Monday, 13 June 2016

Class of '91

This Saturday was my 25 year class reunion for my University of Alberta graduation from the Dental Hygiene Program.

Back in the day, 42 of us

14 of us reminiscing together

We had a private room at Sorrentinos downtown Edmonton, and we basically just laughed for 3 solid hours.

I didn't buy a yearbook, so I had no idea of the transformation from first year to second year, haha. My good friend Lanna and I got switched in the second year book - we must have spent so much time together that people could no longer tell us apart?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Ken's Tribute to his Dad

Biography of Harry Olson

We’re here to celebrate the life of my father Harry Olson who passed away on June 3 at the age of 74. This was coincidentally the same day that Muhamad Ali died also at the age of 74. I reference this because growing up as a young boy in the 70’s I vividly remember watching Ali fight highlights on Wide World of Sports with my dad and Howard Cosell and debating who was a better fighter. (I always rooted for Ken Norton just because of the first name)

My Dad was born February 15, 1942 in Grande Prairie AB, he was the only child of Kenneth & Mildred Olson. His mother was born and lived in Watino AB, a town consisting of a few houses and a general store that his grandfather owned and ran along the CP Rail track.His father was born and raised in Hillspring AB where his father worked on the church ranch. At the time of my dad’s birth my grandfather worked for Alberta Grain running a grain elevator. He only lived in Grande Prairie for a few years and then moved back to Cardston where my grandfather got a job at the grain elevator and which allowed them to be close to his extended family.

Although neither of my grandparents attended church, a neighbor from across the street always took my dad to church with her and her family.

My grandfather died unexpectedly when my dad was 6 years old and soon afterwards my dad and grandmother moved back to Watino to live with her family over the corner store. Although this was the later 1940’s at the time, living in such a rural area meant experiencing life from a previous era. For example:
  • They had no indoor plumbing which meant using an outhouse in the winter in northern Alberta
  • He attended school in a one room school house where grades 1-9 were taught. The oom was heated with a wood burning stove and in the winter they had to alternate between sitting close to the stove which was hot or sitting close to the windows which was cold. He tells of putting 22 shells on the hot stove which would then shoot up into the ceiling
When he was 9 years old his mother recognized that while the support of her family was good, she wanted my dad to grow up in a larger community and one that had an LDS church that at his request he could attend and be baptized even though she was not a member. So she decided to move to Picture Butte AB (just northeast of Lethbridge) to live next to her sister-in-law Edna Gehmlich whose husband had also recently passed away. The backyards of their homes were just yards apart and my Dad and his mother and his aunt and two cousins – Mark & Charlotte – essentially lived as a family unit. Living in Picture Butte was a typical small town Canadian life. Playing hockey on frozen ponds in the winter, playing baseball in the summer. What was not typical for my Dad was that he skipped the 2nd grade. This meant he was always the youngest kid in the class and often struggled to keep up physically, although he continued to excel academically.

As a kid I was always told about how my dad skipped a grade and was at the top of his class, but when I was in high school I found a box of my dad’s old memoirs which included some report cards from high school. It turned out that being the top of his class in Picture butte in the late 1950’s meant getting grades in the low 70’s and high 60’s. As I was generally doing better than this at the time I thought I’d found a real treasure that I could use to throw back at him when he question me about my grades. However that strategy really didn’t work out that well for me as I could never adequately answer the question – “have you skipped any grades?”

My grandmother was a very hard working and determined individual, but she never made much money. They never had a car and the first TV they ever owned was purchased with money my dad had earned from delivering newspapers. As a youth he worked at many jobs to earn spending money which was where he learned many trade skills including plumbing and electrical work. Growing up I always assumed that everyone – whether they worked blue collar or white collar jobs could wire their own house, run copper pipe for plumbing or change the brake pads on your car. It was only later in life when I was feeling inadequate about my own lack of skills that I learned not everyone can do this or more importantly even wants to do these things. My Father tried to pass many of these skills onto his sons. I have vivid memories of working in the garage when I was a younger kid helping bleed brakes, gap spark plugs and change the oil. When we developed our basement when I was a teenager I was paid $5/hr to work alongside the contractor and dry walled, mudded, sanded and painted my bedroom. He was always looking for opportunities to teach us and help us develop.

