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Irene Olson helped expand U.S. 2

 

Posted 5/26/15 (Tue)

Irene Olson helped expand U.S. 2

By Kevin Killough
When Irene Olson was lobbying the state to increase U.S. 2 from two lanes to four lanes, no one knew how vital it would become to the Bakken oil boom. 
Olson recently celebrated her 77th birthday and recalled how she ended up in Tioga. 
At one point she and her husband were looking to buy a farm in Kenmare, only to have the seller change his mind. This left them with no jobs or any other reason to stay in North Dakota.
The couple made their way out to Seattle to work in his uncle’s automotive repair shop. 
“My husband had always done mechanic work and built stock cars,” Olson said. 
He started out filling in for a mechanic who was taking a vacation. This was a large operation with a couple hundred mechanics working. 
It turned out to be a much longer position when the shop foreman decided to keep him on. Unfortunately, after about three months, he was asked to get a union license. 
“We didn’t have unions back here” in North Dakota, Olson explained. 
In order to get a license, her husband would have had to start as an apprentice, which would have resulted in a pay cut until he worked his way up to a journeyman. 
He started looking into the possibility of using the GI Bill to fund his education for new skills, but there weren’t many class positions open in Washington for anything he wanted to do. 
A friend suggested he look into beauty school, which at  first was a strange suggestion for a mechanic. However, Olson said the more her husband considered the option, the more it appealed to him. And his GI Bill would cover the cost, they discovered. 
Eventually, Irene went to beauty school so they would both have a license, with plans to open up their own salon. 
As it happened, the salon in Tioga was up for sale, and so the couple bought the business and relocated to Tioga. 
In the early 70s, she was nominated president of the local Chamber of Commerce. 
Around 2000, she began to push to get U.S. 2 expanded to four lanes, an effort that was eventually successful. 
Even after it was approved and funded, they hit a few bumps. They held the groundbreaking ceremony and had to put it on hold to do an archaeological study. 
Eventually, the project proceeded. The expansion first began with the stretch between Tioga and Ray. The stretch from Williston to Ray was the next step, and it continued to grow west from Minot as well. 
 “Over the years, I made many trips to Bismarck to talk to Governor (Arthur) Link and (John) Hoeven to keep the project rolling,” she recalled. 
The trans-state highway expansion was completed in late 2008.