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Old 04-25-2010, 10:02 AM
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Russell A. Olson, 86, of Florida (former WI Lt Governor)

Former lt. governor, local legislator, dies in Florida
DAVID STEINKRAUS dsteinkraus@journaltimes.com | Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010 2:06 pm

The man who went from Kenosha County farmer to lieutenant governor of Wisconsin died last week in Florida. A memorial was held on Sunday, and on Monday some of the people who had known him said Russell A. Olson was a fun person and a bedrock conservative.

"My recollection is that he was a jovial, hard-working, honest person," said Jim Ladwig of Mount Pleasant, who served in the Legislature with Olson. "He was always good for a funny story."

"Everybody loved Russell if you were conservative in nature," said Cloyd Porter of Burlington whose tenure as representative in the 66th Assembly District overlapped Olson's time in office.

Olson was born Feb. 19, 1924, in Chicago. He attended public school there, the University of Illinois for two years, served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and operated a beef farm in western Kenosha County. He was first elected to the Assembly in 1960. In 1963 he was seated for another term following a contested election that resulted in his opponent serving for 29 days before the election was resolved in Olson's favor. Absent those 29 days, he served through 1969, and then from 1973 through 1977. At one point his district included the Racine County towns of Dover, Yorkville, and Raymond.

For all that he was an enjoyable person, his principles were strongly held. "He was kind of a dream come true for the conservative movement," Porter said. "When it came to spending taxpayers' money he was cheap."

People would want money for programs and projects, and they'd beg, "and then he'd still tell you to go to hell." Porter said Olson told former Gov. Tommy Thompson the same when they served together in the Legislature.

In 1961 the Capital Times wrote a story in which Olson criticized a new edition of Webster's Third International Dictionary for a definition of McCarthyism that he said was slanted. He also authored a bill asking for an investigation of information in school textbooks.

"His main push when he was lieutenant governor was to help small business," Ladwig said.

In 1978 Olson was elected lieutenant governor when Lee Sherman Dreyfus was picked as governor. It was Olson, Porter said, who put together the conservative backing which put Dreyfus in the governor's chair. When Dreyfus chose not to seek another term, Olson retired from government.

Many people wanted him to remain in public life and become a face for the state conservative movement much as Ronald Reagan did in national politics, Porter said. But Olson would have none of it. He disliked that sort of work and being in the limelight, Porter said, nor did he agree to requests that he become a lobbyist.

He and his wife, who both loved golf, moved to Florida shortly after Dreyfus left office, Porter said.

Olson is survived by his wife, Fran, and three daughters.
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