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2013 Centennial

Gordon Olson (1967-92)

Gordon Olson succeeded Lura in 1967. Born in Almont, Olson grew up in a farming and ranching family. After high school, he spent a year at Jamestown College before enlisting in the U. S. Army during World War II. After his discharge, he completed a bachelor's degree at Dickinson State Teachers College.

Olson taught briefly in Belfield and Amidon and eventually became superintendent of schools in Bucyrus. He later earned master's and doctoral degrees from the University of North Dakota. He returned to Dickinson State to serve as chair of the Department of Education and Psychology. He later became a dean and vice president for academic affairs at the school.

Olson became president of Minot State Teachers College in 1967. Before being hired, he stressed to the Board of Higher Education that growth was the No. 1 item on his agenda.

"I told the board that if they were going to continue with a single mission — that being teacher education — I wasn't interested in the job," Olson said.

For Olson, growth meant additional programs, larger enrollments and better facilities. As an administrator, he was fiscally conservative and politically astute. He saw himself as the CEO of a small business.

The new president faced his first crisis when the Mouse River flooded Minot in the spring of 1969. Over 12,000 residents evacuated their homes in the central third of the city. The floodwaters remained for 40 days, with total damage to the city estimated at $10 million.

The Minot State campus wasn't flooded, but several nearby fraternities and sororities had water in their basements, and residents had to evacuate. Olson cancelled classes for a week, and students helped local residents sandbag and vacate their homes. A 9-foot-high causeway was built on Broadway that served as a north-south link during the crisis. When classes resumed, students commuted to campus via shuttle buses.

The 1970s brought two experimental programs to campus. The New Program involved an intensive study of English and the humanities, modeled after a program at the University of California-Berkeley. The Experimental College stressed that students should take responsibility for their own educations. Both programs folded by the middle of the decade.

The student body began featuring more older students who returned to campus to complete degrees, expand employment opportunities or change careers. To accommodate them, Pioneer Hall was converted to married housing, and the Campus Heights family complex was added in 1984.

The multipurpose Minot State Dome was built in 1980. The 153,000-square-foot arena cost $6.3 million to construct. The 9,600-seat Dome boasted the largest capacity of any arena in the state.

When he became president, Olson and his family lived on campus. He felt like a pastor living in a parsonage next to the church.

"There was never a day off," he said. "I remember a Thanksgiving when we were sitting at the dinner table, and the doorbell rang. A couple of people wanted to get into the dorm. There were many requests like that, and we always accommodated them."

Since the early 1970s, Olson saw the need for a larger library to serve a growing student body. He worked tirelessly on the project, and his patience paid off in 1992. The college unveiled a $7.7 million facility, appropriately named the Gordon B. Olson Library.

"This is definitely a high honor, and I'm still alive," Olson joked at the building's dedication.

During the 1980s, the student body clamored for university status to add value to their degrees. Olson surveyed 2,000 colleges and universities in the nation and concluded that it had a case.

"We're more qualified than a good many of them right now," he said.

The school became a nominal university for a month in 1983, when it was renamed Dakota Northwestern University. But to become a true university, academic units were reorganized into five colleges — arts and sciences, business, education and human services, nursing and graduate school. In 1987, the school first became the State University of North Dakota-Minot (SUND-M) and then Minot State University.

When he retired, Olson had achieved the growth he had envisioned. Enrollment had increased from 2,000 in 1967 to 3,700 in 1992. Undergraduate majors had been added in nursing, social work and criminal justice. Graduate offerings had increased from one to 10. To enhance the arts, the MSU Amphitheater was built at the start of the decade, and Hartnett Hall was added in 1973. Lura Manor, the school's first coed dorm, was completed in 1986.