POULSBO — As a man who’s used to doing things for others, Erling “Bub” Olsen seemed flabbergasted as the audience not once, but twice gave him a standing ovation after he received the rank of Eagle Scout.
Choking back his emotions, the teary-eyed man’s mouth formed the words “Why?”
While Olsen seemed surprised, everyone else in the audience seemed to know why such a commotion was necessary.
After all, it’s not every day that an 84-year-old receives the Boy Scouts of America’s highest rank.
Olsen, a Port Angeles resident who grew up in Poulsbo, became the oldest person to ever receive the rank of Eagle. For Olsen, it was the ending of a regret he’d carried with him for nearly 70 years.
“Presentation of the Eagle Award is an important and serious matter,” explained master of ceremonies Jim Green at the beginning of the March 9 event. “For the Eagle candidate before us today, the award is a long-overdue climax of his scouting efforts for many years.”
Olsen joined Poulsbo Troop 1571 (then Troop 571) at the age of 10, and eventually fulfilled all of his requirements to receive his Eagle. However, tragedy struck in August 1936 when troop member Earl Bardon fell to his death hiking in the Olympics and Olsen’s Eagle was pushed to the sidelines as the town (then, with a population of only about 700) mourned the loss of the 18-year-old.
Olsen’s life moved on and he never received the little silver eagle hanging from a banner of red, white and blue. It remained something in his heart, however, that he always longed for but never thought he could attain — until last year.
After Olsen had a defribrulating pacemaker installed, long-time family friend Danette “Beaver” Rutten commented to him that he’d done so much for so many people and asked if there was anything he wished for that others could do for him.
Rutten met Olsen when she was a young woman raising three children alone. Olsen, then a service-station owner, allowed her to pay him in small increments for a set of tires she desperately needed for her car.
“I never forgot that,” Rutten commented. “He’s done a lot for a lot of people.”
Olsen told Rutten about his Eagle, and the ball started rolling. Rutten had worked with the BSA for years, and still knew many members of the Chief Seattle Council.
At first, officials were a little skeptical, but then Troop 1571 members got involved as well. Troop leaders began looking for the nearly 70-year-old records, some they found at the American Legion, some were at First Lutheran and some presented a few challenges.
“One thing people don’t know is there were records in Norwegian they had to go back and translate,” said son Tom Olsen.
Working from about October until December of 2002, leaders found records enabling them to validate that Olsen had received 22 merit badges (13 of which were Eagle requirements). Olsen received his second Eagle Board of Review this January and members unanimously agreed he should receive his award.
“I’ve heard the story my entire life and it never occurred to me to do what Beaver did,” Tom Olsen commented, noting that his family was grateful for everyone who worked on his father’s behalf. “I never thought you could go back and dig out records like that.”
“He’s used scouting principles all of his life. The scouting law has been a basis of his whole life,” added daughter Sandy Sinnes, who was asked to present her father with his Eagle neckerchief in the place of Olsen’s mother.
Joined by many old friends and the majority of his family (including his wife Alice, with whom he was celebrating his 63rd wedding anniversary) Olsen finally received his award Sunday — almost. Olsen’s Eagle pin had not arrived in time for the ceremony, so fellow Eagle and Troop 1571 member Kenji Narimatsu removed his own Eagle and handed it to Tom Olsen to pin onto his father in the meantime.
“It would be an honor if you would accept my badge until yours is received,” Narimatsu told Olsen during the ceremony. Narimatsu later said he was happy to share his award with the elder scout.
“We all think, well at least I think, it’s pretty cool,” Narimatsu commented on Olsen’s long road to receive the honor.
And as if receiving the award he’s always longed for wasn’t enough, Mayor Donna Jean Bruce also awarded Olsen with a certificate and pin naming him an honorary Poulsbo citizen. Olsen thanked everyone who had helped him get to this point and with his emotions rising, the man who loves to tell stories, for once, was a little at a loss for words.
“To receive this after 70 years of waiting, I never thought it was possible,” Olsen commented after receiving the award. “The other wonderful thing is it’s taking place in the town of Poulsbo where I was born and raised. I love the town of Poulsbo and I’ve bragged about it for years.”