He was born Arthur Olson and went by Jerry. But everyone knew him as “Mr. Rose.”
Olson, whose lifelong passion for the most romantic of flowers blossomed into his informal knighting as Minnesota’s rose ambassador, died March 27 after a broken hip led to a decline in health. He was 96.
Olson’s longtime home in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis was always bursting with roses. At times 500 bushes or more dominated his back yard, said his brother, Jim Olson.
The scenery was much the same when he moved in 1984 to the corner of W. 109th Street and Stanley Avenue in Bloomington.
“Bus tours would come by,” Jim Olson said. “It was pretty extensive. Three, four buses would come at a time.”
If he wasn’t giving roses to his neighbors or bringing them with every visit to his church since he was a youth, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis, Jerry Olson was supplying the flower of love on the big day in the lives of brides and grooms.
“He was never married, but he furnished a lot of roses for people’s weddings and receptions,” Jim Olson said.
Jerry Olson’s relationship with the rose was exhaustive, ranging from his national travels as an American Rose Society judge to heading the Minnesota Rose Society to co-authoring “Growing Roses in Cold Climates.” He joined rose societies in Australia, Britain, Canada and France, offering those nations his wisdom as a consulting rosarian.
His robust rose résumé inspired the American Rose Society to name a variation in his honor. The “Jerry-O,” an especially fragrant miniature pink rose, debuted as part of the society’s 1997 national convention in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Rose Society’s Lorraine Churilla explained at the time that the national convention typically unveiled new roses named after the host city, but this time “we really wanted to honor Jerry, who is known as Mr. Rose. He is such a good mentor and good rose grower.”
Jerry Olson described himself in a 2001 interview as “still goofy about roses, still up at 4:30 a.m. soaking the daylights out of them, doing everything I can for them.”
He attended Minneapolis South High School and earned a master’s in history from the University of Minnesota. During World War II, Capt. Olson served in Japan during in the 4th Marine Division’s landings on Iwo Jima and Saipan, taking grenade shrapnel.
He returned home from the war and started a 40-year railroad career with the Milwaukee Road, walking distance from his home and never far from his beloved roses.
Roses are “the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said in 1997. “I love them because they offer such a long bloom time. ... Every year, I learn more and more, and I get more fascinated about this all the time.”
Jerry Olson was preceded in death by a brother, Curtis, and a sister, Marjorie. Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Cremation Society of Minnesota, 7110 France Av. S., Edina, with visitation one hour prior. Private interment is scheduled to follow at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, which counts the Lyndale Park Rose Garden among its neighbors.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482