Sanpete native brings turkey to President Obama
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Every year since 1947, the president of the United States has granted a “pardon” to a turkey, sparing the bird from being gobbled up by people sitting around a Thanksgiving table.
This year, on the day before Thanksgiving, President Obama pardoned not one, but two turkeys, Tater and Tot, grown on a family farm in Iowa.
Escorting the turkeys to Washington, and keeping them under control during the ceremony, was an Ephraim native, a former veterinarian for what is now Norbest, and a member of a local family that has been in the turkey business for six generations.
Dr. Terry Olson, son of Dick and Norma Olson, who was a veterinarian for Norbest (formerly Moroni Feed) from 1988 to 2009, joined John Reicks, chairman of the board of the National Turkey Federation, and Reicks’ wife, Nelda, in the presentation on the White House lawn.
Terry Olson’s roots in the turkey business go back to his great-grandfather, Orson Olson, who started a turkey farm in Sanpete County in 1935. Working with Orson in the business was his son, Ray Olson, Terry’s grandfather.
“It’s been in our genes ever since,” Dick Olson, Terry’s father, says.
In 1960, Dick Olson graduated from Utah State University in agriculture economics and, with his brother Doug, took over the Orson Olson-Ray Olson turkey business.
Besides raising turkeys, Dick Olson was on the board of Western Ag Credit, a company that makes agricultural loans to farmers and ranchers, from 1984 to 2008, including serving three years as chairman of the board. He also served on the Utah Turkey Marketing Board. He also served on the board of the National Turkey Federation.
Dick and Norma Olson had four sons, three of whom are still involved in the turkey industry. They also had three daughters, all of whom, as girls, raised turkeys as 4-H projects.
In fact, their oldest daughter, Signe, who was 10 at the time, raised what was then touted as the largest turkey every produced in Utah. The live bird was 73 lbs. After slaughter and packaging, it weighed 58.5 lbs. Signe’s turkey was even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for a couple of years for being the biggest turkey on record.
In 1974, perhaps foreshadowing her brother’s moment in the spotlight, Signe, joined by her parents, presented her record-size turkey to then Gov. Calvin Rampton.
A few years after Signe’s presentation, Dick Olson was part of a group of leaders in the Utah turkey industry who gave a turkey to Rampton’s successor, Gov. Scott Matheson.
In 1984, one of Dick and Norma Olsen’s sons and Terry’s brother, Gary, took over his dad’s turkey operation. Gary Olson served six years on the board of directors of Moroni Feed Co., including three years as chairman.
Meanwhile, another son, Mark, who lives in Manti, got into the business and now works with another Manti family in a company known as Southwest Farms.
In 2015, both Mark and Gary Olson were sworn in as members of the South Sanpete School Board. Mark Olson is also president of the Manti LDS Stake.
A fourth son, Glen, apparently decided turkeys were not in his genes, his father says. He is a dentist in Mt. Pleasant.
In recent years, a fifth Olson generation, great-great-grandsons of founder Orson Olson, have started stepping into their forefathers’ shoes. Barton Olson is now working with his father, Gary. And Steven Olson, Barton’s cousin, plays a key role in Mark Olson’s turkey operation.
But wait. It doesn’t necessarily start there. Steven Olson now has a two-year-old son, Jace, who likes to ride around with family members when they work with turkeys. Jace is the great-great-great-grandson of Orson Olson. If he does go into the turkey business when he gets older, he will be the seventh generation.
At the ceremony at the White House, President Obama said that most years of his presidency, his daughters, Malia and Sasha, have been on hand to watch the turkey pardons.
They weren’t there this year, the president said, because they were tired of their dad’s turkey jokes. Instead, two young nephews of President and Michelle Obama, Austin and Aaron Robinson, joined the president at the microphone. They even got to pet Tater and Tot.
“It’s my great privilege—well it’s my privilege—actually let’s just say it’s my job to grant them (the two turkeys) clemency this afternoon,” the president said. “As I do, I want to take a moment to recognize the brave turkeys who weren’t so lucky, who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom, who met their fate with courage and sacrifice—and proved that they weren’t chicken.”
The president also explained why two turkeys were on the White House lawn. “Tater is here in a backup role just in case Tot can’t perform his duties,” Obama said. “He’s sort of like a vice turkey.”
The president announced the turkeys, once pardoned, would go to a new facility at Virginia Tech University called “Gobbler’s Rest” where they would live out their natural lives, and where students and veterinarians would care for them.
Terry Olson, the Ephraim native involved in the presentation, graduated from Manti High, Snow College and Utah State University. He got his degree in veterinary science from Colorado State University in 1988.
He now lives in Storm Lake, Iowa, where he is the veterinarian for turkey production operations for Tyson Foods. He was asked by Reicks, the chairman of the National Turkey Federation, to take care of the two turkeys that went to Washington for the pardoning event.