“For some are born to do great deeds, and live.”
Paul J. Olson was born August 13, 1909 in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin to Olaf and Pauline Olson. He was the youngest of six children. His father had immigrated from Norway and was a tailor.
Paul’s first memory was when he was hospitalized with polio at the age of four. He heard the doctor tell his parents that he would probably not survive the night because his kidneys had shut down and he could not urinate. That night he wet the bed. He confounded the doctors and lived. However, he was left with a right leg that was crippled for life. Nonetheless, while still a boy he vowed never to let the disability interfere with what he wanted to accomplish.
When Paul was old enough to start school he couldn’t walk, so his older sisters took him to school in a wagon. However, once at school he became an adept student who was well-liked by his classmates. In high school he managed athletic teams, played in the band and was elected president of his sophomore and senior class and editor-in-chief of the yearbook. Under his picture in the yearbook was the prophetic phrase, “For some are born to do great deeds, and live.”
Many years later Paul said : “Polio made me the man I am. If I hadn’t been crippled by polio I would probably have been a town ruffian and run with the rest of the boys. But, because I couldn’t run, I discovered the world of books and ideas”. This involved virtually every subject including history, educations, philosophy, religion, poetry, and ultimately ecology.
After graduating from Mt. Horeb High School, he attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. However, carrying books to and from classes and using crutches was a daunting task. After many falls Paul bought a shoe with a built up 10” heal and sole and a metal half leg brace. This permitted him to discard his crutches so he could use his hands to carry books. He still walked with a heavy limp but fell less frequently. He attended classes and graduated on schedule in 1931 with a teaching certificate.
In 1931 the country was in the midst of the great depression but it still needed teachers. Paul applied for teaching positions all across the United States. In early September, 1931, to his great surprise and delight Paul was appointed a teacher at West Junior in Madison at an annual salary of $1300 as an 8th grade science teacher. He readily accepted job and began a magnificent forty-six year career in the Madison school system.
Paul loved teaching and the students loved him. One of his students, Dr. James McIntosh, a retired Madison Urologist published a book about his practice of medicine. He dedicated the book to Paul Olson, “for teaching him the joys of learning.” To this day his former students still remark that Paul was their favorite teacher and made a difference in their lives.
Paul quickly became a leader among the teachers and became president of the fledgling teacher’s union. One of his accomplishments was to start a health insurance program. This required him to personally collect the insurance premiums every Friday from the teachers at West.
In 1936 Paul was married to Alice and in 1937 they had their first of four children. In 1938 they purchased the first lot in Sunset Village and built a house on Mineral Point Road, an area that was then West of Madison. This began Paul’s involvement in community affairs.