In the fall of 1976, Gerald Ford was president, a gallon of gas cost 44 cents, and John Olson agreed to instruct a night College Algebra class for Colby Community College. So began a run of 42 years he would teach students different levels of math, computer science, and physics. Recently, he announced this spring would be his final semester before retiring.

Born and raised in Chicago, Ill., Olson earned a bachelor’s degree from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., before making his way west.

“I went on to attend the University of Kansas as a teaching assistant working towards a master’s degree in math,” he said. “I also took a handful of courses from the education department so I could gain a teaching certificate in Kansas.”

He points to 1971 as a momentous year. The first event was the marriage to his wife, Brenda.

“As of May we will have been married 47 wonderful years,” he said.

The same year John and Brenda moved to northwest Kansas for his first position in education.

“I was also awarded my master’s degree and took my first full-time teaching job with Unified School District 412 in Hoxie. I was hired to teach the upper level math courses at Hoxie High School.”

After becoming an adjunct instructor for CCC, his teaching load increased with additional college algebra, and eventually computer science courses.

“In the area of computer science, we were using Radio Shack TRS-80 computers that had a Z-80 microprocessor. The era of personal computers had arrived.”

For the next two decades, Olson taught in both Hoxie and Hill City until becoming a full-time mathematics instructor on campus in 2002.
He says there are many fond memories of his time with the college, but one particular moment in 1979 makes him smile. It happened at a dinner meeting on campus for Phi Delta Kappa, a professional association for educators. An individual entered the room, speaking with many in a distinctive deep bass voice.

“He walked over and took the empty seat across from me. I observed chalk dust around both his pant and shirt pockets, and he was smoking a cigarette—which at the time was permissible. He began asking one question after another, and after responding, I asked what subject he taught. He said with a wry smile, ‘I teach students!’”

To those familiar with CCC lore, the gentleman Olson met was Dr. Max Pickerill, the longtime chemistry instructor at the college. Olson says “Pick” became a valued friend, colleague and mentor until his passing in 2011.

An example of their friendship came in 2004 when Olson suffered heart complications and was in intensive care. The hospital only allowed immediate family members to visit for five minutes per hour, yet somehow Pickerill got into the room.

“There was Max … in my intensive care room. He had driven from Colby to Hays to see me for five minutes. To get in he told nurses that he was my brother.”

The Olsons made many more friendships with other faculty and staff.

“Whether it was sharing a cup of coffee or eating a meal with Max at Village Inn, most often surrounded by Gwen Young, Roger Hale, Vernon and Linda Wranosky, Jay and Pam Sekavec, Gerald Sanden, Sandy Rall, and others, those memories will always be treasured.”

He says the transition to retirement after four decades of work will leave a void in some areas.

“The thing I'll miss most in retirement will be our CCC family—our Board of Trustees, administrative team, instructional colleagues, support staff and of course, our many wonderful students I’ve had the opportunity to know and work with through the years.”

Traveling is one endeavor the Olsons want to accomplish in the future. It could be to Colorado, to see son Matthew and his wife Carlie, or to the east, where oldest son Peter resides with wife Amy in Indiana.

Olson also believes retirement can be quiet.

“There'll be time to enjoy the pleasure of simply sitting on the front porch or in the back yard, soaking up the atmosphere, reflecting on life and enjoying the warm days of summer and a life of leisure.”