Life-long resident and devoted community member will be missed by many
Excelsior lost a friend, devoted community member and icon Feb. 9.
Lifelong Excelsior resident and community icon James “Jimmy” Olds passed away at age 73 from complications due to cancer.
He was known for many things, including being the proprietor of Olds Dry Goods and serving on city government. He served on the Planning Commission from 1975 to 1982, as mayor from 1987 to 1991 and was city treasurer from 1996 to 2009.
Olds was also very involved with the Excelsior Rotary as a long-time member and past president. He also served on the Lake Minnetonka Cable Commission as chair for 30 years. Olds also had a passion for the arts, and was an accomplished trumpet player. His musical career at Dartmouth, his love for jazz and the trumpet grew.
Olds also had a love for architecture, which some say he wanted to make his career choice, but instead took over the family-run business of Old Dry Goods.
Mason says he knew Jim as long as he could remember. Their parents were friends, and with only a few years age difference between the two, they quickly became friends. Becoming very close after college, the two continued to grow their friendship throughout the years.
When Mason found out about Old’s terminal illness, it wasn’t something he wasn’t prepared to deal with.
“It’s like somebody reached down my throat and pulled my stomach out,” Mason said. “It was such a blow.”
As Olds’ life neared to an end, Mason says they laughed about a couple of the dumb things they did as kids, the fun times they had and the times spent at Olds’ cabin.
“Thank God you have some great memories, and there sure are a lot of them,” Mason said.
“He really devoted himself to the city of Excelsior for more than half a century,” Mason said. “You didn’t just have a friend, you had an incredible friend. He’d do anything for you.”
Former Excelsior mayor Nick Ruehl says he met Olds when he used to play softball with a few of Olds’ friends. He’d go to his house after games and listen to Prairie Home Companion.
“It was a great time to have a beer, listen to Prairie Home Companion and talk,” Ruehl said.
Ruehl and Mason would talk politics, specifically about establishing the funds for sidewalk improvement.
“Jim was a quiet leader, and he stepped up as people asked him to do,” Ruehl said. “I think very fondly of Jim, he was a great friend and great for the community.”
Citing him as nothing short of a wonderful guy, Ruehl says Olds was also an early adopter of technology, having had one of the first computer systems in Excelsior. Olds used his love for technology and computers to help establish the finance program for the city.
Ruehl says they’d have great discussions about computers. Ruehl also says he had the best haunted house during Halloween.
Renting out his basement for many years to those who needed a place to lay their heads, Olds’ heart was something that was unmatched.
“He’s helped out a tremendous number of people,” Ruehl said.
Former Executive Director the then-South Lake-Excelsior Chamber of Commerce, Linda Murrell, says she wishes she had known him better. However, what she does remember is nothing short of a spectacular guy.
“I can’t say I know Jim as well as I wish I had,” she said. “Yet, before I ever met him, I knew who he was, and I knew from hearing about him through Old Dry Goods he was a legend.”
Murrell also says he had a love for the events at the Commons, such as the July 4 celebration and Art on the Lake. Old’s generosity allowed them to park the golf carts on his lawn.
She also recalls the first year the Minnesota Orchestra came and his excitement for the performance. When the buses parked out front, she says he could have been more upset, but handled it quite well. The buses were eventually moved and he was able to enjoy the performance with his guests.
Murrell also recalls running over a statue with a golf cart in his yard, and his big heart didn’t let him get upset. She made him homemade chicken and dumplings because she said he didn’t have a passion for cooking like he did for his other activities.
“He was very good about getting the casserole dish back to me,” she laughs.
A one-of-a-kind guy she says.
“He had one of those quiet personalities who influence over the city the way it developed … he had a much bigger influence in that than people realize,” Murrell said. “There just will never be another Jim Olds.”
Describing him as loyal, she said she wishes she had spent more time with him.
Contact Chris Dillmann at [email protected]