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Gophers honor greatest fan

A 1952 Gresham High grad, Norine Olson hasn't missed a football game in decades and holds a legacy as a beloved cafeteria lady


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Devon Shields, a Gresham High senior, nominated his great-grandmother, Norine Olson, to be the 2013 homecoming grand marshal.

By her family’s estimation, Norine Olson hasn’t missed more than a couple of Gresham High School football games since 1973.

Even the Friday night of her daughter Denise’s wedding, Olson made it to part of the game to root for Gresham. Even on cold, rainy days, she makes her way to the stadium.

The Gresham Gophers honored Olson — one of their greatest cheerleaders, a 1952 graduate and a beloved former school cook — as the 2013 homecoming grand marshal Thursday night.

“The whole thing is just mind boggling for me,” Olson, 79, said.

Gresham’s quarterback couldn’t be more delighted with his school’s selection.

“I remember going to games with her when I was little,” said Devon Shields, Olson’s great-grandson and the former Gresham ball boy. “Whenever I’m out on the field, I look up and see her there. It’s a cool feeling knowing there’s always someone there whether we’re all the way down at McNary or we’re home against Barlow or somewhere in between.”

The daughter of Corbett-area farmers, Olson moved to Gresham as a young girl and graduated from Gresham High in 1952.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Olson's senior yearbook had the adjective sincere below her name. She graduated in 1952 from Gresham.

From an early age, Olson was a loyal supporter, but not always in the football stands. She missed most of her own high school football games because she was assisting a disabled friend.

“She held on to me — I was her brace,” Olson said. “I loved her, and she was a very sweet person. She would not go into a wheelchair and did not give up until the last day of school.”

After high school her friend began to use a wheel chair.

Olson earned perfect attendance in high school, receiving recognition for it decades later at a school assembly. Last summer, she reconnected with Gresham Grade School classmates at a class of 1948 reunion.

Olson and her husband, Art, had six children, all of whom attended Gresham High School and ate their mother’s cooking — both at home and school.

After moving into a house next to Alberta Carlson, who was a family friend and manager of Gresham’s school kitchens, Olson asked if she ever hired substitutes. The next day, Carlson called Olson in to work.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - For 36 years, Olson worked as a cook in Gresham schools. She made popular cinnamon rolls and wiener wraps.

Thirty-six years later, Olson hung up her apron and retired. The beloved cafeteria lady was known throughout the district for her signature wiener wraps and cinnamon rolls.

During her tenure, Olson served lunches to her six children and 10 of her 25 grandchildren, just missing her great-grandchildren. Thus far, Shields is the first of his generation to attend Gresham High.

Also during her time as a school cook, Olson developed a passion for Gopher football (and a rivalry with Barlow). She also enjoys the Oregon Ducks, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks.

“When my kids were in school, Barlow brought a great big rock and put it out front with their name on it,” Olson said. “We beat them that year. The next year, Gresham took a truckload of sand and put it in front of Barlow’s door and said, ‘Here’s your rock back.’”

Olson’s daughter Anita Andersen had her first date at a Gophers football game with her future husband, Dave. He said the game was the perfect introduction to Anita’s family.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Shields is the fourth generation in his family to attend Gresham High School.

Over the decades, Olson became a steady presence in the grandstands. She sits at the 30-yard line these days, a couple rows back and under cover, wearing Gophers sportswear.

“Football is a tradition at Gresham, and she is a shining example of that tradition,” said Gresham Principal John Koch.

A 2006 Outlook article about Olson’s retirement noted the other women at the Gresham High School cafeteria knew her as an honorary matriarch.

“She’s like a second mother to me,” said Joanne Gleson, a former coworker. “She’s quiet and sweet and never says a bad thing about anybody. We’re like family, and she’s the mother, or, to some, the grandmother.”

Shields nominated his great-grandmother for Gresham’s homecoming grand marshal, telling his leadership class about the woman who took him and his mother Sarah to their first football games as babies.

“It was cool seeing people’s reactions,” Shields said. “I’m a part of that tradition that has come through here. This is my last game against Barlow and senior night. I’m glad she’s able to be a part of it.”

Two days before the game, Shields could already imagine his great-grandmother making her grand entrance in a 1970s Corvette and could hear her calling from the stands.

“Come on, boys!”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Rain or shine, home or away, Olson proudly roots for the Gresham Gophers.



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