Teachers Olson and Arnold retire

Teacher Mike Olson a Warrior from start to finish

By Tim Huether

Bennett County High School math teacher Mike Olson pulled double duty on rare occasions. He taught 40 consecutive years, and, all in the same school, not something you see every day, especially in a smaller school system.

Olson started in the Bennett County School system in 1973 and was offered a position at Dell Rapids after his third year, but he and his wife, Betty, decided they liked it here and what the community and school had to offer. And they still have no plans of moving now that Mike is retired.

“It’s a great community with great parents,” said Olson. “I like being able to hunt and we have a lot to offer here. Martin has a little bit of everything a big town has.”

Olson said he will miss the kids more than anything.

“Watching them from their Freshman year, grow each year...watching that growth and them achieve in math is what I’ll miss,” said Olson. “In class, I talk to the kids about things other than math. We talk about life, my life and other things and at times, we have fun.

Olson teaches math and admits early in his life in high school, he and math did not get along, but a new teacher came along and changed his outlook on math and other things. 

“Dave Kinney spent a lot of time working with me and the light bulb came on for me,” remarked Olson. “He was my math teacher and wrestling coach at Sioux Falls Washington. When I was a Senior, I knew two things, I wanted to teach math and I wanted to coach wrestling.”

Olson spent one year in college, then entered the U.S. Army and spent time in Vietnam. After the military, he enrolled at Northern State University in Aberdeen and graduated. His next step was teaching at Bennett County and starting a high school wrestling program where one did not exist.

Olson said his military experience came in handy in dealing with students. When Freshmen come in to his class, they are deathly afraid, partly from word of mouth, and partly of how he makes it clear he is in charge in his class room and things will be done his way, all used in a very convincing tone.

“I come on strong and I have a strong voice,” laughed Olson. “This year’s seniors wanted to know if they could get out of their other class so they could come to my class on the first day of school to watch the reaction from the incoming Freshmen as  I’m chewing them out.”

Olson’s success in the classroom and out of the classroom is evident by the many awards he has received over the years.

He received the National American Star Teaching Award in 2007. 

He was inducted into the South Dakota Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008; awarded the South Dakota High School Activities Association Distinguished Service Award in 2009; was inducted into the Bennett County High School Athletic Wall of Honor in 2011; named the Region 4B Coach of the Year in 1995; coached the South Dakota Wrestling All Stars in 1997; had 5 individual state champions in wrestling and coached 11,227 wrestling matches; Modern Woodman Hometown Hero in 2013; Bennett County Non-Mason of the Year on 1989; Martin Jaycees Outstanding Young Educator in 1974.

He also served as Mayor of Martin and is an Elder for the Presbyterian Church.

His coaching resume includes 34 years as head wrestling coach, 8 years head track coach, 20 years assistant football coach, 11 years as athletic director and 1 year as head golf coach. 

Mike has also been a strong community supporter, serving as an umpire for little league and amateur baseball and softball games. He has served as a Boy Scout troop leader and was a District boys and girls basketball chairman, District Volleyball chairman and Region track chairman.

Betty also works at the school system, and has logged 35 years with the District. She plans to keep working at this time. Mike jokes it is so she can support his golfing habit.

When asked what he plans to do now that he has retired, he smiled and said that he made sure his name was not on the substitute teacher list for next year. He said they will keep busy in Martin and visit their children and grandchildren.

Mike and Betty have four children, Michelle, Cory, Meridee and Andrew, and nine grandchildren.

He finished the interview by saying, “We don’t plan on moving away, our home is here.”


Vernie Arnold recalls 27 years of memories

By Marj Oleske

“The kids taught me as much as I taught them. The kids are what I loved the most,” recalled Vernie Arnold, as she worked to pack up 27 years of teaching from her room at Martin Grade School. “Deciding to retire has been very hard. I never thought I would.”

Arnold spent those 27 years teaching Kindergarten, first and second grades and Reading Intervention. “I loved the teachable moments. Those were the most important times. You can’t put those times off until later.” 

After attending Black Hills College, Arnold finished her degree at Oglala Lakota College with a 4.0 and has strived for perfection ever since. “I  brought in other resources as much as possible. I wanted my students to experience new things that were out of their normal reach.”

Arnold’s other talents include music. When the bell would ring for class, she was often heard bursting into a song taught by her mother, “Clang, clang, clang, there goes my wagon!” Arnold plays the piano, with a love for classical music.

With her newly found free time, Arnold plans to enjoy being in the sunshine with another favorite activity of gardening. “Now I can do my watering before midnight! I love being outdoors.”

Vernie’s family includes her son, Brandon, and his wife Jennifer, who are moving to Lusk, Wyoming, and son Justin Ziegler, who lives in Watertown. Traveling to visit family is also on her list of planned activities.

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