SILVER CITY — Many Silver City residents have been left reeling from the death of longtime business and community leader Leland "Lanny" Olson last weekend.
Olson, 51, died Friday after a courageous fight against cancer. He was born in San Rafael, Calif., on Feb. 24, 1961, to Chuck and Kathy Olson. In March of 1985, he married Jill Fuller, beginning a marriage and new life that would last until his untimely death.
He began his career with Crawford and Olson Insurance Company in 1980 and went on to take over operations throughout Southwestern New Mexico. Later, Olson joined Wells Fargo Insurance as vice president and senior account executive for the entire state. Olson graduated from Western New Mexico University with a bachelor's degree in 1987. In 2003 he and Jill purchased the Holiday Inn Express Hotel to share his love of Silver City.
As his family grew to include two young daughters, they spent weekends working and playing at the family apple orchard in the Mimbres River Valley. He loved hunting with friends, cutting firewood, working on the Guadalupe Montessori School playground, visiting with shoppers while selling his produce at the Farmers' Market, and driving his 1931 Chevy firetruck in the annual July 4th and Lighted Christmas parades.
Lanny was involved in many Silver City organizations, including DeMolay as state master councilor, Lion's Club, Crime Stoppers, Grant County Prospectors, Gila Regional Medical Center Foundation, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Silver City Tourism Committee, Leadership New Mexico, Silver City and Grant County Incentive Review committees, Mimbres Region Arts Council, Tour of the Gila bike race, and Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.
Public sentiment regarding Olson's life and death has been palpable.
"When I was a kid, the people around me were like mountains or buildings: A part of the backdrop to your life that you just assume will always be there, and shape your sense of who you are and who you want to be," said Silver City MainStreet Project manager Nick Seibel, including Olson in those people.
"He stood out among the community leaders of my youth. Among all the old guys who ran things, he always seemed so young and energetic and relatable. It always seemed like whenever something good was happening in this little town, Lanny was involved somehow, and looking back now I can see how much he shaped my concept of who I could be, and how a young person could make a difference."
Throughout his time in Silver City, Olson was able to touch lives on every scale.
"My mother, Pam Koons worked for him at Crawford & Olson Insurance and later Arcadia insurance for many years. I always will remember when I went to her work he would always greet me with his warm smile and firm handshake," James Koons said. "When I was a young man, he hired me to do landscaping and odd jobs around his home and tree pruning on his family's apple orchard in Mimbres. He taught me many things as a young man that I use every day and will remember the rest of my life. He was a great boss, great asset to our community, great friend of ours and he will be greatly missed."
Through his community involvement, Olson was involved with government officials as well.
"Lanny was a deep, caring man and his love for family, community, friends and Silver City was always evident and infectious," said Silver City Town Councilor Cynthia Bettison. "He was always ready to support organizations or efforts that helped his beloved Silver City. He was a great supporter of the WNMU Museum and a dear, dear friend of mine. I miss him so, already."
His reach throughout the state went to higher government as well.
"I'm saddened by the passing of my friend, Lanny Olson," said U.S. Steve Pearce in an e-mail from his office. "Lanny was a family man, a friend, and a true leader in his community. I am thankful for the time I had with Lanny and his family last May, when I gave the oath to induct his daughter Ashley into the Air Force at her graduation from the Air Force Academy. Lanny will be deeply missed, but his legacy will live on through the lives he touched. His wife and daughters are in my thoughts and prayers."
These were only a few of many comments and stories sent to the Sun-News celebrating Olson's life and legacy.
By all accounts, Olson had a great love of life, his girls, and his home, Silver City. He is survived by his wife Jill; daughters Jennifer of Boulder, Colo. and Ashley of Vance Air Force Base, Okla.; parents Chuck and Kathy Olson of Las Cruces; maternal grandmother Margaret Wilson of Hemet, Calif.; brother Matt and his wife Patty of Las Cruces; brother Michael and his wife Baola of Las Cruces; niece and nephew Molly and Ryan Olson of Las Cruces; and niece and nephew Jacqueline and Tommy Maloney of Hampton Bays, N.Y.
A memorial service will be held at Terrazas Funeral Chapels at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Father Paul Moore will officiate. Honorary pallbearers are Eric Patterson, Brian Scholl, Larry Williams, David Gershenson, John Jacobs, Matt Olson, Michael Olson, Ryan Olson, and Tommy Maloney. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Gila Regional Medical Center Foundation (grmc.org/The-Foundation.aspx), to the Lanny Olson Scholarship Fund for Leadership at WNMU, Attn: Dr. Joe Shepard, P.O. Box 690, Silver City, NM, 88062, or to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd Foundation of Silver City, P. O. Box 2795, Silver City, NM 88062.
For more information, call Terrazas Funeral Chapels at 575-537-0777.
Benjamin Fisher can be reached at (575) 538-5893 ext. 5803.