Last week the Idaho State Senate passed a House-originated concurrent resolution honoring Idaho Falls resident Sheila Olsen who died last month.
This was a highly appropriate honor for one of Idaho’s most distinguished and impactful citizens.
Sheila Olsen had a storied history of being heavily involved in state and community affairs and I was privileged to know her since the 1980s. I first dipped my toe into politics back in high school. In Idaho Falls, that meant I inevitably met Sheila and her husband, Dennis, who was the state Republican chair at the time.
They were quite the pair. Dennis was an attorney and rather serious. Sheila was vivacious and highly engaging. They were an intelligent and powerful pair.
Over the years, I often went to their home and knew many of their 10 kids. After Dennis passed unexpectedly in 1985, Sheila charged forward and built her own storied life.
She was a longtime Republican and many an Idaho political candidate made the trek to her home to seek her stellar advice on how to proceed successfully.
She was so well respected that numerous GOP candidates hired her to work for their campaigns, including Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Mike Crapo and, most recently, Lt. Gov. Brad Little in his current run for governor. She didn’t neglect the grassroots and was a Republican precinct chair for 30 years.
Many knew that she served on Idaho’s last redistricting commission in 2011 and was recently reappointed to the Idaho Human Rights Commission. What may be less known is that she was a major participant in the effort to transform Eastern Idaho Technical College into the College of Eastern Idaho, playing a role as a member of the study panel that led to the successful vote by Bonneville County residents in 2017.
She was a strong believer in pulling the community together. Every Fourth of July, until last year, she held a flag raising ceremony at her house on Homer in Idaho Falls. Numerous political and community figures, of all stripes, would attend. The Boy Scouts would handle the flag raising and cinnamon rolls would be had for all.
She was a woman of faith as anyone who knew her quickly perceived. For many years she was the LDS Church’s local liaison was the media and was a highly trusted community voice.
She was a stellar and influential writer. She wrote many columns for the Idaho Falls Post Register on a wide array of topics.
She was the mother of 10 varied and capable children who have gone on to carve out their own marks.
Sheila had had polio when she was young and then was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as an adult. For many years she used a mechanical cart to get around. But, she never allowed her disability to define her. She was also popping up at a wide array of events from local plays to political happenings.
I was lucky to speak to Sheila one last time on the day she died. She was working to put together a local meet-and-greet for Lt. Gov. Brad Little and had left a message for me the day before and we were able to speak the next day. I asked her how she was doing. She said “great”. I later learned she was in considerable pain that day. I had no idea from our discussion.
Her passing is a great loss. But, many of us who knew Sheila Olsen have been inspired by her drive to serve, her passion to make a difference and her fundamental goodness. Her legacy will be felt far into the future.