Olene bench dedication

Nancy Olene’s family stands beside a bench dedicated in her name at Jackson Elementary School. Olene was a dedicated volunteer at the school who died in September.

Jackson Elementary teachers rallied together to collect money for a bench honoring Nancy Olene, the mother of a third-grade teacher at the school and a longtime volunteer who died last month.

Olene’s son Timothy Olene, a teacher at the school, said for the last eight years, his mother gave more than 3,000 hours of volunteer service to the school. Her volunteering began when her grandson, Gavin, started first grade at the school.

“As time went on, she began helping everyone out,” Timothy Olene said. “She was laminating, using the die cut machine to stamp out shapes for projects, helping with buddy lunches and went on several field trips when teachers were short parent volunteers.

In August 2018, Nancy Olene was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. When doctors told her to stay away from the school during her chemotherapy treatments, Timothy Olene said she only slowed down for a short period of time before slowly working her way back into the classroom by helping students with daily math and reading help.

This past summer, Nancy Olene learned the cancer had returned and spread to her stomach and lungs. She died last month.

“Even during her final weeks we would talk about who was going to do all the work in the workroom this year,” Timothy Olene said. “She is missed by so many here at Jackson.”

The bench is located inside the school and reads, “Buddy Bench. In memory of Nancy Olene.”

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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