If scrapbooks are a way of tangibly showing what we've done, how far we've come, and what it took to get there, and Mary Lou Olson has one to show us. It's a scrapbook she created while pursuing a lifelong goal. It just took some living to get to the right time. Changes in her personal life motivated Mary Lou to take a risk and travel down a new and exciting career path, which then inspired her to create the scrapbook. Mary Lou was 50.

Archived Story

Couponing to the extreme

Published 12:34pm Thursday, February 7, 2013 Updated 12:34pm Thursday, February 7, 2013

Until 1996, Mary Lou Olson was a busy, family-centered mom and wife, living in Willmar, MN and working in various clerical and accounts receivable positions, usually involved with the medical field. She was part of a team when she worked with WIC (Women, Infants and Children Program), and the team included a nurse. Mary Lou enjoyed the work but found herself always wishing she was that nurse.

When the tides in Mary’s life changed, her children were raised and her marriage ended in divorce, she decided it was her time. “When my son was in medical school, I thought, ‘I can take a breath – it’s my turn.’” In 1997, Mary Lou tested the waters and took a few random medical classes at Ridgewater College in Willmar and discovered something: “I found out I could do it,” she said. Mary Lou says the hardest part (at first) was being the oldest in her class. Once while in a hospital setting with her instructor and other students, a patient asked if she was the teacher in the group. This “out of place” feeling was temporary. “After you’re working together, then you’re all the ‘same age,’” Mary Lou stated. Three semesters later, in December of 1999, Mary Lou proudly graduated with high honors, earning her LPN licensure.

Following graduation, Mary Lou moved to Fergus Falls to be near her sister and niece. She sensed that being a nurse in a clinic setting was her calling, but despite being hired at Fergus Falls Medical Group immediately as a “floater,” it was not the right fit, in part because the role did not come with full benefits. Instead Mary Lou took a position at the Pioneer Home for about a year. This was certainly meant to be, as there she met and fell in love with Chaplain Harry Olson. The lovebirds married and Mary Lou quips she was then blessed with “two bonus daughters.”

In 2002 Mary Lou began working at the Fergus Falls Medical Group clinic with Dr. Sean Larson. For the next 4 years she worked in that capacity. During that time, in 2005, Mary Lou went on a two week mission trip, traveling as a medical chaperone with First Lutheran Church of Fergus Falls youth (a trip they make every 3 years) to Arusha, Tanzania. Their focus was visiting the Maasai Girls’ Lutheran Secondary School and Selian Hospital. Mary Lou recalled, “We did some hospice visits, and it was very emotional visiting patients with HIV.” She recalled the mud huts and primitive methods of soothing patients – such a contrast to what we are accustomed to. “The nurses did what they could. We sang hymns to the patients; we observed, prayed, and immersed ourselves in their culture,” she remembered.

Mary Lou settled into her final nursing position in 2007, when Dr. Patricia Lindholm was in need of a nurse, and Mary Lou fit the bill. Impressed by Dr. Lindholm’s dedication to patients and her strong positive involvement with the political sides of the medical field, Mary Lou found her niche. In June of 2010, Dr. Lindholm and Mary Lou dove into unchartered waters and were the “guinea pigs” when the clinic moved from paper charts to electronic health records, something Mary Lou had always hoped she would be able to see come to fruition. This innovation was exciting and soon extended throughout the rest of Family Medicine and then all of the Fergus Falls Medical Group within a year. Mary Lou stated, “It’s been an honor and privilege to have worked for Lake Region Healthcare and Dr. Lindholm.”

December of 2012 brought retirement for this go-getter. She said it’s because she wanted to slow down and with a chuckle added, “I wanted to take a coffee break once in awhile.” Retired or not, it didn’t sound like she’d be slowing down much. Mary Lou looked forward to becoming more involved in numerous volunteering opportunities, at the Pioneer Home, MN Responds (a program she is already a member of through Otter Tail County Public Health), Operation Bootstrap, and possibly the Red Cross.

Mary Lou has some advice for anyone thinking about pursuing a new path later in life. “No matter what age you are, education is paramount to advancing your career. Try a class or two – something that would be fun and another that might be challenging and you’ll have a better feel for taking that next step,” she urges.

At the age of 50, Mary Lou followed her heart and made her dream her reality for 16 years. Her scrapbook is a tangible way of showing what she’s done, how far she’s come, and what it took her to get there.


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