Gordon B. Olson was born on October 19, 1924, the oldest of his three siblings. He grew up in Almont, North Dakota, where he graduated from high school before attending a year at Jamestown College. At this point Olson chose to enlist in the United States Army during World War II. He was present in the Pacific Theatre of war, participating in the Luzon Campaign in the Philippines.
While in the military he was part of the Army Specialist Training Program (ASTP), which trained servicemen in various fields. It was through this program that Olson completed almost three years of college before he was honorably discharged in March of 1946. A year before this Olson had married a teacher he met at his former high school, Carley Yates from New Salem, North Dakota. After marriage and the Army, Olson spent much time working and attending educational facilities. He taught for one year at Belfield, and then taught another year at Almont, perhaps following his new wife as she had worked in both schools.
Olson completed his bachelor’s degree at Dickinson State University, later teaching, coaching, and serving as superintendent to Bucyrus for three years. He then attended the University of North Dakota (UND) where he earned through a test what he believed to be the first Master of Education degree from that university, followed by a doctoral degree. He also attended summer classes at the University of Minnesota. After moving to Spearfish, South Dakota, he worked for a short stint at Black Hills State College where he initiated a graduate level education program. He then came to Dickinson State University in the Fall of 1953. He served as chairman of the Education and Psychology Department, University Chairman, Dean, and finally Vice-President before taking the role of President at Minot State College in 1967.
Olson served as president of Minot State until 1992. He was not only a lifelong devotee of education, but of the community, as embodied in a statement he made to The Red and Green shortly before retirement: “Over the years we’ve developed a much better relationship with the community MSU has serve [sic]. You can call it whatever you want, but the key is how you serve the community.”
He visualized and actively strove to develop Minot State into a greater and expanded institution. During his presidency, enrollment grew from 2000 students to over 3700, with many new programs added, such as social work, nursing, and criminal justice. Additionally, the school experienced a ten-fold increase in graduate programs (from one to ten programs) under his leadership, as well as the construction of a number of buildings including the Dome, Hartnett Hall, and the Amphitheater. But there was one more addition to the school Dr. Olson would help to make real. This building, completed shortly after his retirement, would serve as a tribute to a man who made education his life, and would forever leave a tangible impression on the students of Minot State University.