Growing up with very little money made my Dad appreciate everything he had. Anyone who has ever seen his garage knows that he didn’t like to throw anything out. He felt that everything could be reused and had some intrinsic value – if not to him, to someone else. A casual observer today might mistakenly think he was an early environmentalist with a strong “reuse” philosophy. However anyone who ever changed the oil in his car with him back in the 70’s & 80’s would know that wasn’t the case as he used the old oil to kill the weeds in the back alley. I still don’t think anything grows back there.

When he graduated from High School in 1957 he moved to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta. While in school and in the summers he worked for OK Construction building roads around Edmonton. He was the math guy. Back then there were no computers or calculators so all the calculations had to been done by hand or in your head which he excelled at. This job allowed him to pay for his education, pay for a mission and buy his own car after he returned home. Interestingly – his first car was a used 1963 Volvo 554 which was soon followed by a new 1966 Volvo Canadian. Both were unique cars for the time, considering it was the heyday of American muscle cars. I think that this is somewhat telling of his personality – in that he was his own man and shied away from the main stream while still being safe and prudent and practical. As a teenager I remember finding a file that had vehicle purchase quotes for both a Pontiac Firebird and a late 1960’s Sunbeam Alpine Tiger and shaking my head trying to figure out why he bought a Volvo instead.

After his first year of school at U of A he left to serve a mission in the Western Canadian Mission which essentially took in all of BC. He spent most of his time in the Vancouver area. In his own words he was very unprepared to be a missionary. The challenges he faced caused him to develop a strong relationship with God through his study, personal introspection and spiritual experiences.

After his mission he returned to Edmonton to resume both his studies and work with OK Construction. He also moved into a house that he shared with a number guys including – Ron Komm, Ken Komm, Cal Stewart and others. The friendships he made then were life long and he often spoke fondly of the great experience he had there. One story I’ve heard more than once – was how once a week these young men would invite young women from other houses and apartments to come and cook them dinner in their home. The context of the account was that it was considered a privilege for these women to be able to do this. I’m sure if you spoke to some of them today the story might be somewhat different from their perspective. But such was life in the early 60’s.

While at University his first declared major was Honors Mathematics. My Dad was very much like John D Rockefeller in that he could do both simple and complex math in his head and do it quickly. This was actually the bane of my childhood as my brain does not work this way, but I was often asked while we would be working together “add 3 6/7ths to 2 3/8ths.” At first this would cause me to freeze but soon I developed great estimating skills since there was no way I was going to figure that kind of math out in my head. I know my brothers and sister also shared the same experience and suffer the same math-induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After a year of majoring in math, my Dad transferred into the Commerce program at the U of A. In 1965 he began dating my Mom and they eventually got engaged in early 1966 and married in July 1966. My mother was quite a popular young lady during her college years – as she was never without a date and had many suitors. I think some of their friends wondered what she saw in my Dad that caused her to fall in love with him instead of them. This is especially true when you learn that on their first date they went motor biking on small tote bikes – no helmets of course since it was 1965 – my Dad did a wheelie sending my mom off the back of the bike and knocking her unconscious. She says she awoke to see my Dad hovering above her getting ready to do CPR. So she jumped up declaring herself just fine. It was another six months
before they had their second date.

During this same summer, my Dad obtained his pilot’s license, graduated from University and purchased the aforementioned Volvo. He loved flying but never flew again claiming that being married cost him too much money. I think in reality he just couldn’t justify spending what little money they had on himself versus on the both of them together. After graduating in 1966 he took a job with the Accounting firm of Peat Marwick Mitchell in Calgary. His original motivation was simply to learn how a business works and gain experience while he figured out what he wanted to do versus actually becoming an accountant.

After working for a few years he decided that since he had the work experience he might as well write the CA exam so he quickly set about to studying for the exam. He was a little behind on the process and so used every available minute to study. At the time he & my Mom were living in an apartment on Northmount Drive and 14th Street and he would study at home after work and on the weekends. It was summer time and most apartments didn’t have air conditioning at that time so the windows were always open. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that there was cat with distemper wandering in the alley below them who continuously screeched in pain. The noise was both deafening and annoying. Finally after several phone calls to the SPCA to come and get the cat – with no action taken – and under the stress of studying – he decided to take matters into his own hands and took his 22 calibre rifle out onto the balcony and shot the cat and then went back to studying. Certainly not something you could get away with today. His studying proved sufficient and he passed the UFE in July of 1968 and was awarded his Chartered Accountant designation in September of the same year. In the subsequent year he began his focus in Taxation – which he would do for the next 30 years of his career.

