Sig Olson to be honored with Literary Landmark at Vermilion; Events June 5-6 throughout Ely area

On Friday, June 5, the Minnesota Association of Library Friends (MALF) and community partners in Ely, Minn., will dedicate the state’s sixth and newest Literary Landmark™ in honor of renowned conservationist and author Sigurd F. Olson.
Vermilion Community College in Ely, Olson’s academic home, will house the Literary Landmark plaque and will play host to a keynote dedication event during a weekend filled with tributes to the literary luminary and treats for area visitors. The ceremony will commence at 4 p.m. in VCC’s Fine Arts Center.
Chuck Wick, a close personal friend of Olson’s and a founding member of the Listening Point Foundation that preserves his legacy, will share favorite memories of the author before the plaque unveiling. Attendees will also hear from Doug Wood, president of the Listening Point Foundation; Shawn Bina, VCC provost; Gail Sheddy, president of the Friends of the Ely Library, and MALF’s own president Mary Ann Bernat.
Attendees can make a weekend of it. On Friday the Ely-Winton Historical Society will host a free exhibit from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the life and career of Sigurd Olson, on the VCC campus.
Friends of the Ely Library will host a tour of the new Ely Public Library facility on Chapman Street before the dedication ceremony, at 2 p.m.
On Saturday, June 6, from 10-2 p.m., everyone is invited to attend Author! Author! They will meet contemporary authors and their books in a showcase put on by Ely Greenstone Public Art with a special musical performance by Doug Wood and comments from the authors.
Additionally, Listening Point Foundation will host two guided tours of “Listening Point,” Olson’s lake retreat on Burntside Lake (10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.). Call 218-365-8889 to make reservations.
Who is Sigurd Olson?
The Midwest boasts more than its fair share of environmentalist luminaries and famous nature writers. None has left a more indelible mark on Minnesota than native son Sigurd F. Olson, best remembered today for championing wilderness conservation through nine bestselling books, beginning with The Singing Wilderness in 1956. Listening Point in 1958 is named for Olson’s personal retreat, near Ely.
Olson and wife Elizabeth lived in the Ely area most of their adult lives. Sigurd Olson’s corpus of work struck a chord with the American public thanks to his approachable, unpretentious writing style.
Olson held advanced degrees in geology, botany and agriculture, and taught for many years at Ely Community College (now Vermilion Community College). He rounded out his academic career with stints as science department chair and dean, before retiring from academia to write full time in 1947.
In truth, retirement proved something of a misnomer, as Olson took the opportunity to redouble his conservation efforts. He served as vice-president and then president of the National Parks Association (1951-1959), as vice-president and then president of the Wilderness Society (1963-1971), and as a special advisor to both the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service (1959-1971). His efforts played a direct role in the establishment of national preserves ranging from the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to Point Reyes National Seashore in California.
Closer to home, Olson’s advocacy also proved instrumental to the legislation that created Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Olson’s tireless efforts garnered him national praise and honors in his lifetime, including the highest award bestowed by four of the five leading conservation organizations in the United States. He died in 1982, but his legacy lives on at Listening Point - now on the National Register of Historic Places and managed by a wilderness education foundation of the same name.
A strong presence on the Minnesota library scene since its founding in 1979, the Minnesota Association of Library Friends (MALF) is a statewide non-profit that aims to connect the many and diverse Friends of the Library organizations located in Minnesota both to one another and to a wide array of resources supporting their advocacy and fundraising efforts. For more information, visit mnlibraryfriends.org.