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a True Life-Long Modeler celebrated
Daughter follows in father's aeromodeling footsteps.
By Aimee (Olson) Bagley and Linda Kegal.

Mike Olson of Fargo, North Dakota, recently passed away from a 9 1/2 month battle with Pancreatic cancer. He will be greatly missed as one of the control line modeling pioneers in our community. As one of the charter members of the F-M Skylarks Model Airplane Club in the early 1950's, he saw the model airplane hobby go from homemade stick and tissue models to jet-propelled speed planes to massive quarter, third, half-scale radio-controlled models and beyond. One thing never changed for Mike, and that was his love of the hobby and how he loved to share it with his family.

Mike began flying when he was about ten years old, with the help and support of his parents, Seymour and Pat Olson. Soon he flew with friends in the neighboring towns of Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota. Always a tinkerer by nature and an inventor by necessity, Mike could make almost anything out of almost nothing. He enjoyed designing, building and constantly improvinghis model airplanes. His interest and passion led his father, Seymour, into becoming involved in the hobby as well. Seymour and his brother, Luther owned a local concrete construction business. With Seymour's help and the cooperation of the Fargo Park District, a flying field was designed and created. Seymour poured two concrete runways on Park District land by the Red River, and shortly thereafter, the F-M Skylarks Model Airplane Club was born. Early members of the FM Skylarks were Lee Steedsman, a local hobby shop owner, Pete Mazur, Roger Olsen (no relation), Seymour and Mike. Over the years, the FM Skylarks along with the help of the Fargo Park District, improved the field to include two asphalt flying circles, a concrete Carrier deck, a large grass circle for Combat, and many beautiful trees. The site is still used today and is maintained beautifully by the Fargo Park district.

As Mike grew older, he and his father, and later his younger brother, Jack attended many model meets and Nationals across the country. Some of the contests they attended were: Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba; Jamestown, Minot, Grand Forks and Bismarck, North Dakota; Minneapolis, St. Paul, Mankato, Alexandria and St. Cloud, Minnesota; Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs, Iowa; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and St. Louis, Missouri. Mike's family also attended the NATs in Chicago, numerous times, as well as Los Alamedas, California; Olathe, Kansas; Willow Grove, Pennsylvania; and Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

As time went on, Mike and Seymour became interested in control line jet Speed models. At the time they began, jets were in their beginning stages, and Mike and Seymour's innovations were cutting edge technology. When they attended the NATs one year, no one else had ever tried using pressure on jet engines. On their first official flight, Mike and has dad, Seymour, pulled out a jet set up with a pressurized engine. Mike was in the pylon, ready to fly, and Seymour started the jet. The resulting scream from the jet had people scurrying from all over to see what the commotion was. Needless to say, they were the hit of the NATs that year. They also had a unique way of telling different fuel mixtures apart - they dyed them different colors. People saw the colored fuel and initially thought that was what made the pressurized jet engine perform so well. Mike and Seymour kept meticulous records of temperature, humidity, wind, barometric pressure, fuel type, plane, dolly and everything else so they could go back to their log book and make adjustments to their equipment to mimic times when they had optimum results. One of Mike's innovations was to engineer many different back plates for his jet engines, each a little different in curvature resulting in being able to "tune" the jet just right for any condition. Mike placed 1st and 2nd at the NATs in the late 60's and early 70's a few times, and also held the national jet speed record for a year. The fastest Mike's jet was clocked at was just under 200 miles per hour in the early 80's. Mike, Seymour and Jack were all nationally competitive in Jet Speed for more than a decade.

