Eulogy for a friend, Kelin Olson May 31, 1966 – Sept. 25, 2013
Remarks as delivered on October 2, 2013.
I’m surprised there aren’t more messages of condolences from the worst movie makers in Hollywood. It was bad enough Kelin watched those movies, worse that he would drag others into watching them, unforgivable that we would end up quoting lines from those movies when talking to each other. Really, recently I found myself quoting a line from Centipede.
It was all part of Kelin’s world, and we were grateful to be part of it.
I recognize I run the risk of turning this into a roast of Kelin that denies him the last word. Kelin loved the give and take, teasing his friends and being teased for minor mishaps and flaws, the practical jokes. Who will ever forget the time Luis made a sandwich, and when his back was turned, Kelin fed the sandwich to the dog?
Kelin’s motto seemed to be taken from Jane Austen, who wrote,
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
But as much as there was always a back-and-forth of mutual, good-natured digs, Kelin was never as funny as when he made fun of himself.
Kelin could tell a story that would take you down the road of believing it until the implausible ending occurred and you realized that the story was a joke. He was fishing when he saw a snake with a frog in his mouth, or boating when he saw bottle floating on the water, or golfing when he stumbled across a rabbit hole, and we would all follow him in to the punch line.
But it was the most implausible stories that turned out to be true, and led to the rest of us laughing so hard, Kelin right along with us. The stories would inevitably end in disaster for Kelin. How many of us would get an entire new bathroom from a popsicle stick? There was a cottage industry of boat prop manufacturers in northern Wisconsin grateful for Kelin. Who will forget how the new tractor lawnmower sent a rock through the window, wiping out a table of glassware?
He would tell these stories – and they would be completely silly – except that others were there to verify it with details. “When the wave came over the side, I couldn’t see Kelin…”
“And then the life preservers began to inflate…”
But as much as we loved the stories and the joking and the [make face, snap fingers] trivia, there was another side to Kelin that we all loved, and that was the importance of his family. I remember those mornings at camp, Kelin and I stumbling to the cafeteria for that first cup of coffee before anyone else got up. We talked about the boys and our families. It was probably the only time I ever actually liked camp.
Well, that and the moth dip. Nothing like moth dip and the –quote- “Dr Pepper.”
In those mornings when we would get coffee, he would talk about how important his life with Anita, and their marriage, was to him, and he would talk about each of his kids and his hopes for them. It was interesting because in different conversations about each one of the kids he would say, “Well, Jordan is just like me.” “K2? He’s a lot like me.” “Careg is really a lot like me.” “Kiergun is really like me, you know.”
Kelin’s other motto seemed to be, “defend your family, defend your friends.”
He loved his family. That bellow that we often laughed at was also the roar of the male lion protecting his pride, and he was proud of his kids. Woe to them that would wrong his child. Or, for that matter, say the wrong thing to his wife.
He reveled in the company of his friends. There was a warm fire in Kelin that drew us all close. The fire in him was generous and protecting – we can all recount the debts that we owe.
That fire was capable of scaring some people, too, as forces of nature often will. There were those that didn’t understand him or were jealous of the attention he drew. And he could draw attention.
I’ve told the story before how I first met Kelin, but my wife Doreen had a more interesting first impression. When she first saw Kelin, he was beating up a bus in front of the Hadfield School. I mean he was literally taking his hand and pounding the back of the bus because it had blocked him in. Bam! Bam! Bam!
And he was yelling. But the driver, of course, was at the front end of the bus, completely oblivious to the lunatic yelling and putting a dent in the emergency door.
And my wife thought, who is that crazy guy?
Everywhere you went with Kelin, you had to prepare for the attention. Going to a haunted house, he would yell “boo!” to scare people standing in line. (And it worked, too.) He was always ready for an impromptu sing-a-long, like the time he and I sang “Movin on Up” while riding the Demon at Great America.
And then there was scouting. Kelin yelling the words “chicken nuggets” became a legend among ten-year-olds all over Wisconsin. But as loud as that was, it was not nearly as loud as Kelin quietly leading us in to sit at our table in the cafeteria before they let anyone else in. That was a statement. It was, “You have rules, I don’t.”
There was a scout leader at one camp, The Woodchipper, a real martinet, who marched her scouts from one activity to the next, in formation, and in uniform. They would sing every camp song. And we were sitting there watching this, like a scene from the movie MASH. Jim Malone even had his shirt off working on his tan. I turned to Kelin, pointed at the scouts marching along, and said to him, “how come our boys don’t look like that?”
He said, “Do you really want them like that?”
Anyway, we were convinced she had no use for us. But at the end of camp, she came up to Kelin and told him that scout leaders like him really know how to make camp fun for everybody.
Not everything happened at camp, of course. There was the time Kelin was demonstrating to my son, Will, how to safely close a knife – and of course Kelin cut himself. The best part was watching Kelin ask the other scout leader running the class for a band aid.
But if you want to know what he meant to those boys, consider how they put on a play that he and I co-wrote about Frosty the Snowman melting and the scouts wanting to cut off his head to save him. When they took the stage, we didn’t know if it was going to be a disaster or not, but the boys certainly made the play better than the writing. They exceeded our expectations and they learned a lot from Mr. Olson. Think how those boys finished with their Arrows of Light, and how they will always have memories of coming to Mr. Olson’s house on Scout Night. Think of the lifelong friendships that have been forged, even as the boys all left Hadfield.
Now our attention turns to Kelin’s children and his wife that he left behind. We pray for them, and we need to stand by Anita and the four children in this terrible time.
I was not surprised to see the online comments from Kelin’s rugby teammates about what a special player Kelin was. Beyond the physical toughness, and Anita knows exactly how many times Kelin’s nose was broken, it does take a special boldness and mental toughness to put yourself on a rugby field.
Tough, bold, loud, smart, self-aware, generous, such was Kelin’s character, and the example he left for us and for his children.
I’m grateful for the times I had with Kelin. I’m grateful – and honored – he was my friend.
Kelin has gone to “The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns” and in time we will all follow. When the trumpet sounds and, God Willing, Heaven opens for me, I will look for my friend, and I will hear his stories again.