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Through deeds, Duane Olm showed he cared

Thu., Sept. 4, 2008

Longtime Spokane Valley resident Duane Olm always came through for his family and community.

He enjoyed doing handiwork for the county animal shelter where he had volunteered since the mid-1990s. With family, Olm loved to fish and hunt, mainly for the enjoyment of being outdoors with those he loved.

Olm died on July 19. He was 76.

He had lived with his wife, LaVerne, in the Woodlawn area east of the Plantes Ferry soccer fields for 36 years, and they raised three children. Their son, Dave, still lives in the Valley; son Randy, in Priest River, Idaho; and a daughter, Kristy, near Idaho Falls.

“He was the perfect handyman who could fix anything and had innovative ideas on how to make something work that wasn’t working,” said Nancy Hill, Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service director.

“I’ve worked here 22 years, and he’s the most dedicated volunteer we’ve ever had. He loved animals. He was a very compassionate, caring man. He was a man of action, not so much of words.”

Olm recently completed a rally dog walking course for the animal shelter. The outdoor course allows volunteers to exercise dogs using 13 stations such as weave poles, an arch and a ladder walk, said SCRAPS kennel manager Cindy Taskila.

“The rally course is to increase the dog’s ability to listen, maneuver and pay attention,” Taskila added. “I devised it in my head and Duane started building it for me. He went to work and this past winter he built it. I got it out there this spring.”

He often expressed his caring nature through deeds. When Olm learned that Hill was getting married in 2001, he offered to make her wedding cake.

“It was amazing, a Norwegian wedding cake,” Hill said, describing it as intricate with rings. “He was a very modest man. He didn’t want people to make a fuss about him.”

He also helped Taskila create a get-acquainted room for cats at the shelter. He reinforced the shelves for the cats to jump on and then added a playful touch to the wall, a stencil painting of a cat going from one shelf to another.

Olm retired early at age 55, after a career at Kaiser Cement, and soon turned to volunteering. In 1987, he was asked to help organize the first Festival of Trees fundraiser for Valley Hospital and Medical Center, said LaVerne Olm.

“He and a good friend were co-chairs the first few years,” said LaVerne. “He again was the handyman getting all those wires set up.”

Olm also volunteered at the former Walk in the Wild Zoo, near present-day Mirabeau Park, from 1988 until it closed, including quite a bit of work for a petting zoo.

After the zoo closed, he showed up at SCRAPS asking if he could help, Hill said.

“He was very much loved by the employees and we were deeply saddened when he took suddenly ill,” Hill added. “Many went to visit him and shared stories how he had helped out SCRAPS and how he had touched their lives. He was very family oriented.”

Olm and his wife were married 56 years. They met as children when their parents became friends while living in California. After LaVerne’s family moved back to Washington and Olm’s family returned to Wisconsin, they all kept in touch.

When Olm entered the Army and served in Korea, LaVerne’s family sent him letters and packages. “Then his mom and dad moved to Seattle where I was going to high school,” said LaVerne. “He came back from Korea and we started dating and were married May 31, 1952.”

He remained in the military for six years and the couple spent time in France, Georgia and Seattle. He eventually worked at Kaiser Cement, which transferred him from Tri-Cities to Spokane to be manager in 1972. He was active with Lions Club, too.

Olm always made time for his family. His son Dave recalled many outdoor trips.

“We were always fishing and hunting as much as we could,” said Dave. “We were a very close-knit family. He was a beautiful human being. If I can get to be half the man he was I’d be content.”

Another early memory involves his dad helping him at a very young age.

“I was clubfooted when I was born and one of my earliest memories was laying in front of him on the floor and he’d push on my feet and help stretch them out to straighten them. Through dad, and mom, too, working with me, they’re the only reason I can walk today.”

Most family memories revolve around Olm’s steady presence.

“Family was important to him,” LaVerne added. “He was a fisherman and hunter, which he did with all three children. He had a real sense of humor. He was always there when he was needed.”


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