Nursing center pharmacist’s legacy
If a pharmacy order needed to be delivered to the Eudora Nursing Center, Alf T.H. Oleson was likely the first to volunteer.
"He always had to have an excuse to check it out anyhow," said pharmacist Stan Byrne. "Even on Sundays, he'd go by and check."
Besides playing an instrumental role in the creation and development of the local nursing center, Oleson -- usually seen in a bow tie and more recently on a motorized scooter -- was a familiar site at the Maple Street facility, often calling on residents.
"He'd just come and visit," said Rheva Victor, the center's administrator. "He just wanted to keep in touch."
Oleson, who went by the nickname "Ole," died Tuesday at the age of 88. No services are planned.
A native of Belle Plaine, the longtime Eudora pharmacist got his start working at a drugstore soda fountain as an elementary school student. After graduating from high school, Oleson's boss handed him a bus ticket to Lawrence. Working at a drug store for 20 cents an hour to pay for tuition, Oleson eventually graduated from Kansas University with a bachelor's degree in pharmacy.
Afterward, Oleson worked for the university's student health center, married Dorothea Davidson, and served in the Navy hospital corps and Seabees during World War II.
In 1946, Oleson purchased the former Homer White Drug Store in Eudora at 711 Main St., where the Miller Agency now operates. Back then, Oleson's business wasn't just drugs but also soda fountain treats, school textbooks, and veterinarian supplies.
Oleson taught fellow pharmacist Byrne, to whom he sold his business in 1970, that spoiling customers rotten was the key to a successful drug store.
"He always did whatever it took to keep a patient happy," Byrne said. "He always went the extra mile."
Before Oleson's business moved to 101 W. 10th St., now Byrne's Pharmacy, Byrne said Oleson's downtown business meant long hours, and he was often open until 10 p.m. Putting hours in at the pharmacy was where Oleson developed a taste for his signature bow ties. He told The Eudora News in an August 2000 interview that he soon learned a necktie got in the way when mixing prescriptions.
"He'd even mow the grass in that thing," Byrne said. "He's a colorful character."
After selling the business to Byrne, Oleson "retired" but still worked at the pharmacy, or would at least stop by, even as recently as a week ago.
"He enjoyed just coming in and seeing the other people come in," Byrne said.
Oleson had other community pursuits, among them chartering the Eudora Lions Club, serving on the USD 491 Board of Education, and urging longtime physician Kenneth Holladay to start a Eudora practice.
"I have always tried to make Eudora a bigger and better town," he told The Eudora News in a 1990 interview. "Even as it grows, it still remains a homefolk place."
Yet Oleson's biggest legacy may be the Eudora Nursing Center. He told The News in 2000 that inspiration came from watching his older friends forced to leave Eudora when they moved into nursing homes.
It was then, Victor said, he decided to start up the Eudora Development Company, which owns the local center that opened its doors in 1975. Victor said Oleson started selling the company's stocks to the community.
"He convinced 68 people that they needed a nursing center here in town," she said.
From then on, Oleson was a part of the center, from its construction and opening to serving on the board and visiting its residents.
"That was his first love and baby -- after the pharmacy," Byrne said.
Getting the nursing center up and running was a project he undertook after his so-called retirement.
"He didn't want to sit around and do nothing," Victor said of Oleson, whom she described as both delightful and caring.
Looking back on the changes he'd witnessed in Eudora since opening his pharmacy, Oleson told The News in 2000 that he thought the town was better off than it had ever been.
"My whole mental thoughts have always been for making Eudora a better place to live."
Oleson is survived by his wife, Dorothea of the home; a daughter, Vicki, and husband Trent Downing of Henderson, Nev.; a son, Trig, and wife Donna of Eudora; grandsons Brian Oleson, and Mike Oleson and his wife Christine and daughter Mara, all of Eudora; and a brother, Bus Oleson of Arkansas City.