Serving and building are driving
forces in Darrel Olsen’s career, life
By Suzanne Dean
Jan. 11, 2018
EPHRAIM—Whether taking care of patients at the Ephraim Clinic or volunteering in an Ephraim Elementary School kindergarten class, Dr. Darrel Olsen loves giving service to others.
He and his wife, Corinne, a pharmacist, have infused that ethic into their family of six children.
“We believe if you are a good person, you should help people around you because it gives you joy and happiness,” he says.
His other passion is building. His projects have ranged from building his own 3,500-square-foot home, to building a New England-style wall a couple of hundred feet long by stacking up rocks found on his property, to building the Fun-on-the-Farm exhibit for the Sanpete County Fair.
A few months ago, he turned a corner in his life when, at 58, he retired from his medical practice after 25 years.
“It wasn’t as fun as it used to be,” he says After IHC installed a new computer system, it took two hours longer per day to see the same number of patients because of the data entry required.
Olsen preferred to devote his time to people— to patients and the clinic staff. “I would be glad to work for people and not deal with insurance and charge a lot less,” he says.
Olsen is a descendant of Mormon pioneers from Denmark who settled in Ephraim in the 1800s. His parents were Ward and Deon Olsen. His father was a farmer who raised sheep and cattle. His mother was a kindergarten teacher for many years at Ephraim Elementary School.
He decided to become a doctor at about age 10. “I was looking into different occupations. I just decided at that point I would become a doctor and just went in that direction.”
After serving an LDS mission in California and Venezuela, he got his associate’s degree from SnowCollege in 1982 and his bachelor’s degree in professional chemistry from the University of Utah in 1985.
Then he started medical school at the U of U. At the time, the U of U was on the quarter rather than semester system. The typical undergraduate class load was 15 credits per quarter. The class load in medical school was 36 credits per quarter.
The medical classes themselves weren’t a lot more difficult than some of his undergraduate classes, he says. “But the volume was huge, and there was never any time.”
During the last two years of his four years in medical school, besides taking classes, he did clinic rotations that sometime required him to stay up all night.
It was in medical school where he met Corinne, who was in the pharmacy school, also located on the U of U Health Sciences campus.
Corinne, the daughter of former Sanpete County Commissioner Steve Frischknecht and Kathy Frischknecht, grew up in Manti. But she and Darrel didn’t meet until both were at the university. They were married a few months before he finished med school.
His next stop was an internship and residency in family medicine through the U of U. He spent time at University, St. Marks, Holy Cross, Cottonwood and McKay-Dee hospitals.
That was back when residents worked 36 hours, then had 12 hours off, then launched into another 36-hour shift. They had to stay at the hospital the whole 36 hours. Theoretically, they could sleep during some of those hours. But because of work demands, sleep was often sporadic. (Those kinds of hours are no longer permitted.)
Olsen remembers one three-week rotation at the U of U, during which, he says, “I probably delivered over 100 babies.”
During his residency, he and his wife lost a baby girl. The pregnancy went full-term, but the baby died during delivery. “It was hard, but it made me more empathic with my patients,” he says.
After his residency, Darrel and Corinne took three months off. Then, in September, 1992, they came home to Sanpete County, and Darrel started practicing medicine.
He joined what he describes as a “very cohesive group” of physicians practicing in Central Sanpete and North Sanpete, including Robert Armstrong, Kim Bateman, Bruce Burnham and Gene Speakman. “It was a great group of doctors. Very honorable men,” he says.
One of the group’s responsibilities was covering Sanpete Valley Hospital on weekends, including taking care of patients in the hospital and emergency room. The physician on call had to stay at the hospital from Friday night though Sunday night. Each doctor pulled the weekend shift every five weeks.
When Olsen started out, the doctors were covering the hospital “almost as a charity.” Later, they started getting hourly pay for handling emergency cases.
Does he remember any spooky cases over his years in practice? “There are always spooky cases,” he says.
One was his own wife. She was pregnant and being attended by Dr. Armstrong. When she went into labor and Armstrong had to perform an emergency cesarean, Armstrong called her husband in to assist. “She nearly passed away,” Olsen says.
The baby, a boy, was in the newborn intensive care unit at Utah Valley Medical Center for 11 days. A doctor there told the Olsens the baby probably had brain damage. By all appearances, the diagnosis was wrong. The boy, Calan, is now 25 and is one semester away from getting his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the U of U.
Another time, a woman’s uterus tore open during labor, and she started to hemorrhage. In such cases, about 90 percent of the babies and 50 percent of the mothers die.
“The time from when we started the C-section and when the baby was out was 45 seconds,” he says. Both mother and baby survived.
In his “off” time from practicing medicine, Olsen was absorbed with building and serving. He did call in contractors to pour the foundation, perfetape the sheet rock and lay the brick on his three-level home, located on a 180-acre property in the foothills east of Ephraim.
He did nearly all the rest of the work himself in the evenings and on weekends. It took six years.
One of his service activities began with his own son, who showed some developmental delays in early childhood. “I wanted to observe how he fit in with other students,” Olsen says. So on Fridays, his day off from the clinic, he became the “room father” in the boy’s kindergarten class
When his next son got into kindergarten, “he wouldn’t let me out of it,” Olsen says, so he volunteered for a second year.
One of the Olsen family’s most notable service projects has been creating the Fun-on-the-Farm exhibit. Commissioner Steve Frischknecht was with grandson, Calan, when they saw a similar exhibit at the Utah State Fair. Frichknecht remarked that he would sure like to see something like it at the Sanpete County Fair. Calan volunteered to take on the project, with his dad’s help, of course.
They started in 2009 with nine prefabricated buildings. In each building, kids participated in a play-type activity. In one, they drew a brand for their cattle on a white board. In another, they “milked” a wooden cow. In another, they carded sheep wool.
After completing each activity, children received tokens, which they could exchange for apples, string cheese and other goods at the “market,” one of the last stations in the display.
In just the second year, 2,000 people went through Fun on the Farm. The Olsens have expanded and improved the project most years since. Fun on the Farm is now up to 14 stations.
Today, three of the Olsen children are in college. Besides Calan at the U of U, there is Steven, 23, who is majoring in computer science at Utah Valley University, and Samantha, 20, a pre-veterinary major at Utah State University.
Two other children are still at home. Andrew is a junior at Manti High and Mathew an eighth grader at Ephraim Middle School.
All of the children have had their names in the newspaper frequently for making the honor roll, for 4-H awards, for wins at the Science Olympiad and much more.
Asked how he has managed to have such successful children, Olsen says, “I think maybe God was just good to me.” Then he quickly gives credit to his wife.
“Corinne is the smartest person I’ve ever known,” he says. “She’s very self-motivated.”
She’s in motion all the time, he says, getting children to various lessons and activities, and helping them with homework, 4-H and service projects. To keep her hand in her profession, she also works as a pharmacist two half days per week at Anderson Drug in Ephraim.
At the moment, Olsen says his future is up in the air. “I have to do something else (other than practicing at the Ephraim Clinic),” he says. “I just haven’t decided what it is yet. I’m going to spend time with my family this year and not work for now.”
Whatever the future holds, the Olsens seem firmly planted in Sanpete County. “I love Sanpete County,” Olsen says. “I love the people here. I love being here.”