As an articling student with Peat Marwick he didn’t make much money. However the thrift and frugality that he learned as a youth saw my parents through. I think my dad was actually genetically wired to be an accountant as even when he was first married he kept immaculate books for their personal household. Every cent was tracked on 14 column paper using double entry accounting and every future cent was budgeted for. My mom tells of how my dad was unhappy to receive a hammer as a gift on his birthday as it wasn’t in the budget. This discipline however, not only helped guide them in their daily life but it also was instrumental in the purchase of their first home. When they went and met with the bank to get a mortgage for their first house, the lender reviewed the request for the mortgage against his annual earnings and denied their request. However my dad then pulled out his 14 column books and his budget and proceeded to demonstrate how his budget showed he could handle the mortgage payments and he could demonstrate through the tracking of his expenses that he could in turn manage to the budget. The lender apparently had never seen such meticulous books and in turn approved my dad for the mortgage of his first home in Oakridge - which at the time was on the edge of Calgary.

Now while from afar such disciplined record keeping seems both admirable and desired, but it took some time for his children to see the merits of it. Once we as kids started earning any kind of money – paper routes etc, we too were given our own 14 column paper and taught double entry accounting. None of us were too enthusiastic about it, but in order to get our allowance paid, we had to provide my Dad with our books for review. The process usually went something like:
  • Dad can I get my allowance?
  • Is your accounting up to date and balanced?
  • Um – I don’t know (as we would then disappear into our rooms for an hour)
  • In our rooms we would look in our wallets - $20
  • Compare that to the $45 closing balance at the last review
  • Try to bridge the gap

What this really taught us was creative accounting or how to “cook the books”. I got so good at this that I would even use different colour pens to record estimated expenses so it looked like I had been keeping track in real time. Thankfully he never actually audited us as there wasn’t a receipt to be found. In hindsight I’m sure he knew exactly what we were doing but recognized the value in us going through the process. Despite his natural inclination towards being the stereo-typical accountant – he offset that with some unexpected behavior – such as driving a corvette.

In 1969 my Dad joined Bob Bowhay in starting a dedicated Tax department within the firm. In 1971 my Dad moved our family to Toronto for 9 months so that he could participate in a specialized taxation program. I have a few memories of living in North York as a 3 year old including taking the subway with my Mom into the city. (It gave me nightmares for years
afterwards) Prior to returning to Calgary he purchased a 1972 Oldsmobile 88 two door convertible which we then drove home to Calgary. The trip was highlighted by my discovery as a 4 year old of the automatic truck release button that was in the glovebox which I pressed on an interstate highway somewhere in the mid-west at 1 in the morning. Which reminds me - I don’t actually remember ever hearing my father curse in anger.

At this same time in the 1970’s the Oil & Gas industry in Alberta was experiencing exponential growth which created a need for oil & gas taxation experts. My Dad took advantage of this opportunity and became a leading expert on Canadian resource taxation. Much of the current tax code that pertains to oil & gas taxation my Dad had a hand in developing either through consultation with various levels of government or through creative tax planning that resulted in rules and amendments that had to be written. In 1976 my father was admitted as a partner with Peat Marwick, and in 1982 he became the partner in charge of the Calgary tax practice – which at that time was second only in size in Canada to Toronto.

As a member of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants we was also:
  • a member of the Tax Course Committee in the early 1980’s
  • Creator, and lecturer of the Advanced Oil & Gas Taxation in-residence course
  • A member of the Joint Income Tax Committee of the CICA and Canadian Bar Association

And was a member of numerous other tax committees and foundations.

One of the more significant projects he worked on in the early 1980’s was as a member of the Canadian Petroleum Association Sub-Committee where he was on the Task Force to design a new National Energy Program for the Trudeau government. Ultimately the government committee reviewed the Task Force report and chose to disregard most of it and instead implemented their own National Energy Program. As we know this led to a significant recession in western Canada and completely infuriated my Dad. As a result we were never allowed to gas up at the government owned Petro Canada gas stations after that. [After the government finally sold their remaining shares in Petro Canada he softened his stance somewhat] The only time I remember stopping at a Petro Canada was late one evening in a small town when my little brothers really needed to use a restroom. All the gas stations were closed in the town so my Dad instructed my brothers to just go on the side of the Petro Canada building.

