She mentored more than 100 foster children over nearly 50 years.
Having grown up an only child, Marilyn Olson chose to spend her adult life surrounded by children.
The mother of five became a foster mom to more than 100 children over nearly 50 years, welcoming children into her Brooklyn Park home.
Olson, who took in children when she was well into her 70s, died Saturday at North Ridge Care Center in New Hope. She was 84 and had Alzheimer's disease.
"She had so much love to give around," said her daughter, Paula Netherton, of Brooklyn Park. The first foster child, a girl named Loretta, came to live with the Olsons because they wanted to give Paula a sister.
After Loretta, Netherton said, there were more foster children. "She thought she would help other girls. Then one led to another, which led to another and led to another."
Olson was born in 1927 in Minneapolis. She graduated West High in Minneapolis and in 1948 married Paul Olson.
They had four boys and a girl of their own when they decided to become foster parents through Hennepin County.
From 1988 through 2007, they also were licensed for therapeutic foster care with Volunteers of America's Family Treatment Program, welcoming hard-to-place kids.
Olson displayed photos of all her foster children alongside pictures of her biological children. When it came time to take a family vacation, everybody went.
"They just loved kids and wanted to help them and give them something they didn't have before," Netherton said of her parents.
She recalled seeing her mother sitting at the kitchen table, helping the children with their homework. Her mother also liked to help them with their problems. "She spent many hours mentoring, talking, working through decisionmaking about their lives," she said.
Her parents stopped taking in kids only when her father's health declined. He died five years ago.
Inspired by her parents' example, Netherton became a foster mom, too.
When Marilyn Olson wasn't taking care of kids, she was indulging her love of learning. At the age of 56, she went to school at North Hennepin Technical College. She earned her certified nursing assistant license in 1987.
In addition to her daughter, Olson is survived by sons Brad, of Canton, S.D., Craig, of Fridley, Ross, of North Branch and Akiva Benavraham, formerly known as Scott Olson, of Brooklyn Park; 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday, with services from 11 to noon that same day at Jesus People Church, 10925 Trail Haven Road in Rogers.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488