Posted 3/29/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
A musical dynasty at Tioga High School will come to an end at the close of the school year when Band Director Nancy Olson retires.
“It feels about the right time,” she said, bringing a 25-year teaching career to a close.
Olson is well known for being highly invested in her students, and many have benefited from her mentoring.
“She was one of my favorite teachers, and she taught me so much,” said Tyler Hanson, who graduated from Tioga High in 2011.
Hanson said Olson “sparked” his interest in choir, which he pursued from seventh grade through graduation. She also helped get him into the Northwest Music Festival for four years.
“That was a good experience,” Hanson recalled.
Olson grew up in a musical family. Her father, Clifford Grubb, was the music teacher before Olson took over the position when he retired.
He started teaching in Tioga in 1959.
“Combined between the two of us is 57 years,” Olson said.
Her mother taught piano in private lessons, and at one point she gave 40 lessons in a single week.
Olson said her mother always believed in “finding your strength,” and once found, you should do something with it.
“If God gave you a talent, you had to give it back,” Olson said her mother taught her.
She has a lot to say about her father’s influence on her and the Tioga’s music program.
“It all started with him,” she said.
Grubb was an important figure in the musical education of many Tioga students over the course of his career. He established the school’s John Philip Sousa award and the senior choir award.
These are still given out today to students who show excellence in their pursuit of music.
Olson said music came very naturally to her, but she wasn’t committed to being a music teacher until her freshman year in college, when she felt a “calling.”
Olson has been just as dedicated to the program as her father. She said musical education is important to a well-rounded curriculum and improves students’ abilities in other subjects.
“You have to think about so many things at once,” Olson said.
At one point, the school had no choir.
David Rust, who was superintendent at the time, suggested Olson start one. Originally, she was going to start it and then resume her focus on band.
“I’m still doing both after all these years,” Olson said.
A few years ago, when the latest oil boom hit, Olson had a number of new students coming in from other schools in different parts of the country where there isn’t such a robust music program.
In order to ensure continuity of musical education throughout the Tioga schools, Olson set up a program where all students start on an instrument in the sixth grade and continue on it through the eighth grade. Band then becomes an elective in the ninth grade.
The program has been a big success. Olson said almost all the students stick with band through high school.
“We have a tradition of longevity,” she said.
Under her leadership, both the choir and band students consistently rank in state competitions with schools of similar size.
“We strive to get star rating every time . . . It’s something I work really hard for.”
Olson said she will probably remain within the teaching arena, doing some part-time teaching or maybe substituting.
“I don’t see myself drifting off into complete retirement,” Olson said.
She also has two kids in Fargo, a daughter who is 35 and a son who is 29.
“I want to be free at the drop of a hat to do some visiting,” she said.
Olson expects she’ll have to do a bit of searching to figure out exactly what she’ll do with her retirement. Her own father found his calling in retirement being active in community organizations.
He gave a lot of himself to Tioga, Olson said.
“He was a kind of larger-than-life personality,” the band director said.
Meanwhile, the school is searching for her replacement. It’s not an easy task, but Tioga Superintendent Carolyn Eide said they’re seeing potential in some candidates who have expressed interest in the position.
“It’s big shoes to fill,” Eide said. “We will miss her, and the community will miss her.”