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Olson reunion gathers family from coast to coast

The two surviving daughters of Emil and Marjorie Olson were the centerpiece of a family reunion near Worthington last weekend. Clockwise from top left, cousins Judy (Pfeil) Swanser, Ron Hallstrom and Jane (Pfeil) DiMondi visit with their aunts Lillian (Olson) Breul, 86, and Dorothy (Olson) Hallstrom, 98, of Worthington. Dorothy and Lillian hadn’t seen each other for several years until this past weekend, and the pair are the last survivors from their family of nine children. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe1 / 5
The Olson cousins with aunts Dorothy Hallstrom and Lil Breul. (submitted photo)2 / 5
The Olson cousins with their families and aunts Dorothy Hallstrom and Lil Breul. (submitted photo)3 / 5
The Olson reunion gathering.4 / 5
Cousin Lowell Nystrom designed and built this train, and it was a huge hit at the Olson reunion. (Submitted photo)5 / 5

WORTHINGTON — Independence Day proved the perfect time for roughly 50 members of the extended Olson family to reunite in the Worthington area.

The gathering of Emil and Marjorie Olson’s descendants was prompted by the advancing age of their two remaining children — daughters Dorothy (Olson) Hallstrom, 98, and Lillian (Olson) Breul, 86.

“Anyone around here who knows me calls me ‘Crazy Lil’ because I like to laugh and have fun,” teased Lillian of Lancaster, Calif.

Lillian’s older sister, Dorothy, hasn’t strayed far in her near-century of life from the Swedish family’s roots in Bigelow, where the sisters’ father Emil (no relation to E.O. Olson) had an implement business.

In fact, Dorothy and her husband raised their four children (including Ron Hallstrom, Worthington) here, and Dorothy was recently recognized as the longest current resident of Ecumen Meadows, where she’d played piano for weekly church services until her resignation last week.

“My eyes aren’t what they used to be,” she offered, although she still sang in the choir at the facility’s recent Fourth of July celebration.

Lillian, however, has made California her home for decades — but her hesitance to fly has limited get-togethers in recent years.

Dorothy’s daughter-in-law Winora Hallstrom thought the two sisters, who have already bid earthly goodbyes to their lone brother, Leroy “Ole” Olson, and six sisters, should have at least one more chance to reconnect “before anything happened.”

“Winora did most of the organizing, inviting and coordinating,” affirmed Lowell Nystrom (a nephew of Dorothy and Lillian and the son of their late sister Marie), who volunteered to have the group converge on his farm south of town.

“I prayed, ‘Lord, let this happen,’” said Winora, “but it was really the two cousins from California — Marilyn Simliness and Bonnie Scher — who made it work, because they agreed to drive Lil to Minnesota.”

During an interview, Dorothy and Lil fondly held hands while reminiscing, and their good-natured, lively sharing of family recollections made the efforts worthwhile, observed other relatives assembled.

“The most important thing is getting the two sisters together,” said Judy (Pfeil) Swanser of Cary, N.C., as her own sister, Jane (Pfeil) DiMondi of Dover, Del., nodded in agreement.

“Winora and Ron got us together, and Lowell (and his wife Ruth) provided the venue,” Judy added.

Emil Olson was born in Illinois and later moved to Minnesota, where he (at age 29) married Marjorie (a young lass of 18) in 1911. By the time Marjorie was 39, she’d borne nine children — the first a boy (Ole), followed by eight girls.

“They used to say she got pregnant every time Grandpa hung his overalls on the bedpost,” joked DiMondi.

Dorothy, born in 1916, was the third Olson child, while Lillian was the last to arrive, in 1928.

“They slept three in a bed, and when one turned, they all had to turn,” laughed Swanser.

“When it was cold it was alright,” contributed Lillian.

While Lillian and Dorothy were separated by 12 years, the pair still had many family memories to relate, and by happenstance, they each lay claim to unique wedding tales.

For instance, an 18-year-old Dorothy and her then-boyfriend Melvin Hallstrom were “sent to Sioux Falls to buy a pitchfork and bananas,” confided Dorothy with a slow grin.

While they were there, the pair eloped, returning to their separate family homes as a (secretly) married couple.

“We were married for a whole week and no one knew until Ole’s father-in-law saw the wedding notice in the Sioux Falls paper,” she revealed.

Lillian, meanwhile, married her former husband in a mortuary at Englewood Cemetery in California.

“He was a mortician, his dad was a pharmacist, his uncle was a doctor — and the marriage was dead before it started,” said the irrepressible Lillian. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Lillian also prides herself on being “the worst majorette they ever had in Worthington — (Vic) Moeller picked me, but I don’t know why,” and she also fondly recalls working at the local A & W restaurant and “cracking eggs” at the creamery during high school.

“I had a great time growing up with all these Worthington people,” said Lillian, clearly relishing the experience of being back in her hometown surrounded by many relatives and friends.

In all, about 50 family members — hailing from Alabama, South Dakota, Iowa, California, Canada, Kansas, North Carolina and Minnesota, among other places — enjoyed swapping stories and strengthening family ties at the Fourth of July reunion on Nystrom’s farm, where they dug into a meal catered by Keith’s Grocery of Adrian.

“We had good weather, and enough wind to keep the mosquitoes away,” said Nystrom. “There were cousins here I hadn’t seen since I was a boy, and my sister came from Vancouver, British Columbia.

“There was a lot of visiting, and a lot of good conversation — it was a good, very interesting day.”

Added Winora Hallstrom, “It was exciting and very rewarding to see this all come to fruition.”