When reflecting on the life of Lois Olsen, it is easy to see that her gracious and selfless spirit shone through everything she did. She had a heart that beat to cover those around her with abundant amounts of unconditional love and unwavering compassion. Although she accomplished so much of which to be proud, Lois was a humble woman who was never concerned with gaining recognition for the things she did but content to do everything as an outpouring of the faith that was engraved upon her heart. Lois will be deeply missed while her spirit remains forever within the hearts and lives of all who were blessed to feel her touch.
It was great to be an American during the 1920s. Radios, refrigerators, and cars mass produced on assembly lines were signs of the time, and prosperity covered the land. Jazz music, Broadway shows, and motion pictures in both color and sound colored the cultural fabric during this vibrant decade. Amid this exciting time was an exciting time in the lives of Rev. Clifford and Ethel (Hess) Olsen as they were pleased to announce the birth of a baby girl they named Lois on on March 30, 1925, in Arcadia, Wisconsin. She was the only child in her family, and at a young age she became well versed in matters of faith as her father served Evangelical United Brethren and United Methodist pastorates for 45 years. Lois attended local schools, and by the time she was 13 she knew that she wanted to be a missionary in China, serving as a public nurse.
Soon after high school, Lois set her dream into motion. She graduated as a nurse in 1949 from UW-Madison and then enrolled at Yale University to learn Chinese. In January of 1950, the Communists invaded China and closed the borders to missionaries. The mission board then sent Lois to London to study midwifery where she earned her certificate of midwifery from the Central Midwives Board of England and Wales. It is during this same time period and city, that “Call the Midwives” was set. Then, Lois was sent to rural Tiama, Sierra Leone, Africa, where as a nurse-midwife she was in charge of a dispensary and 12-bed maternity unit for what became the next 12 years. During this time, Lois not only provided maternity care, but she also provided care for diseases and illnesses to the people of Tiama. This was anything but easy as Lois went to Sierra Leone with no language experience in this country of 18 dialects!
After contracting a serious case of malaria, Lois returned stateside and began working as a Public Health Nurse for the Milwaukee Health Department. After two years, she worked as a consultant for the Wisconsin Division of Health, spending four years there altogether. Lois obtained her United States certification for nurse midwifery from the University of Mississippi in 1971. She then worked as a certified nurse midwife (CNM) at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1972 and Family Hospital from 1973 through 1975. Lois was the first CNM to practice in the state of Wisconsin and fostered a working relationship with both the medical doctors and nurses on the important role that CNMs play in enhancing the duties of the entire healthcare team.
As someone who was always eager to learn and grow, Lois loved sharing her knowledge with others as well. She earned a Master’s Degree in Nursing Education from Marquette University in 1969 and was an associate professor at UW-M School of Nursing (SON) beginning in 1976. In 1980, Lois returned to her beloved Africa where she spent five months at a SON in Ganta, Kenya, conducting continuing education seminars in Cameroon, Liberia, Kenya, and Zambia. In addition, she taught at the SON at Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya, for one year in 1985 through 1986 and again from 1990 through 1992. In the summers from 1987 through 1990, she led groups of graduate nursing students from UW-M to Kenya on a course in cross-cultural nursing. In recognition of her unending and multifaceted commitment to the world of nursing, Lois received full tenure at UW-M School of Nursing even though she did not have a doctorate degree. Her professional honors include:1973 Milwaukee District Nurses Service Award, 1986 Wisconsin March of Dimes Nurse of the year, 1989 UW-M Excellence in teaching, 1997 Denman Award for Evangelism from the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church, and 2000 Fellow of the American College of Nurse-Midwives. In addition, Lois had numerous publications in various journals – namely The Journal of Nurse-Midwifery – and was also author of several research proposals, and reports. In addition, she published several books on her experiences in Africa and served on committees of both nursing and nurse-midwifery professional organizations.
Over the course of her career, Lois assisted over 980 women in delivering their babies. As a result, she has numerous “children” as well as countless “grandchildren.” With contentment in her heart, Lois spent a lifetime putting the needs and comforts of others above her own. When reflecting on her career, Lois said simply, “I loved it all.”
Outside of her career, Lois was a member of Kenwood United Methodist Church where she has served in a number of leadership positions. She has also been lay delegate to the annual conference of the United Methodist Church for 11 years and a delegate to general conference and jurisdictional conference. Lois served on numerous committees at the district and state levels of the Untied Methodist Church and enjoyed documenting the histories of churches and their pastors.
Through the life she lived each day, Lois Olsen exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord she loved. She was never looking for the praise and admiration of those around her, rather, her mission was to love, nurture, and care for others in ways both great and small. Spreading her compassionate care both stateside and abroad, the lives of countless others were forever changed because of her touch. Lois leaves behind a timeless legacy and will never be forgotten.
Lois Olsen died on Thursday, September 17, 2015. Lois is survived by many loving relatives and friends. Visitation will be held at Kenwood United Methodist Church, 2319 E. Kenwood Blvd. on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 from 3:00 p.m. until the time of Funeral Services at 5:00 p.m. Interment Arcadia Cemetery in Arcadia, Wisconsin. In lieu of flowers, Lois requested donations to Kenwood United Methodist Women, Church Women United, Northcott Neighborhood House Fresh Start Program or St. John’s on the Lake.