Minnesota Heroes

Profile of Norma Olson

Moe Woods

These lands have been a part of Norma Olson since her grandfather Gunderson homesteaded them in the 1860s. In 1971, The Nature Conservancy purchased them from the Moe family, but Norma still fondly remember the role these lands have played in her life.

Norma Olson

Moe Woods Preserve embraces nearly 170 acres of tall grasses, oak savannas and maple-basswood forests. Ferns, wild leeks, black cherries and yellow lady’s slippers creep throughout the forest. Song birds break the silence beneath the forest canopy. 

These lands have been a part of Norma Olson (née Moe) since her grandfather homesteaded them in the 1860s. A little more than a century later, in 1971, The Nature Conservancy purchased them from the Moe family, but Norma still fondly remembers the role these lands have played in her life.

Norma, now 94 years old, grew up on the 160 acres of land homesteaded by her grandfather, Kjostol Gunderson, who wanted to live somewhere reminiscent of his native Norway. He found himself in Minnesota with a community of Norwegian farmers, where rolling hills replaced Norway’s majestic mountains.

When she was a girl, Norma would stand on top of the big hill at the edge of the woods on her family’s farm, where she had a sweeping eight-mile view of the land. She picked rhubarb in the spring and hazelnuts in the fall, thorny gooseberries and wild raspberries in early summer. She gathered chokecherries for chokecherry wine. It was where she played with her brothers and her cousins. When the lakes were brimming, Norma’s mother tied a clothesline between the children so they could swim in the lake.

Norma attended the University of Minnesota where she met Magnus Olson, a zoologist and professor, who later proposed to her on these lands—a particular spot her nephews have fondly named Proposal Point.

During the dust bowl of the 1930s, when dust from overgrazed and overplowed farms consumed the landscape, Norma walked through the thirsty lakes of Moe Woods, worrying, as did so many people at that time, that the wells and her family’s finances would run dry. But the landscapes, she says, “fed our souls.”

Norma loves the social history of the land as much as its geographic history, and she revels in the richness of it all. For someone who lived on this land much of her life—hiking and swimming as well as farming—it’s important to her that the Conservancy has made people a part of the land’s utility.

Today, the Moe Woods Preserve consists of two separate parcels in Pope and Kandiyohi counties, totally nearly 170 acres. Norma Olson echoes the Conservancy’s hope that these two parcels can one day be reconnected, reforming the lands of her childhood so many decades ago. From the 1860s, when her grandparents homesteaded Moe Woods, to the present, when nature lovers can hike through these lands, Norma Olson and her family have ensured that the land they love can endure for generations to come.

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