Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Love for dance, love for life

 

November 8, 2018

Provided photo

Ernie and Verna Olson have been married for 61 years as of October 26 and have been dancing together since they started going steady.

Fun and great exercise, that's what Ernie and Verna Olson of Moose Lake have been teaching in dance the last few years.

"It keeps us busy and keeps us moving," said Verna in an interview in their home recently.

"There are 30 or 40 steps in some of the dances," added Ernie. "That keeps you mentally healthy."

Both Ernie and Verna are octogenarians. Ernie is 84 and Verna is 83.

Ernie loved to dance long before he met Verna.

"I danced at the Star Club every Saturday night from when I was a sophomore," he recalled.

"After I met Ernie, my sister asked me if I liked to dance," said Verna. "She told me that I had better learn if I was going to go with Ernie."

"We've been pretty fortunate to be able to keep on dancing," added Ernie.

The couple has been dancing together since 1957. They just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary on Oct. 26.

Ernie grew up near Moose Lake. After graduating from Moose Lake High School in 1952, he spent the next two years working on the ore boats that sailed the Great Lakes.

He then served as a gunnery sergeant for two years in the U.S. Army. He served at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at Fort Benning in Georgia, and Fort Polk in Louisiana.

"I was drafted during the Korean conflict," he said. "We had a gun that weighed 80 tons. We didn't take it over there because it was designed for Europe, not rice paddies."

It was when he was home on leave he met Verna.

"I was on the beach, minding my own business," he said.

"He was beachcombing," Verna interjected.

Verna was one of the nursing students who came to the Moose Lake State Hospital for psychiatric training. She, like nearly 100 other nursing students, found her mate in Moose Lake.

"I graduated from nursing school from St. Luke's," Verna explained. "I also took other nursing courses at St. Scholastica. I grew up in Fertile, Minnesota."

Verna spent those early years as a nurse at Lutheran Deaconess, Abbot Northwestern and the Anoka State Hospital in the Twin Cities area. And then she came to Mercy Hospital for two years before she started nursing at the Moose Lake State Hospital. She spent over 40 years in nursing.

"I learned more about myself at the state hospital," she said. "I worked in chemical dependency, geriatrics, as the infection control coordinator and with affirmative action. I was the first to start a program on wellness. The state had mandated every hospital had to have a health and wellness program."

Ernie was also employed at the state hospital as an engineer running the boilers for the heating and cooling system, where he remained until he retired. With his service time, it added up to 32 years, he said.

"I had thought about going into veterinary medicine," he said, "but I decided to go a different direction and use the chief engineer's license I had earned on the boats."

The couple raised three children, have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

After finishing their careers, retirement included winters in Florida.

"There, you could dance twice a day," said Ernie.

Since both loved dancing, it was easy to get involved and then to teach dance.

"We started taking lessons in Duluth in the 1980s," Verna said. "In Florida, we took lessons for the rumba, waltz, fox trot, cha-cha and numerous line dances."

There, they had a dance instructor whose father owned the Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

"Later, I taught a lot of line dancing at the clubhouse in Florida," Verna continued. "I started at the Highbanks Marina, a campground where we used to stay, and did that for two winters. Ernie's mother, Frances, lived with us. She enjoyed that."

"My parents had been known as the Dancing Olsons," Ernie said. "They could dance to the Twelfth Street Rag, Darktown Shutters Ball and do jitterbugs."

As their love of teaching dancing continued, they brought their skills back to Moose Lake during the spring, summer and fall. Two years ago, they taught a group at the Methodist Church.

"We called ourselves the Joyful Soles," said Verna.

And they danced in the bandshell in the park this summer.

"The band was out on the grass," she said. "We danced on the stage."

"We are always willing to entertain," said Ernie. "We just do it for fun.

"We donate any money that we earn from Community Ed classes to Dollars for Scholars for scholarships for Moose Lake students who are going into music or nursing. We contribute anonymously."

Provided photo

Verna's line dance class in Florida.

The couple has taught community ed classes in Moose Lake and had just finished a class in East Coast Swing.

"We had 22 of us dancing on the big stage in the new auditorium," said Ernie. "We showed them 10 or 15 steps. We could have showed them more."

"It was more than a beginner's class," added Verna. "It went on for four weeks and included steps beyond the beginner's class. Our group ranged in age from 13 to 84. We were at the top."

"Some of the participants have taken all three of the classes that we have taught," said Ernie. "They have us signed up to teach dance again next year but we are not sure which dance it will be yet."

"It's so much fun when the participants are enthusiastic and want to learn," said Verna. "Every day we give thanks to God for our blessings."

 

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