Dealer takes time to visit prisoners
Olson: Books and Bibles
Most Tuesday evenings Dick Olson is in prison.
But not as an inmate.
Dick and his wife, Debbie, distribute books and Bibles to more than 400 inmates at the Cascade County Regional Detention Facility in Great Falls, Mont.
It is part of their church's prison outreach ministry.
"It's probably the only recreation those people in prison get," Olson says in a soft-spoken manner resonating deep warmth.
Olson graduated from Colorado College in 1972. He went to work that year as a salesman at Bison Ford in Great Falls. His father, Les Olson, founded the dealership in 1937. In 2001, Dick, Debbie and partner Jim Stanger bought what is now Helena Motors, a Ford-Lincoln-Toyota dealership in Helena, Mont. In 2009, Dick Olson and Stanger bought Grimes Motors, now called Helena Auto Center, in Helena. It sells Honda, GMC and Buick vehicles.
Many of the inmates whom Olson meets each week are Native Americans from vastly different and impoverished backgrounds, he says.
"When you do it week after week you see how despondent those people get and how few role models there are," Olson says. "We try to show some respect and love, and make a difference in their lives, so that maybe some of what we do rubs off on them."
Olson has volunteered at the medium-security prison for seven years, says Judy Ericksen, organizer of the Cascade County Regional Detention Facility library in Great Falls. Ericksen started the book distribution program about 16 years ago.
"It has to be pure and from your heart to do it," Ericksen says. "It's not pleasant, it's challenging. So for him to do it is remarkable."
While Dick, Debbie and six other volunteers are physically safe from the inmates, there have been incidents of foul language and disrespectful behavior, Ericksen says.
"There was an incident when an offender got out of hand and was a bit disrespectful, and Dick just said, 'Well that's it, we're done for the night,'" Ericksen says. "So the inmates learned not to do that again."
Olson's generosity extends beyond his time, Ericksen says. There is no budget to buy new books or Bibles. So on occasion Olson has donated $1,000 to the prison library to buy more books, Ericksen says.
"If they see we're running short of Bibles, a box of those will suddenly appear," Ericksen says. "I'm aware they've given them."
And as a wedding present to Ericksen, Olson funded a program for inmates to read a book on video to their children.
The books and the DVDs of the parent reading were then given to the children.
Over the years, Olson also has raised thousands of dollars for United Way and provided thousands of gifts for needy children in his community. That included buying Christmas gifts for children of incarcerated parents and putting the parents' names on the gifts.
"The child is supposed to think that the parent thought enough about them to go out and purchase gifts for them at Christmastime," Olson says. "Then on Dec. 20 Debbie and I distribute them, and that's really an eye-opener when you see the condition that these kids are living in. There are 20 to 30 children each year."
Olson and his wife also take a few of those children to a five-day church camp over the summer, he says.
In addition to his work at the prison, Olson has provided a Toyota vehicle for raffle in each of the past five years.
The proceeds, about $20,000 to $40,000 a year, benefit several school programs in the community, Olson says.
Olson says his charity work takes up very little of his time, but the reward he gets from helping others is immeasurable.
"We do it because no one else would probably do it if it weren't us," Olson says of his prison volunteer work.
He adds: "The most rewarding thing is when the inmate says, 'God bless you for doing this service.' ''
You can reach Jamie LaReau at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Jamie on