Just two days short of her 80th birthday, Shirley “Sam” May (Kroll) Olsen passed away Monday, January 11, 2021 in Corvallis, Oregon. She was born in Portland to John “Jack” Frederick and Leona Mary (Fletcher) Kroll.
Shirley was raised in Corvallis, along with her younger siblings, Bob and Jacki. They attended Lincoln Elementary School and Corvallis High School. Shirley was a bright, hardworking student and earned the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company Scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health and nutrition from the University of Washington. Shirley pledged the Alpha Xi Delta sorority, known for its academic excellence. In addition to her studies, she enjoyed working part-time as a model at the Meier & Frank Tea Room. She dated a Corvallis boy, Brent Olsen, whom she knew in high school. He attended the University of Washington School of Business and pledged the Sigma Chi fraternity. They met and became lifelong friends of Jim Wiek and Michelle Brown, who later married, and Jim served as best man at Brent and Shirley’s wedding on June 11, 1962.
Brent worked for a large accounting firm in Seattle, and Shirley dreamed of becoming Seattle socialites. They purchased their first home on Perkins Lane in the Magnolia district. The home was tiny but had a big view of Puget Sound and a tiered yard for creative landscaping. Shirley said they purchased some of their best artwork at that age when they could least afford it.
In 1965, their first child was born; a daughter they named Whitney. After a bit of coaxing from both sets of grandparents, the couple moved back to their hometown of Corvallis to take advantage of babysitting and an offer to join Brent’s father’s CPA firm, renamed “Olsen & Olsen” on 5th and Madison. Two years later, Shirley gave birth to their second daughter, Meredith. With the help of Shirley’s father, Jack, a realtor for Town & Country, they purchased an architecturally distinctive home at the corner of 36th and Polk. In 1971, their son, MacLane, “Mac” for short, was born and their family was complete.
In Corvallis, Brent and Shirley cultivated many friendships with other young couples, mostly through Oregon State University, The Corvallis Clinic, CH2M HILL, and other clients of Brent’s firm. They were actively involved in The Corvallis Arts Center, other nonprofits, and the Country Club, and hosted many gourmet, wine, and bridge group dinners and other fun and perhaps boisterous parties at their home or the family farm.
In 1974, the family relocated to another unique home with a fabulous view—on Vineyard Mountain. Shirley and Brent worked together to design and add several rooms, decks, and a large Koi pond. The Olsen family enjoyed several years there until the kids finished high school and moved on to college. Then, Brent and Shirley bought a scenic, 40-acre, timber property with a fixer-upper log cabin and pond on Belden Creek. They checked their sanity and started to rehab the place, bit by bit, making it their own with a gorgeous home, a creek-fed trout pond with a gazebo and paddle boats, a deer-proofed garden and shed, a barn, and a tractor for mowing. It was perfect for entertaining their many friends and family, including two beautiful weddings. They later reluctantly left the farm for a move-in-ready home with a grand view of Marys Peak, just west of Philomath. It, too, was gorgeous and maybe their favorite.
Shirley and Brent loved their grandkids and spoiled them accordingly. They enjoyed family weekends at the beach condo with frequent visits to Keiko the whale and other favorites at the Oregon Aquarium, as well as the kids’ soccer games, concerts, and plays. Shirley, with her digital SLR camera, took too many photos to count. Christmases were over the top! She decorated every room and cooked amazing holiday meals, from roast beef to Christmas Goose, making everything appear effortless.
With her kids in school, Shirley co-owned a kitchen store and a catering business, and she worked as Brent’s office manager until retirement. The friendship she had with her husband of 54 years enabled them to live and work together in relative harmony. Brent was the boss at work and Shirley was the boss at home.
Following Brent’s rather sudden illness and passing in 2014, Shirley relished dinners out, symphony concerts, and other local events with her daughter, Whitney, and continued to dote on her grandchildren. She took excellent care of her home on the golf course and her accounts, and she walked nearly three miles a day at Bald Hill Park.
Shirley is survived by her children, Whitney Olsen, Meredith (Mitch) Empol, and Mac (Liz) Olsen; grandchildren, Ole Olsen (Lakiesha), Phoebe Olsen, Sarah Dunkley, Emma Empol, Max Empol, and Olivia Olsen; a great granddaughter on the way; and sister, Jacki (Mike) Fitzgerald. She is preceded in death by her parents, Jack and Leona Kroll, and brother, Bob Kroll.
A graveside service will be at 2:00 p.m. Monday, January 18, at Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens in Corvallis.
In lieu of flowers, please contribute a donation in Shirley’s memory to one of her favorite charities:
Sweet Home Funeral Chapel is handling arrangements.