Employee profile: Mike Olson

“Time flies,” was Mike’s summary when asked an opening question about his career.  “And appreciate every day you have.”

Mike Olson is the manager of the Grand Rapids State Agency, the insurance affiliate of Grand Rapids State Bank’s parent company, Wilcox Bancshares.  He has held that job since September 2010.  Prior to that he owned and operated his own insurance agency, the Mike Olson American Family Insurance Agency in Nashwauk for more than 25 years. 

“I was born and raised in Nashwauk,” Mike explained.  “After graduating from Nashwauk-Keewatin High School I attended Hibbing Community College.  I was hired in 1976 to work at Butler Taconite in Nashwauk, one of two taconite plants owned at the time by Hannah Mining Company.  Butler shut down in the mid-1980s and like a lot of people I was left without a job.  Some went to work at National Steel in Keewatin, but many found other jobs.  I opened an insurance agency in my hometown in 1986.”

Mike’s persistence and friendly manner helped him develop a solid client base in the Nashwauk area.  He was elected to the Nashwauk-Keewatin school board in 1995 and to the Nashwauk Chamber of Commerce in 1999; he still is president of the Nashwauk Chamber board. 

In 2010 this native son of Nashwauk decided to try his hand at making a living in Grand Rapids. 

“I inherited a good team here at Grand Rapids State Agency,” said Mike.  “Leona had years of experience and customer knowledge, and Becky’s work ethic is unbelievable. The book of business was solid, and working for an independent agency was a real attraction.”

One of the advantages an independent insurance agency provides its customers is a wide range of choices of companies from which to purchase a policy.  “We work with 30 companies,” said Mike.  “We can almost always match a customer with a company that provides an affordable policy that is best-suited for their needs.”

Mike is “a little busy” with involvement in community and family activities.  He remains president of the Nashwauk Chamber while being a new member of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.  He also serves on the board of the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation and is chair of the board of his church, the Nashwauk Alliance Church.  He is a member of two insurance industry associations, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers. “Other than that, I have nothing much to do,” he quipped.

Nothing to do, that is, except appreciate life every day.  In the fall of 2011, a year after he began work here at the Agency, Mike noticed a sudden onset of aches and pains he had never experienced. “In a matter of days, every joint in my body hurt, and I couldn’t get out of bed without help.  My wrists and hands hurt so bad I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee without two hands.”

“I visited a doctor after a week,” Mike continued, “and the first diagnosis was that I was suffering symptoms of Lyme’s disease or one of the other diseases caused by tick bites.  You don’t get those test results back right away, so I endured a few weeks of pain every day.  I was a wreck.  My knee was swollen like a volleyball.  I couldn’t drive home from Grand Rapids to Nashwauk without falling asleep, so I would drive to Calumet, pull over and limp around until I was awake enough to drive the last 12 miles home. And Wendy, my wife, would have to essentially lift me out of bed every morning.”

These symptoms continued for several weeks until Mike visited a rheumatologist in Duluth just after Thanksgiving 2011.  “I call it a miracle, but after taking one pill on one night, I awoke the next morning to virtually no pain,” explained Mike.   “I can hardly believe it to this day, but the rheumatologist diagnosed my condition as rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammation condition that attacks every joint.  However, thanks to the prescription of medication, I am almost in complete remission. 

“I am an avid bow hunter, and last fall I climbed a large spruce tree five times to help install my deer stand,” said Mike.  “My doctor reminded me that 12 months earlier I couldn’t even walk on my own power.  If it isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.”

Mike’s brush with near-disability has made him appreciate every day and every moment he spends with his family.  He and Wendy have a son, David, and daughter, Tammy, and three grandchildren who all live in the area.

“We spend time together at our hunting shack north of Nashwauk and at our cabin on Lake Vermillion,” said Mike.  “Wendy and I now watch many baseball and soccer games; we’re always running.”

Mike and his son volunteered to offer a local version of a unique national program called Centershot.  This faith-based, 10-week program offers a message about making Christ the center of a person’s life while giving young people a chance to learn archery skills.  “The first time we offered this, we had 39 kids sign up.  Last year, we had more.  Some of the parents couldn’t believe we could hold the attention of that many kids from 4th to 9th grades, but it works.”

Mike’s busy life is sandwiched between his daily round-trip commute of nearly 60 miles.  It gives him time to reflect on “a lot of things.” 

“Grand Rapids is very busy; it’s a bustling community every day all year long,” said Mike.  “The town is progressive and very welcoming to business.  I really enjoy being here.”

Olson grandkids    

Mike's and Wendy's grandkids (left photo): Kaitlin, Daniel, & Meisha.  Right: David and Mike Olson lead a faith-based archery instructional program in Nashwauk for dozens of young people each year. 

 

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