FARGO — A longtime Fargo history teacher who died from COVID-19 amid his battle with Alzheimer's disease is being remembered for inspiring students with his passionate teaching style.

Richard "R.D." Olsen engaged Fargo North High School students for decades with his wit and deep knowledge of the subject he taught, his colleagues, family and students say.

"He was not a textbook teacher; you simply read that in addition to the things he talked about," said longtime teacher and coach Gary Mailloux, who taught alongside Olsen and still coaches cross country at Fargo North.

Since his family announced his May 4 death, condolences and words of admiration have flooded in for Olsen, who taught at Fargo North from the 1960s to the 1980s. Many are from students he inspired over the decades.

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"Mr. Olsen was, without question, the best, most passionate, interesting and knowledgeable teacher I ever had," wrote one former student on an online funeral guestbook.

"He created in me a love of history, stimulated and encouraged creative thinking and led me to pursue my degree in history and political science," the student continued. "I will never forget his wit, his smile and his utter joy and excitement as he kept the past alive."

Family members, including Olsen's son Chris, appreciate the kind words.

"He had all these kids," he said. "We were his kids, but he had these thousands of (other) kids ... Obviously he went beyond what most of us can do."

Richard "R.D." Olsen was known for his love of old cars, of which he owned close to 150, according to his obituary. Special to InForum
Richard "R.D." Olsen was known for his love of old cars, of which he owned close to 150, according to his obituary. Special to InForum

Olsen loved old cars and owned close to 150 in his lifetime, according to his obituary. He also loved to make people laugh, which students and family members now fondly recall.

"He was a memorable person," Chris said of his father. "(He had the) gift of gab and sense of humor and was one of the funniest people you would meet."

Chris says the irony of his father's passing is that it came during such a historic time — a pandemic.

"He would have found it fascinating," Chris said. "For someone who was a master of history for so long, to lose the ability to understand the change over time was hard to watch."

Olsen's family hopes to have a memorial service in Fargo once coronavirus restrictions are relaxed. The video from his private family service is on the Boulger Funeral Home website.

Olsen was 90.