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Jerry Olson: Nov. 22, 1935 – Sept. 13, 2017

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Jerry Olson, who was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2001 in the contract personnel category passed away Sept. 13 in Belle Fourche, S.D. He was 81.

“He was a person who when he decided he wanted something done he would get it done,” said Jerry Wayne Olson, his son. “He was dedicated to the PRCA when he was involved in rodeo, and he was determined to make things work.”

A celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. (MT) Sept. 20 at the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish, S.D. Visitation will take place 5-7 p.m., Sept. 19 with a time of telling stories at 7 p.m. at Leverington Funeral Home of the Northern Hills in Belle Fourche, and one hour prior to the service.

Interment will take place in Pine Slope Cemetery, Belle Fourche.

Friends may leave written condolences and view a video tribute at:

The South Dakota native is one of only three people to have worked the NFR as a contestant and specialty act. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Olson, nicknamed the “Big Swede,” was in the ProRodeo business for 37 years.

“It’s a great feeling that the selection committee felt I was in the running for such a thing,” said Olson in the July 25, 2001, issue of the ProRodeo Sports News about being selected for the Hall of Fame. “My specialty acts and my clowning were my main goals in rodeo, and I contested because I enjoyed it.”

Olson grew up on ranches, always around horses and cattle. He entered his first rodeo at age 12, competing in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping.

At about the same time, the Olson family put together a horse act they contracted to local rodeos. The act evolved to the Roman riding act used by Olson throughout his professional career.

By the mid-1950s the Olson buffalo act was on the road. Audiences were thrilled at the sight of Olson riding the buffalo (first Pat, then Sam and later Chief) around the arena, completing the act by riding into the trailer.

In 1953, Olson began his bullfighting career somewhat by accident when the scheduled bullfighter was a no-show at a rodeo contracted by Olson’s father, LaRue Olson. Born Nov. 22, 1935, in Sturgis, S.D., Jerry is known best by rodeo fans for his acts, winning Specialty Act of the Year in 1983. 

The other side of Olson is that of a tough competitor in steer wrestling, making it to the 1969 National Finals Rodeo. He was also selected as an NFR bullfighter in 1973 and served two terms from 1972-86 on PRCA’s executive council, representing specialty act performers. 

“It’s a great feeling to think you did what you were supposed to do,” Olson said in the 2001 PSN. “You made the people happy, which is what clowning and specialty acts are all about.

“This is a great honor, but it’s more of an honor to the people I worked with and the people I represented when I was on board; my mother and father who got me into the business, it’s more honoring them than me.”

Olson also is a member of the South Dakota Hall of Fame, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla., and the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center.

Olson was preceded in death by his parents; sisters, Mickey Sperle, Lorelia Fortner; and brother, Billy Olson.

Olson is survived by his wife, Fern; sons, Jerry Wayne (Judy) and Lonny (Sharon); daughter, Vickie (Troy) Tope; eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren; sister, Delores Pennebaker. 
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