The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 15, 2013

Gladys Olson gave International Festival its pioneering spirit

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MANKATO —

After that she pleaded with the board to set up a scholarship fund, but the board wasn’t willing to do that yet. She tried two more times to get it done and both times was denied.

That’s when someone suggested writing a check. And that’s when it started. That $1,000 was just the beginning. As soon as she could afford it, Olson gave $9,000 more. Support rolled in, and today it’s one of the university’s great success stories. Since then, scholarships have gone to more than 200 students totaling about a quarter million dollars.

Choosing Olson as grand marshal, then, seemed like a logical choice. Over the years Olson has hosted 27 international students, many of whom remain in contact with her (one of whom comes to Mankato each year to visit her.) She’s also a world traveler, having crossed both oceans more than a dozen times for teaching and furthering the cause of MSU’s international student community.

When the call came — the one from the MSU letting her know they’d chosen her as grand marshal — Olson said she wasn’t expecting it.

“Of course it’s an honor,” she said. “I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed ... Maybe I didn’t accept it as graciously as I should have.” She said the committee called her several times before she finally accepted.

Today, the festival is alive and well. Sunday’s event featured food from dozens of different vendors as well as music, dance, fashion and art. Several thousand people likely attended.

After spending several years at Mankato East High School, it has been back to the MSU campus the past few years and will likely stay there.

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