ELY – Sigurd Olson lived life on his own terms. The story of the world-renowned environmentalist and his connection to the Ely area is well known in these parts. His legacy lives on through the …
ELY – Sigurd Olson lived life on his own terms. The story of the world-renowned environmentalist and his connection to the Ely area is well known in these parts. His legacy lives on through the Listening Point Foundation.
Patsy Mogush, a member of the Board of Directors for the Listening Point Foundation, reminded a recent Tuesday Group audience of the importance of Sig’s influence on many environmental issues that seem to continue to boil in the kettle of conversation and debate in northern Minnesota.
She told two stories: the life and work and passion of Sig; and the story of the Foundation dedicated to him.
When she asked how many people had visited Listening Point on Burntside Lake, or had read any of his nine books, she concluded, “This is a little like preaching to the choir.”
Who was Sig?
Born in Chicago to Swedish Baptist parents, Sig grew up in northern Wisconsin where he developed his lifelong interest in the outdoors.
In June 1921, Olson took his first canoe trip where he fell in love with the canoe country wilderness of the Arrowhead region that would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
In August of that year, Olson married Elizabeth Dorothy Uhrenholdt, and the two spent their honeymoon on three-week canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. He worked as a canoe guide for J.C. Russell’s outfitters on Fall Lake before purchasing the business in 1929.
After studying agriculture, botany, geology, and ecology at Northland College, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the University of Illinois, Olson moved to Ely to teach biology at Ely Junior College (now Vermilion Community College). He later chaired the science department and served as dean. He spent most of his life in the Ely area, working as a canoe guide during the summer months, teaching, and writing about the natural history, ecology, and outdoor life in and around the BWCA.
He died on January 13, 1982, of a heart attack while snowshoeing near his home. According to Mogush, found in Sig’s typewriter was this statement: “There’s a new adventure coming up and I am sure it will be a good one.”
Olson created Listening Point, on rugged property on Burntside Lake near Ely, in 1956 as a private retreat. The site became widely known and celebrated after Sig’s book, “Listening Point,” was published in 1958.
“You can say Listening Point is a big piece of rock,” Mogush said. “Listening Point has a history of its own, as well as being part of history.”
Sig’s wife, Elizabeth, and youngest son, Robert, kept the memory of Sig alive. “The story of what he stood for, his passion for nature and the wilderness does not end,” Mogush said.
The Listening Point Foundation, Inc. was formed in 1998 and has two missions: to preserve the property and buildings on Listening Point and to further Olson’s legacy of wilderness education by publishing wilderness education materials and sponsoring wilderness education programs.
“We are a small organization where one person does most everything,” she said, referring to the organization’s executive director, Alanna Dore.
There is no membership fee to join the group or to receive the semi-annual newsletter, but donations are accepted, Mogush said.
A couple of years ago, the foundation started publishing a calendar. The 2015 calendar featured photographs by Jim Brandenburg. The 2016 calendar features the photography of Heidi Pinkerton. The soon-to-be-available 2017 calendar will feature the photography of Steve Voiles. All proceeds from the calendar sales help to fund the Listening Point Foundation.
Tours are conducted regularly at Listening Point. “Annually, we have about 600 people who take this tour,” Mogush said.
Writers’ workshops are held at the historic site. The foundation also funds two writing scholarships each year, one for Ely High School students and the other for VCC students.
In 2014, the Olson’s Ely home was purchased by the Listening Point Foundation through several generous donations, according to Mogush.
With some remodeling, an office was added, along with a display area for merchandise, and storage space.
“Visitors can now come to the house as well as Listening Point,” she said. “I think that the people who come to the house feel very comfortable. Alanna has looked out her office door to see people grab a book, sit in a chair and read from Sig’s books in his own house.”
For more information on the Listening Point Foundation, call 365-8889, or go to www.listeningpointfoundation.org.