Mayor of cowboy town
March 26, 2013
By Peter Clark
Issaquah man builds a life, town from Friends of Youth influence
Issaquah resident Steve Olsen praises the Friends of Youth organization for helping him build a life and a model scale cowboy town.
In 1957, Olsen was one of 13 children and had problems in his home that found him having to live his life where he could. The Griffin Home, something of a foster home operated by Friends of Youth in their first years of service, took him in and provided the beginning for a complete life.
“I had no place to go except for the streets, “ the 69-year-old man said in an interview last week. “And, I always remembered that they took me in. It’s always a part of me. It’s the first thing I can remember that was good.”
From the guidance that the organization provided, Olsen went on to a successful life in sales, working with aerospace and machining. It left him to find what he describes as a comfortable existence.
“I did a few things right,” he said.
One of the things he did was build a scale model of what he called a “cowboy town” on his property. Around the perimeter of his large yard, underneath the tall firs, is a boardwalk that leads to the doors of various frontier establishments.
“I always liked cowboys and Indians,” he said.
He said he had some wood stored up and when his first granddaughter was 2 years old, he decided to get to work.
“The mine was the first thing,” Olsen said.
He pointed to a wooden building where a cart stood on iron rails, showing the illusion that it gave of a deep mine shaft. He began the project 18 years ago, with no real notion of how it would continue. He said people kept donating wood to him, so he continued to use it.
After that, he built a mercantile shop, a livery, a saloon, a bank, a jail, a hotel, a church, a gallows, even a two-story outhouse. All of it, he built himself, refusing any help except for the donated wood.
“I didn’t let anybody help me, except for the gallows,” he said. “I was trying to learn some things, like patience.”
The crowning achievement and most touching portion of his town is the model of the Friends of Youth Griffin Home that took him in when he was a boy.
“Every cowboy town needs a mansion,” Olsen said, standing near the impressive pillars of the 15-foot, two-story building.
The house was torn down years ago, but he found a picture of the landmark and added it to the quaint hamlet.
Though he moved around in his salesman days, he made a concerted effort to bring his life back to Issaquah. For the past 35 years, he has made his home against the scenic background and raised three boys with his wife of 49 years.
“I always wanted to move back,” Olsen said. “I always told myself, ‘One day, I’m going to live in Issaquah.’ And, I’m lucky.”
He also has continued to contribute to Friends of Youth beyond building scale models of their homes. As an example of the organization’s success with local children, he regularly spoke at their celebrations and led a few programs in drug rehabilitation. At a March 15 annual fundraising luncheon, Olsen was prominently featured in a video attesting to the lasting benefits of Friends of Youth’s work within the community.
“If it helps them, it’s fine with me,” he said, eschewing the publicity or attention.
He was proud to simply assist with what he believed were effective and noble goals.
“Steve has stayed connected with Friends of Youth,” organization President and CEO Terry Pottmeyer said. “He’s been a wonderful resource to remind us where we began.”
The organization has him return regularly for speaking engagements, and he is continually involved with its mission. She said he even donates memorabilia from the time of the original Griffin home.
“We have an amazing number of men who were in the program in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who come back and donate their time,” she said, adding it is doubtful another has replicated one of its institutions with such devotion.
Pottmeyer spoke fondly of not only Olsen’s past volunteerism, but also of what he will offer in the future. The morning of March 25, the Friends of Youth board of directors officially offered an invitation for Olsen to join the board, which he accepted.
“He will provide a wonderful viewpoint and a voice for the organization,” Pottmeyer said. “He is very open and giving about sharing his stories. Steve is a wonderful spokesperson.”
After 10 years of building the town, Olsen said he could see the benefits of his time with Friends of Youth in his large-scale personal project. The persistence and confidence it took to complete something enjoyed by generations of his family resonate with the greater intentions of the service organization.
“You can pity yourself, but you still have to tie your shoes and get up in the morning,” he said. “But, sometimes you need a break and that’s what I feel I got: a break.”