Goodbye Dear Friend
Most of you know that Skip Olsen was my best buddy and partner in our Learning Ominvore get togethers. He was the man behind the scenes, never taking credit for his hard work. I am sad to tell you he passed away on Friday, January 1st. I want to take this space to remember Skip and tell you what he meant to me.
For all others. Those of you in the Minneapolis area will remember of one my best friends and also a brother to me, Skip Olsen. I am sad to tell you he passed away on Friday, January 1. He had been having some heart problems. I want to take this space to remember Skip and tell you all that he meant to me.
On January 1st 2021 I lost my best buddy, Skip and it has left a hole in my heart. Over a week later I still want to pick up the phone and call him. Who knew in 1995, when I was a principal at South High School and he was a union representative for Local 59 in Minneapolis, we would become lifelong friends. Skip walked into my office and said, “We have a grievance here.” Shocked, I said, “Who? What? I am not aware of anything.” I will let you fix the rest of the quotations
Skip said, ‘it’s not you, it is between two of your teachers.’ I was both relieved and concerned. We had both teachers In my office for over an hour. Finally, Skip said, ‘let’s take a break.’ Both teachers left. Skip turned to me and said, ‘I want to slap both of them.’ Who knew this would be the start of a lifelong and deep friendship.
After meeting was over Skip looked at my bookshelf and said, ‘I don’t know many principals who are reading those kinds of books. We scheduled another conversation two weeks later. As we continued to talk we agreed to continue meeting to see if we could make a difference together. Who knew?
When teaching leadership in colleges and universities, I asked Skip to join me so we could teacher from an administrator and teacher perspective. We did. Who knew?
When Education Minnesota started to focus on professional development, Skip and Sara Gjerdrum invited me (a principal) to work on a program called TALL (Teachers as Leaders and Learners). For about ten years we presented professional development training around the state. Our trainings were Friday night and all day Saturday. Who knew?
At one of the TALL trainings in Duluth, MN (In January) a snowstorm started on Saturday about noon. I said, I want to leave and not spend another night away because of snow. We quickly finished the training early, did a working lunch and started packing up. One participant came up to us and said, ‘can I have all the stories you use during the training?’ We looked at each other and told him we just remember them and do not have them in a folder. He responded, ‘you should write a book.’
That spring we took a trip to San Francisco for the weekend. We drove to Tiburon, sat by the water, and create themes as headings for our stories. Voila, our first book together called a Trainers Companion published by AHAProcess, Inc. Who knew?
We continued to collaborate. I should say Skip dragged me kicking and screaming into technology; I was a neophyte and Skip was always current. I am grateful for what he taught me and his coaching. A few years later, after we started using many videos in trainings, we wrote another book together for Corwin Press, Energizing Staff Development Using Film Clips. After that we wrote two more projects for the Habits of Mind organization, Trainers Companion for HOM, an eBook. Who knew?
About three years ago, while having lunch with Skip, he said, ‘you look like crap.’ I said, ‘thank you’ being a little taken back. It was Saturday. He said you need to go to urgent care and get checked out. I resisted because I am tough. I am also hard-headed at times. (I know that is a surprise to many of you) Skip would not stop until I agreed to go to the clinic. A few hours later I was in the hospital getting a shot which would take water out of my system. Congestive heart failure. I think he saved my life that day. Who knew?
Skip, Diane Zimmerman, and I started organizing learning opportunities around the country. We called ourselves the “Learning Omnivores.” The website is www.learningomnivores.com. We have worked with some of the top people in education and business. We are planning a spring zoom conference with Sally Helgeson on Women in Leadership. Skip, Diane, Art Costa, and have met for many years, retreating to Lake Tahoe for three days and share what we were learning and what the future of education might be. I named us ‘Bricoleur Buddies.’ A bricoleur is one who tinkers with ideas.
Because of Skip’s illness he missed our last meeting in October. Skip loved poetry. He always had a poem to start and end with. At first, being a physics/math guy, when I thought poetry, I wanted to scream, “Give me a break!” Skip’s voice and reading caused deep reflection and change about how I thought of poetry. Who knew?
I will close with a poem sent to me from a friend. I sent this to Skip and a few others this holiday season. I am grateful for people who have been on my train. You never know the influence and impact someone can have with you.
Train of Life
At birth we boarded a train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone. As times goes by, other people will board the train and they will be significant (i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of your life). Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum. Others will go on unnoticed that we don’t realize they vacated their seats. This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers requiring that we give the best of ourselves. The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are. It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life. I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life. Reap success and give lots of love. More importantly, thank God for the journey. Lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train.
Who knew? I love you Skip