Retirement might seem the right option for Ralph Olson, who will turn 80 on Aug. 31. He did retire in 1993 from a career as a manager in the newspaper business.
But he hasn’t retired from Church service, or from … softball?
Brother Olson continues to don a glove on his left hand and pull a baseball cap down over his eyes on warm summer evenings as a pitcher for the Bountiful 27th Ward, Bountiful Utah North Stake. In a recent game, he showed that he’s still pretty good for a player of any age as he pitched his team to a tie, knocking out a couple of hits on the way. He was cheered on by about two dozen family members including his wife, Sharon, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I just want to enjoy it as long as I can,” Brother Olson said after his solid performance on the diamond. “My body will tell me when the time comes to quit.”
Though he loves the sport, he has walked away from it several times to do something even more important to him — serving in the Church. Besides fulfilling callings as a bishop and in a stake presidency, he and his wife have served several missions continuing to this day.
Brother Olson’s most recent softball comeback was three years ago, when he was invited to play with his son and grandson on their ward team. (A member of the Bountiful 5th Ward, his own Bountiful Utah Stone Creek Stake doesn’t have a men’s softball program, he said. So through waivers from priesthood leaders, he is able to play on his current team.)
Brother Olson grew up a member of the Church in Cache Valley, Utah. He joined the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. His wife, as she sat in a camp chair under a tree watching her husband on the diamond, told the Church News the story of how they got together.
While his ship was stationed off Korea, Brother Olson had a buddy who was engaged to one of 14 young women who were roommates attending BYU in Provo. Brother Olson acquired the names of the other 13 coeds and sent each one an application for a “date with a sailor.” All 13 wrote back and, after evaluating them, Brother Olson selected Sharon Searle from Vernal, Utah, as the winner.
Upon returning home, Brother Olson’s first duty was to be his buddy’s best man. Sister Olson tells the story that when Ralph saw the maid of honor, he was inspired that she was the woman he would marry. When she told him her name, he started laughing, she said. At first she thought he was rude, but then discovered he was laughing because she was the winner of his “date with a sailor” competition.
They were married Aug. 5, 1954, in the Logan Utah Temple and have been united as husband and wife and servants of the Lord ever since. They have five children, 20 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
What has been a life of missionary service for the Olsons began in 1963 when, while they were living in Vernal he was called as a counselor in the former Uintah Basin Indian Mission presidency.
Then, through a series of fortuitous events, Brother Olson retired from a long career in the newspaper business with a generous buyout that facilitated further missionary service. They spent eight years on Temple Square in Salt Lake City as tour guides and supervisors before it became its own mission. Then they served a two-year leadership mission in the Philippines Cabantuan Mission, now the Philippines Angeles Mission. Brother Olson also spent 18 months as a counselor in the mission presidency.
Upon their return home, their missionary work turned another direction. They were asked to go to Vernal to coordinate the open house for the new temple there in 1997.
After that, before thoughts of true retirement could settle in, Brother Olson said they received a phone call from the Church’s Temple Department asking if they could be ready to go again in three weeks. They weren’t immediately told where, but accepted the call. They ended up in Preston, England, coordinating the open house for the temple there in 1998, staying on after the dedication to help train temple workers.
The next year, they got a call from President Gordon B. Hinckley’s office asking if they were willing to coordinate the open house for the Madrid Spain Temple. Brother Olson said he replied that he didn’t speak Spanish. “I was told I wasn’t asked if I could speak Spanish. I was asked if I would go to Madrid,” he said. They accepted the call.
No longer do they travel, but they continue to serve, working out of Salt Lake City coordinating ticket distribution for temple open houses. Their next assignment is the open house for the Laie Hawaii Temple, which begins in October leading up to its rededication in November.
Sister Olson said she and her husband love their work with open houses. On their own, they have to arrange for 90 volunteer telephone operators to take calls for open house tickets “and we have no problem getting them,” she said.
And for Brother Olson, he is animated and excited talking about softball, while filled with joy and spiritual sensitivity when talking about serving the Lord.