I was sad to hear of the death early this month of Ralph Olson, 83, a longtime Centralia attorney and patron of the community. After retirement, Olson moved to California with his wife, Bonnie, who passed away last year. 

Lewis County District Court Judge Wade Samuelson posted a tribute to Olson, his former law partner, earlier this month. 

“He was the nicest man. I was fortunate to have him as a mentor and friend and look forward to seeing him again in Glory,” Samuelson wrote.

I didn’t know Olson personally, although my father worked with him for several years at the downtown law firm known then as Olson and Althauser (and known today as Althauser Rayan Abbarno).

I did have the chance to correspond with Olson in recent years during Centralia’s bicentennial celebration for the town’s founder, the pioneer George Washington.

Ralph and Bonnie Olson emailed me out of the blue from their home in Laguna Niguel, California, to offer donations for the statue project. It was a special pleasure to hear from them, because Ralph Olson was the leader of Centralia’s 1976 celebration for Washington, which resulted in the placement of the large stone monument outside the doors of the Centralia Timberland Library that tells Washington’s life story.

“Mr. Washington was a very remarkable and intelligent man,” Olson wrote to me in his email to me two years ago, “who was very far sighted in his planning of the city and very generous in his charitable donations to the community.”

Ten years later, Olson’s firm, then called Olson, Althauser and Dettmer, made a major investment in the city by sponsoring the colorful giant mural of George Washignton that still proudly overlooks downtown Centralia.

Olson wrote this to me about Centralia’s founder: “Mr. Washington was an amazing man considering being black in an essentially white community shortly after the end of the civil war.  Self taught and apparently being instilled with the importance of charitable giving by the Cochran family.”

Olson was also dedicated to the importance of charitable giving. He gave his money, time and leadership to a variety of programs. His obituary includes a long list of local groups he led: president of the Centralia Rotary Club, Lewis County Bar Association, Providence Centralia Hospital Foundation, Centralia College Foundation, as well as service on the board of the Pacific Northwest Youth Orchestra, Lewis County Concerts, Charlie Albright Piano Fund and provided pro bono counsel for Lewis County Legal Aid.

Services for Olson will be held this Thursday, Aug. 29, at Bethel Church, Chehalis, at 2 p.m. 

“Ralph lived a life of service to others and was a firm believer in the importance of making a difference in one’s community,” his family wrote in his obituary. They suggest donations in his memory be made to the Salvation Army and the Centralia College Foundation. 

I would add, if I could, that donating your time to a worthy local cause, stepping in to lead with humility and good humor, would also be a fitting tribute to a man who helped make his community better. 


Memories of ‘Tenino’s Woodstock’

Recent retrospectives on the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock rock festival in New York have brought up memories of a similar event that happened just a few weeks later right here in Southwest Washington. 

The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair brought thousands of music lovers and hippies to a farm outside Tenino over Labor Day 1969.

I’m looking for memories of this event. Were you there enjoying some peace, love and rock ‘n roll? Were you among the good people of Tenino who were aghast at this event coming to your town? 

I’d love to hear from you about this unique event a half-century ago in T9O.


Brian Mittge’s community column appears each Saturday in The Chronicle. Contact him at brianmittge@hotmail.com.  

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