclaw Library. He was not fazed by his subjects’ indignant complaints.

His column was also a forum for writing about his domestic hobbies of cooking and gardening. In a city where the majority of men were tough loggers, dairy farmers,  pickle packers and insurance executives, his recipe for Irish soda bread may have been less-than-intriguing subject matter. But there were enough genteel souls in Enumclaw to appreciate the homage to asparagus, bread banter and diatribes about using real butter rather than margarine.

His commentary on the weather met us each day in the C-H office. Summer days of “relentless sunshine” were tough on him and made him as uncomfortable and ornery as the polar bears at Point Defiance Zoo in nearby Tacoma. On a drizzling July morning Mr. Olson would walk majestically through the front door of the office and bellow, “Isn’t it a beautiful morning?”

He did not confide in me about his loneliness, but I knew his wife was in a  nursing home, suffering from a degenerative disease. He visited her regularly and  returned to the office without much comment.

His two grown children lived and worked  far away and we heard little about them.

There were rumors of a rift between him and his  son, Bruce, who had become infamous during Vietnam anti-war protests at the University of Washington. As editor of the counterculture-infused UW Daily, the young  Olson had challenged and shaken the foundation of his father’s conservative framework.

He used the student newspaper as a weapon against the Nixon administration’s foreign  policies. Watergate had not yet dampened support for the president.

Freedom of the Press survived in its own fashion in Enumclaw, resting on the  shoulders of the gentlemanly Mr. Olson. Change was hard for him in social matters. One of the most profitable December promotions at the paper was the business sponsorship to honor the first baby of the New Year. A shower of gifts and publicity for the new parents and baby awaited. Businesses catering to families bought advertising space in the special edition.

Up until the year I covered the story, no one had anticipated that the first baby of the year at Community Memorial Hospital, might possibly be born to a single parent. In 1970s Enumclaw, she was still referred to as an “unwed mother.

The Love Generation hit the threshold of parenting age if not voluntary marrying age. Fallout reached Enumclaw and a newspaper editor who was not sympathetic. However, a “Love Generation” representative was now reporting for the Courier-Herald.

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