Throughout his career, my Dad was an active volunteer in the community including volunteering as a treasurer or secretary to a number of non-profit organizations including the Calgary Fish Creek PC Constituency Association.

Looking back on his career and through discussion with his peers it is clear that he was an example of hard work, integrity, and professionalism. I believe he experienced the greatest fulfilment in his career by mentoring others and seeing their growth and development versus developing great tax planning strategies. I imagine some people may have not enjoyed working with him at times as he did set high standards, but I believe everyone respected him for it as he would never ask anything of a person that he was not willing to do himself.

I think what also made him successful was the approach he took with his clients. He did not see them as source of revenue, but rather he developed friendships with many of them and felt personally invested in helping them and their companies succeed. I remember as a 10-12 year old kid accompanying my Dad at the end of April to deliver JC Anderson’s personal tax return to him at home where he sat with him to explain everything to him. I was certainly bored! What made this experience memorable however was afterwards when JC showed us some of his new horses by driving us around in his fields in his new Mercedes. I didn’t know who this guy was but I thought he was a little crazy treating that car like an old pickup truck.

My Dad had numerous interests but I would say few true hobbies. He was always a fan of hockey, we listened to games on the radio when driving or working in the garage. He became an even bigger fan once the Flames became one of his clients. He also always seemed interested in whatever sport or interest we as kids were into. During the basketball years he would watch the NBA and knew who the players were and what the standings were. When one of us was into F1 racing he knew the teams, the circuits and watched the races. Same goes for the Tour de France, Boxing, Rodeo, NFL football, Baseball etc.

In hindsight what he was really interested in were his kids, friends and wife. And so our interests became his interests. Even at a professional level I believe his affinity for hockey and the Flames organization had much more to do with the people he knew than a love of the sport. He often spoke highly of his association with individuals like Clare Ryeson, Harley
Hotchkiss and Darryl & Doc Seaman. (And I’m sure there are many others that I’m not aware of) He enjoyed big game hunting – but only if he was hunting with his boys and/or his good friend Merrill Whitehead. It was Merrill’s friendship that he really enjoyed and valued versus the hunting itself. The same goes for bird hunting with his friend Ron Guza. [And anyone else he hunted or fished with]

One of my mother’s greatest hobbies & interests is travelling, and I would call my Dad the reluctant traveler. By that I mean he enjoyed it but just not near as much as my mom does. What he really did enjoy however was seeing her joy in their travels. Having had the privilege of traveling with them to Ireland a few times I witnessed this first hand. He saw much of world either through work or with my mom including:
  • Most of Europe, including spending months in Ireland at my Moms' request
  • South Africa & Zimbabwe
  • China
  • Israel
  • Egypt
  • Most of the US states and Canadian provinces
They rarely travelled totally alone as they often went with friends, searched out and met distance relatives whom they’d never met before, or brought kids along with them. One of the greatest family memories we all have was the “big trip” we took. This was a road trip my dad planned in 1984 which saw 7 of us drive from Calgary to Winnipeg, then down through Chicago and then east through Canada & the US all the way to the Maritimes. From there down the eastern coast to DC and then back through the central US to Salt Lake and back home – all over a 6 week period. The motivation for this trip was twofold: (i) to enjoy each other’s company and grow closer together as a family (ii) to visit as many church history sites as possible along the way to strengthen our testimonies of the restored church. We went to the sacred grove, Kirtland Ohio, Liberty Jail, Nauvoo and followed the Mormon trail to Salt Lake. The trip was successful on both fronts. To this day we still reference “the big trip” when we are together and some of the experiences at the church historical sites were indeed testimony builders. My Dad always tried to ensure that everything fun that we did also had a greater purpose.

One of his greatest joys in life was the service he rendered in the church. I believe he enjoyed this service for two reasons:
  • First because of his abundant faith in Jesus Christ and the knowledge that he had that he was engaged in the Lord’s work, and
  • Second because of the friendships and associations he made.

While living in Oakridge in the 70’s we attended the Glenmore Ward (or congregation) where he was able serve as a young men’s president and as a counsellor in the Bishopric. Many of the friends he & my mom made in those years endure today as most of the members of the congregation were not originally from Calgary but were young families with roots from southern Alberta. The ward itself became their family and those bonds grew strong.

