Mortician’s life in interesting body of work – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


Tim Olson, a well-known mortician in Mt. Pleasant, could also be a standup (or lay-down—get it?) comedian. He likes to tell people he has a PhD—Professional Hearse Driver.
Tim’s ancestry and history are colorful. His grandfather, John Olson, at the age of three, in 1883, came to the United States from Malmӧ, Sweden with his widowed mother and three siblings. They settled in Mayville, North Dakota, the same hometown as famed basketball coach, Lute Olson. They may be related, Tim isn’t sure. Soon after, John Olson and his family moved to North Central Iowa where they lived in a dugout in the side of a hill.
At the age of seven, John Olson went to work. He eventually found employment with an undertaker and furniture-store owner in Forest City, Iowa. John attended a two-week embalming school and served a six-month apprenticeship. In 1908, John bought the funeral home, and his son, Lloyd (Tim’s uncle) joined him in 1932.
In 1957, a competitor in the funeral business came to John and Lloyd Olson and asked if they would like to buy him out. The Olsons did, and the former competitor, John K. Hanson, went on to found Winnebago Industries in Forest City.
When Tim graduated from high school, his Uncle Lloyd had sold the funeral business. Tim struck out on his own. He graduated from NIACC (North Iowa Area Community College) with an Associate of Science Degree. Sight unseen, he filled out an application for Dallas Mortuary School, was accepted, and was off to Dallas, Texas. It was a 12-month program.
While going to school and working part-time for a funeral home, Tim was violently assaulted in the funeral home parking lot by an intoxicated patron of a nightclub owned by the Dallas underworld. “Big Eddie” (5’6” tall), an underworld boss, apologized to Tim and provided protection for Tim thereafter.
Tim graduated from Dallas Mortuary School earning the coveted Bill Pierce Award, the school’s highest honor. He was then off to Keokuk to serve his apprenticeship. There, at a funeral visitation, he noticed a young lady crying beside the casket of her friend’s mother. Tim put his arm around her, talked to her gently, and Sally, several years later, became his wife. (This is the way Tim recalls it!) They have now been married 50 years—Tim 25 and Sally 25.
Tim relocated to Mt. Pleasant in 1991, and became acquainted with Jerry and Jacque Powell. The Olsons and the Powells built Olson-Powell Memorial Chapel in Mt. Pleasant in 1998. Eight years later, Tim and Sally bought the Powells’ share. This July, they will have been in business 20 years. Their phone number is 319-385-1998.
Tim does all of the cosmetics on his clients. He may be the only husband who can go home with cosmetics on his clothes and his wife knows he has been working. He also records daily funeral notices for the area. The funeral-notice phone number is naturally 319-385-1999. Call the number and listen to Tim’s voice. People tell him he should tell a joke or two, but Tim knows it is a somber time and people are grieving.
Another service that Sally and Tim provide is laminating newspaper articles for kids who have had successes in areas such as theater, sports, academics and music. They send these laminated articles to the kids. Over the years they have sent out thousands of articles.
Tim and Sally’s only desire is to provide the best possible service to people in their time of need. They often get letters saying, “We never would have made it through without you.” It means a lot to Tim and Sally.
Tuesdays are free-coffee days for seniors at Hy-Vee. Tim didn’t know if he qualified (he’s 62), but every time he looked in the mirror, and an old guy jumped in front of him and stared back, he figured he was qualified. There are three shifts of coffee drinkers at Hy-Vee—6:00 A.M., 7:00 A.M., and 8:00 A.M. Tim is second shift. His friends tease him. “Trolling for business, Tim?” For Tim, he is always meeting new friends, “buying” them coffee, and finding out what he can do to help. He absolutely loves to meet people and learn their stories.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.

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