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Tractor procession escorts late Cortland farmer Orville Olson to burial

Orville Olson, 100, was born and died on the same family farm

SYCAMORE – Nobody knew more about tractors and farming equipment than Orville Olson.

So when the 100-year-old Cortland resident died July 9 on the farm where he’d lived his entire life, his friends and family wanted to do something to pay tribute to the lifelong farmer.

After his funeral service Saturday at Salem Lutheran Church in Sycamore, four tractors driven by his friends led the procession to the burial site in Elmwood Cemetery to honor Olson’s love of farming.

Monte Smith drove Olson’s 1963 tractor, which led the way. Smith, a longtime friend of Olson’s, said the escort was a great tribute.

“It was an honor for me to lead,” Smith said. “He was like a second dad to me. He was a great person, and I’m going to miss him. He lived on the same farm his whole life, and not everybody gets to do that.”

Olson’s daughter, Andra Olson, came up with the idea for the tractor escort. She said she wanted to do something different at the service, but wanted make sure it was something that he loved and reflected who he was.

Orville Olson, who raised corn and soybeans, grew up farming with his parents and grandparents and had been a member of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau since 1946.

“The farm has been in the family since 1889, and my dad farmed into his 70s,” Andra Olson said. “There’s a void now. It’s very empty. He had a routine, which he stuck to. He’d come over for coffee almost every day and was mentally sharp and physically able until his last day. He was friends with many local farmers, and a lot of people will miss him.”

Part of Orville’s routine was visiting Sam’s Family Restaurant in Cortland most mornings. Waitress Cherie Stuba said Orville would sit in the same booth every day, and always was there promptly at 6:40 a.m.

“We became friends. Everybody loved Orville,” Stuba said. “We’ll miss him so much. If he didn’t show up, we’d wonder about him. The tractor escort was very nice. He loved farming and talked about it a lot.”

Jay Staley of Cortland also was a regular at Sam’s, and drove one of the tractors in the procession. Staley said he and Orville Olson often would have coffee together.

“He was a quiet guy, but a nice guy. He would tell the best stories,” Staley said. “I wanted to drive one of the tractors for his family. I felt honored to be a part of it because he was my friend.”

Orville’s grandson, Brandon Todd, recalled that his grandfather had a very sharp memory and could be counted on to remember names and dates.

“He was quiet, but always paid attention to what you had to say,” Todd said. “He was very fortunate to have such a full life. He would’ve loved the tractor escort. He was an encyclopedia of agriculture knowledge.”

Linda Bennett Sauer, Olson’s goddaughter, said he drove his tractor into his 90s, and she called the escort “fantastic.”

“Farming was all he knew, so it fit,” Sauer said. “He was so patient and never got upset with anyone. He was always there when we needed him.”

Orville Olson was born Sept. 26, 1916, on his family’s Cortland farm to Otto and Edith Olson, and he graduated from Sycamore High School in 1935.

In addition to farming, he was a Cortland Township trustee from the 1950s through the 1980s. He was a member of Salem Lutheran Church for 82 years, and was a founding member and past president of O.E. International, according to his obituary.

In addition to his daughter, Andra, Olson is survived by his wife, Wilda; sons, Owen and Gail; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, in addition to several stepchildren and step-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, two siblings and his first wife, Elaine.

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