In 1977 our family moved from Oakridge to Parkland where we got to participate in the creation of the Calgary South Stake. The first stake president was Dil Robertson, who perhaps unbeknownst to him became an early mentor for my Father. As my Dad grew up without a father at home he looked to great men as examples he could follow – and he considered Dil one of these men. My Dad had the opportunity to serve in a number of stake callings while Dil was the president, including High Councillor and stake auditor and developed a great friendship and admiration him.

In the early 1990’s my Dad served as Bishop of the Parkland ward (a volunteer leader of a congregation for approximately 5 years). While it was difficult juggling the demands of his work with another 20-40 hrs of weekly church service, he loved serving in the role. What I believe he loved most of all was helping people and building deep and lasting relationships with the members in their congregation. Over this past week our family has received many letters, emails and phone calls from current and previous ward members telling of how my Dad influenced and helped and mentored them.

With his retirement in 1999 from KPMG my Dad turned his focus to church service at the Temple. He and my mom starting serving in the Cardston temple every Friday. This meant leaving early in the morning and getting home to Calgary very late. Given the amount of time my parents were spending in Cardston they purchased a place just west of Cardston which we referred to as the Ranch. It was a quarter section of land with a house, trailer, small lake, and a great tobogganing hill. My Dad used this land for him and a partner to run about 70 head of cattle, which allowed him to indulge in his love of the western life (without the day-to-day demands of ranching) Although to some it may have seemed like endless chores maintaining a second home, my Dad really enjoyed puttering through projects. He wasn’t a fast worker but he worked meticulously through all kinds of projects with the precision and analysis of a tax accountant. We had many great family gatherings at the ranch, most of which involved competitive shooting, BBQ’s and temple attendance. He took great pleasure having his family around for fun but mostly importantly attending the temple. While serving in the temple in Cardston my Dad was asked to be a shift coordinator which he really enjoyed as it was an opportunity for him to use his critical thinking and analytic skills within the temple. He planned each shift with enough thought and analysis to launch a space shuttle.

In October 2012 when the Calgary temple opened, my parents moved their service closer to home and became Calgary temple workers. In 2014 he was asked to serve as an assistant recorder at the temple which is an administrative role that allowed him to further use his organizational and critical thinking skills. In February 2015 my Dad was called by President Bennett to be a as a sealer in the temple. As a sealer he would be empowered to perform marriages in the temple that are both recognized legally by the province for this mortal life and eternally in the next life. At this time he had recently learned of his cancer diagnosis but had not shared that with anyone except my mom and us kids. So he explained to President Bennett that he had recently been diagnosed with cancer and questioned if he should still be called. President Bennett assured him that he didn’t think would be an issue as it was a calling from the Lord not Blair Bennett. When my Dad was set apart a sealer in March of 2015 he received a blessing from President Bennett that as long as my Dad was Sealer, he would not experience any pain from his cancer. Shortly following being set apart my Dad performed his first marriage ceremony in the Bountiful Utah temple marrying my daughter Jaclyn in May of 2015. The following week he then performed the marriage of my nephew Ross in the Cardston temple. Shortly thereafter he began receiving treatments for the cancer which severely limited his ability to continue serving in the temple. Through his entire battle with cancer he never did experience any pain – not even a headache. This was a surprise to his health care workers – but not to him as he recognized the hand of the Lord directly in his life. We don’t know why he was so blessed, when others who are also of great faith have to suffer, but we very grateful for such a blessing in his life and recognize the direct link between the blessing and the absence of pain.

My Father, Harry Olson, was a great man who lived a rich full life with integrity, compassion and a testimony of the restored gospel that we can all emulate.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Junior High Graduation

This beauty celebrated the completion of Junior High School and 10 years at RDL on Friday night.

Her stylist and photographer, Carmen, hurried off to a basketball game that evening, but not before she captured a few shots of Chloe and her friends

Chloe, Tristen, Brooklynn, Becca

Becca's mom took a turn with her camera

Another event my mom could attend while living with us! 

I tried to stand to keep the sun off Chloe's face. It was a beautiful day!

We enjoyed a banquet, where Chloe gave a beautiful Toast to the Parents. Ken got to have his dance with Chloe and then we didn't see her until the next night! She and her friends had a sleepover together and then spent the next day and evening at Calaway Park. Best Junior High Grad weekend everrrrr!