Brother Jack mentions that Mike also won the North Dakota Air Youth State Championship (US Navy sponsored competition) in 1959 and he was rewarded with an all-expense paid trip to the 1959 Navy Nationals in Los Alamedas, California. A humorous side note is that the 17 year-old Mike ended up getting his picture taken with a young, up and coming film actress named Jill St. John. Mike always remembered that photo opportunity and had fun telling people about the time he got to stand next to Jill St. John!
Mike met his future wife, Bonnie, at Minnesota State University, Moorhead,Minnesota in 1960. After they married and had three daughters, his family all learned to fly model airplanes. A remarkable sight at the Skylarks field was seeing little Abbie in her dad's arms flying a model before she was barely walking! Mike didn't see having girls instead of boys as being a hindrance to having his kids learn to fly. A school teacher by profession, Mike loved teaching his hobby to his family, and later to his school students. As a summer school class for several years, Mike took groups of junior high kids to the flying field and taught them all to fly. They learned the basics of building, starting their engines and flying the models. Several of the students remained modelers as they became adults, and some of them still return to the annual contest held by the Skylarks each summer.

All three of the Olson girls, Aimee, the oldest, Abbie the middle daughter, and Annie the youngest, became proficient flyers, with Combat becoming the event of choice for the family. While their friends were going to the lakes and riding their bikes and competing in sports, the Olson girls were at the flying field with Mike, practicing Combat. The family, along with Grandpa Seymour and Grandma Pat, went to many out of town contests and numerous NATs together. Some of the NATs the Olsons went to were Olathe, Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska (twice); Reno, Nevada; Chicopee, Massachusetts and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

At the Lincoln NATs in the '80's, Mike flew as an Open, Aimee as a Senior and Abbie as a Junior. They all competed in 1/2A combat, and each placed highly in their own category. Mike was so excited that the Olson family had almost made a clean sweep in 1/2A combat at the NATs that year!

After winters spent in the basement building Combat ships, summers were spent at the flying field or on the road to various meets. Mike's summer job, working for the family's concrete construction company helped finance their many excursions.

When Mike and Bonnie's girls were grown and got married and began having families of their own, Mike took on the role of teacher once again. Aimee's husband, John Bagley, and their children, Haley and Donald all came under Mike's teaching and have become confident flyers. Annie's husband, Rob Boser, and young son Sam are also flying and have competed in the Fargo contest. No one was more thrilled than Mike when he was able to initiate yet another generation of his family into the joys of model flight.

From 1956 on, the F-M Skylarks have held the Red River Valley Championships each summer. For many of those years, Mike was the co-contest director with his dad, Seymour, until his death in 1999. The contest was sanctioned as an AAA event by AMA for many years, and more recently, an AA event. However, the contest continues to attract modelers from as far away as Winnipeg, Manitoba; Wichita, Kansas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Aurora, Illinois; Las Vegas, Nevada and other states. Because of Mike and Seymour's good working relationship with the Park District, the club has maintained a premiere flying site and community interest.

Jeff Johnson, Wichita, KS, with Mike Olson, Fargo, ND at the 2012 F-M Skylarks Contest.

Jeff and Mike at the 2012 F-M Skylarks Contest.

Mike Olson, Fargo, ND, with grandson Sam Boser, Fargo, ND at the 2012 F-M Skylarks Contest

A deeply spiritual man, Mike also participated in the Flyer's Chapel on the Sunday mornings of the two-day Skylarks contest weekends. Mike had a beautiful singing voice, and would often sing a cappella hymns as part of our service. Mike's last Skylarks contest was in July of 2012. He was quite ill, but he wanted to be at the flying field, flying and judging Combat and serving as contest director one last time. He got to fly a round of Combat with Jeff Johnson, one of his former summer students and Combat nemesis. The grins on their faces said it all - the joy of competition and friendship.

Some of the greatest lessons Mike taught his family through participating in model airplanes were not to be afraid to try new things, to be competitive, to believe in their potential, to work hard for success in modeling and in life, to be honest and fair, to use tools and make things with their hands, and most important, to spend time doing things you enjoy with the people you love. Mike left a legacy in the model airplane community, filled with passion for the sport and deep relationships that will continue for years to come. He found joy in participating in model airplanes and passed that joy along to others. Even though he loved his hobby, the most important things to him were faith, family and friendships.

Since Mike's death last summer from pancreatic cancer, his daughter Aimee has become certified as a contest director and will step into his role as Co-CD for the Skylarks contest this summer. The 57th Annual Red River Valley Championships will be held this summer on July 27th and 28th, in Fargo, North Dakota, and will be flown in memory of Mike Olson.

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