Rev. Paul G.
Rev. Paul “Ole” G’Sell Olfson died September 30, 2012 in Spokane at Avalon Care Center after a long illness. He was 79.
Olfson was born December 22, 1932 in East Grand Forks, N.D., to Leslie Frank and Hannah Mae Croy Olfson. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Bemidji, where his father owned the Forks Potato Co. and his mother was a beautician.
His parents divorced when Olfson was 10. His mother later married Roy Bowers. As a boy and teen, Paul worked in his stepfather’s sawmill. He left high school in his junior year.
Olfson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on January 13, 1950 at Grand Forks. N.D. “I was visiting my dad, got a wild hair, and joined the Air Force,” he said when interviewed in July 2012.
Olfson became a Load Master on C-124 Globemaster cargo planes at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. “We were flying nuclear weapons all over the world, and we flew a lot of wounded out of Korea. That also tells you where we were taking a lot of the nukes,” he said in a 1984 interview. After a number of years on C-124s, surviving three airplane crashes in the process and swearing never to fly ever again, he changed careers to become a Survival Instructor.
Early in his military career, because of his Norwegian ancestry, a fellow airman dubbed him “Ole.” It stuck, and to many until his death he was “Ole Olfson.”
Olfson married his childhood friend, Shirley Jean Norgaard on June 10, 1956 in Bemidji, MN. Their 50th anniversary was profiled in a Spokesman-Review publication. The couple had two sons and a daughter.
His duty stations included U.S. Air Force bases in Newfoundland, Spokane (Fairchild), Labrador, Montana (Malmstrom) and Greenland, where he established the first arctic survival school for aircrews then building radar sites. He helped establish the Survival School at Fairchild AFB in 1965, and was among its first instructors. At Fairchild’s mock POW camp, he often played its commandant, wearing a Russian colonel’s uniform, complete with Russian accent.
In 1968, The U.S.S. Pueblo was commandeered at sea by North Korea, and its crew brutalized for 11 month. Upon their release, Olfson helped debrief Navy Commander Lloyd Bucher and crew members, garnering valuable information on prisoner survival.
Olfson taught survival and escape and evasion to thousands of aviators and crew members - U.S. and allied; including a number of astronauts - until retiring from the Air Force on February 12, 1972 as a Technical Sergeant.
After the Air Force, he was regional field representative for the Salvation Army for seven years, covering eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana. From 1972 to 1982, he was State Chaplain for the Washington State Guard.
Beginning in El Paso in the early 1950s, Olfson headed a variety of youth groups for decades, including Boy Scout troops. In Spokane, he founded Explorer Search & Rescue Post 77 and the National Outdoor Leadership Cadre. Members of the defunct groups still call themselves “Ole’s Raiders.”
Thousands of people benefited from his leadership, outdoor education, compassion, understanding and faith. He was noted for his humor, quick wit, love of a bawdy joke, campfire tales, making a spicy dish called “Gookenpuckee”, friendliness and respect for all people.
He felt blessed to have a wife and children who understood his absences from home during his military, youth group and ministry years, he said in July.
Rev. Olfson was ordained through the Church of Christ in 1970. He became a minister when he learned that his youngest son, Matthew, would be a breech birth. “I struck a bargain with the Lord,” he said in 1984. “Miraculously, the baby turned while still in the womb, and I turned as well to Jesus Christ.”
In the 1980s he earned two associate’s degrees in social services and substance abuse and counseled throughout Spokane. Rev. Olfson was especially pleased to perform funeral and wedding ceremonies for those who could not afford a standard service, conducting them in homes, bars, parks, etc. “So many of the clergy turn people down to be married, because of mixed marriages, different religions, maybe the bride’s pregnant, whatever,” he said in a 1984 interview. “I don’t want to have to answer to the Lord when I’m gone, as to why I refused to let his work be done.”
In the early 80’s Rev. Olfson was an associate pastor to Gene Davis at Lidgerwood chapel, and went on to co-found Crossroads Christian Family Ministries where he remained head pastor until retirement in 2008. “I wouldn’t trade my experiences for a million dollars. It was the people I worked with, and that’s what made it so great.” “I’ll keep an eye out for you.”
Olfson is survived by: wife, Shirley, of Spokane; daughter, Sandra, of Spokane; son, Matthew, of Spokane and son, Mark, of Minneapolis; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at the Gretna Green on Sunday, October 7, 3:00 pm, at 1403 North Washington. Gathering to follow will be held at the Crossroads Christian Family Ministries.
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