Daryl and Dirk Olsen who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, found a second career making and selling wooden game boards.
Dirk and Daryl Olsen, of Sandy, aren't big on change. In their 50 years of marriage, celebrated earlier this month, they've spent every year looking from the same view - the first 11 years as a struggling young family living in a basement apartment on historic Pioneer Street (8530 South), then building a home next door in 1967, where they still reside.
The sweethearts - 31 days apart in age - were set up on a blind date by mutual friends and were 18 years old when they married.
"He married an older woman," Daryl jokes.
On that date - March 7, 1955 - Ike was in office and television was nearly non-existent, leaving radio shows like "Amos & Andy," "The Invisible Man" and "The Great Gildersleeve" to entertain the masses. Sandy boasted more wheat fields than homes, with only 6,000 residents in its mile-square radius, according to Bertha Rand, director of the Sandy Museum.
Basement apartments were common due to post-World War II shortages. Life was a challenge, living with six small children - three girls, three boys - in a two-bedroom flat. "I think the hardest thing when they were younger was the financial struggle of buying enough shoes and stuff on mostly a single income," says Dirk, who was employed as a mid-level accounting manager at the aerospace giant Hercules Corp. for 31 years.
Daryl helped out financially when the kids grew older, working at Altara Elementary and eventually Hercules, where they ate lunch together occasionally.
Home financing was tough to get, since Dirk, a non-contractor, was doing most of the work himself. "We had sub-contractors come and had the masonry done, but other than that, I did most of the building while working full time."
"We all pitched in," says oldest daughter Cindee Ainsworth, 49. "The house was made with cinder blocks, and we had these coffee cans filled with insulation that we'd pour down into these chutes. I remember climbing up the ladder, doing this hour after hour, day after day," she said with a laugh.
The loan amount was ,300, less than the cost of an economy sedan today.
"Back then, if you had a ,000 home," Daryl says, "you had a beautiful home."
Renovations such as a new kitchen have brightened and modernized the home over the years. "I was forced to do that," jokes Dirk, pointing to his maple cabinets. "Twenty years ago, I went through a second childhood and had to have a sports car [a Nissan 300ZX]. All of a sudden, she needed to have a kitchen."
Dirk's affinity for woodworking became more than a hobby when he was furloughed from Hercules at age 56. He began by making birdhouses and cutting boards, but soon found his niche.
"I got a call from a gentleman in Arizona who asked if I could make him some game boards and he tried to describe them to me. . . . Then he actually sent one up. I told him I could replicate that, but I suggested to him I make the pattern bigger and use strips of wood glued together to stabilize the wood to help prevent warping. He said that sounded good to him. So he said, 'Send me 500,' and I just about fainted," Dirk says.
Today, he makes game boards such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Aggravation, Labyrinth, and their best-seller, Marble-Solitaire, from alderwood, walnut, mahogany or Brazilian cherry, selling 4,000 a year at crafts shows as far away as Minnesota, California and Illinois.
The business went online a year ago, and can be accessed at http://www.marbleboard games.com. "We have repeat customers. If they have one of our games, they'll have all our games, because they come back again and again," Daryl says.
The Olsens, who enjoyed boating together at Lake Powell and vacationing with their family, now 50 in number, in places like West Yellowstone and Bear Lake, still get together each year. "We're Lake Powell lovers. Every year we get together for a family reunion. Now the kids decide where we're going to go, what we're going to do," Daryl says.
Closeness is key for the Olsens. "I don't remember them ever fighting," says Laura Paustenbaugh, another Olsen daughter. "They're always together," she says, recalling how her mother always slid across the car's seat to sit right next to Dirk in their '57 Chevy. "My friends thought that was so weird."
Still, life has not been without its challenges: Both Dirk and Daryl have faced cancer - Dirk with colon cancer in 1981. "I heard right after I lost my kid brother to cancer," Dirk says, whose brother Lou died of stomach cancer in February 1981 at age 39, leaving a family of five. Dirk discovered his cancer the following May, but fought it successfully.
Daryl, who also had double bypass surgery in 2001, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35. She is now cancer-free.
The couple served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Aruba from 1994 through 1996.
Recently, the couple took in their 15-year-old grand-niece, Fairen, who attends Jordan High School. "She's a good girl. She just needed a home," says Daryl.
Their formula for 50 years of happiness? "Stick to it, stand by each other, and help in times of need," Daryl says.
"Then shoot for 50 more," Dirk adds.
[end of story]
By Lee Benson
Deseret News columnist
If you don't think life begins at 56, you haven't seen what Dirk and Daryl Olsen have done with their family room.
Or their spare bedroom.
Welcome to the world headquarters of Olsen Woodcrafting at 272 E.Pioneer Ave., Sandy, Utah, USA.
The Olsens live upstairs. The mahogany, maple, oak, walnut, hickory, alderwood and maple game boards have taken over the downstairs.
It all started eight years ago, when Dirk and Daryl, who are 31 days apart in age, both got laid off from their jobs at Hercules, an aerospace company that has since sold its Utah division. They were both approaching their 56th birthdays.
Talk about stuck in the middle.
Too young to retire, too old to start over.
And not enough money to sail the world.
The Olsens took 18 months off to serve an LDS mission in the Caribbean and think about their future.
Then they came home and started to live it.
Dirk always wanted to have more time with his woodworking hobby, and Daryl always wanted to have more time with Dirk.
Just like that, their home business was born.
Now, eight years after being drop-kicked out of working for a living, they're working harder than ever, only they don't call it work. They call it life.
Dirk looks back on the day Hercules gave him his pink slip like Larry Miller looks back on the day he drafted Stockton.
"I was forced into ecstasy," he says
In his previous working lifetime he got up at 6:30, drove to a job he grew to despise, and hoped he could hang on till 60.
In his new working lifetime he gets up when he wants, commutes to his workshop 10 paces away, and hopes it never ends.
Other than that, there's no difference.
The crazy thing is, the Olsens didn't find anything new under the sun.
All they found was a niche.
Dirk decided he wanted to make things out of hardwood people would want to buy. He started with cutting boards, then bird-feeders. The cutting boards are still piled in his workshop. The bird-feeders didn't do a lot better.
Then he hit onto the idea of making really nice boards for board games.
Olsen Woodcrafting has 10 board games in its inventory, including such age-old favorites as Mancala, mazes, checkers, chess, Chinese checkers and its perennial best-seller, Marble Solitaire, or Grant's Solitaire, since it is reputed that Gen. U.S. Grant used to play this one-person game in his battlefield tent when he wanted to take his mind off the Civil War.
All these games require marbles, which are included with the boards, and none requires batteries.
The Olsens have found a demand for their high-quality hardwood board games as they've driven around the country the past four years displaying them at crafts fairs. It is not uncommon for them to sell more than 100 games during a three-day fair, at an average price of per game.
That gives them a reasonable return on their investment and also takes care of the middleman, which is their van.
They hit the crafts fair circuit heavily in the fall, from late August to the first of December, then they come back to the office to make more boards, balance the books and sleep in their own bed.
This past Christmas they also expanded to the Internet, with encouraging early results.
"It's really kind of amazing what's happened to us," says Daryl.
"I'll tell you what feels good," says Dirk. "Being able to pay your own way and make a few bucks, that's a good feeling."
And all it took to find freedom was to first get fired.