recent photo of Lois Olsen VanNatta Lois June Olsen VanNatta
               1945 - 2010

(Article submitted by daughter, Jenna Norris)  

Born in San Francisco on June 8, 1945 to Almer Reuben and Ruth Noureen Olsen, the third of five children. Her dad was attending ministerial school. Upon completion, the family moved back to Oregon.

Weston, Stanfield, Fossil, and Bates – Lois spent her childhood in various towns in eastern Oregon where her dad worked as a carpenter and pastor. From very early in her childhood, she learned the importance of helping out around the church (She and her siblings were regularly volunteered to help with the music and carrying firewood, among other things). The family didn’t have much in the way of money, once living on a donation of prunes, but that never kept them from giving of themselves to the people around them. 

Lois always says she learned to read with the Mother Goose rhymes her father helped her memorize.  She then honed her skills by reading the hymnal from cover to cover, which might explain why she knew all four verses to every hymn in the book by memory.

In 1960, her family moved to Rainier, Oregon, her father becoming the pastor at Alston’s Corner Assembly of God. Lois attended Rainer Union High School, graduating in 1963.

Photo of Lois Olsen from the 1967 NU Yearbook

Despite moving around for much of her life, Lois always found close friends wherever she lived. She moved to Portland with her best friend, Christine Miller, to attend Portland State University while working at Montgomery Wards in Portland.

Learning to live on her own had a steep learning curve. She and her friend Christine went to a laundromat for the first time, and not knowing how much soap to put in, decided to dump the whole package in the washer. When the bubbles starting spilling out of the top, they decided to not wait around in embarrassment for their laundry but to come back later. They never repeated the mistake.

Christine married and left, and Lois felt called to transfer to a Bible college. She went to Northwest College in Kirkland, Washington. Here she began her career at GTE, starting as a telephone operator and meeting many more friends for life.

Working her way through college was not always easy. Some years she had to go to school part-time to make ends meet, even with her student loans. She bought a trailer to live in over in Bothell. One of her cousins lived with her, and her brother John came up to Northwest as well. One day a group of cousins and John decided to come out and visit. The party beat her home and her cousin James decided to play a prank. He went into her bedroom and got out all of her underwear and bras and hung them like decorations throughout her trailer. Of course, when Lois arrived home she was mortified by the “decorations.”

Photo of Lois Olsen & Linda Nelson 1967 yearbook

Lois graduated from Northwest in 1969, still working for GTE. She moved her trailer down to her parents’ backyard in Brooks, Oregon, and looked for a job in Salem but was overqualified for the jobs available at USWEST. She ended up staying with GTE which meant moving back to GTE territory. She transferred to their Beaverton office and moved to the Tigard/Beaverton area, again making close friends in her new place.

During these years, she started really reaching out to children. There was never a child that she didn’t want to help. Lois volunteered at a juvenile facility and also cared for a teenager in the foster care system. She never met a kid that didn’t deserve a chance at life and a happy home. She never met a kid that wasn’t worth her time.

Meanwhile, in Apiary, Oregon, Robert VanNatta was building a house. He hired a local brickmason named Barry Brown to do the chimney and fireplaces. Barry’s wife, Rhoda, thought that her little sister, Lois, should go on a date with Robert. Lois and Robert married a year later, on May 17, 1975. Lois left her job at GTE to become a homemaker and once again attended Alston’s Corner Assembly of God.

When Pastor Wyatt moved to Alston, he quickly knew that he could depend on Lois to help out with their children’s ministries. He asked her if she could help out with their girls program called Missionettes that needed a temporary leader. Never being able to say no to anything regarding children, Lois agreed. Of course, the joke is that more than 30 years later no one had ever found a permanent leader.  Throwing annual talent competitions, Mother’s Teas, campouts/sleepovers, and crowning ceremonies quickly became fixtures on Lois’s calendar.  She also started a group called Girls’ Only, a group for teenage girls.  They had regular sleepovers and crafts galore at the VanNatta Ranch.  At least once, Lois made the girls cook their own dinner in a coffee can over a campfire.

Lois also started a family at home. She and Robert had four daughters: Lisa, Jennette’, Lucinda, and Sara.

Lois and the girls used to spend nice days going for walks with a picnic lunch and wading in the creek.  Lois also spent summers picking red huckleberries.  No one has ever figured out how she managed to pick the amount of huckleberries necessary to make the number of pies she cooked every summer, but she insisted her berry picking skills were well honed in the strawberry fields.

One of Lois’s favorite vacation destinations when the kids were little was going to the beach.  And just in case you weren’t aware of the rule, if you can’t see the ocean out of your hotel room window, you’re not really at the beach.  She would then try to convince one of her daughter’s to climb out of bed with her at dawn to go beach combing with her.

Four girls didn’t seem to be enough for Lois though, or maybe people just knew who to ask …for many years extra girls seemed to find their way to the VanNatta house.  Whether it was girls coming over after school to get a ride to Missionettes or coming to stay for longer, there were often extra spots at the dinner table.

One year when Lois and Robert were sending six girls off to summer camp for a week, Lois decided to be thrifty and sew them all summer clothes.  She promptly got out her sewing machine and spent a couple of weeks making enough shirts, shorts, and skirts to outfit six girls for the summer.

As the kids got older, she went back to work, starting a 16-year career as an Escrow Officer at Ticor Title in St. Helens. But even while holding a full-time job, she never stopped finding time to help out with the kids at church.  During this time she also expanded her role from throwing baby showers and bridal showers for all the local ladies to helping dozens of young girls decorate for their big day out of her stockpile of wedding supplies. 

Even after Lois retired, she never slowed down. She had always dreamt of going back to eastern Oregon. To this end, she bought some land in Christmas Valley and, with her brothers’ help, began building her dream cabin. She also started quilting every Monday and scrapbooking all the pictures she loved to take. Lois’s children grew up, got married, and began having children of their own. Thad, Gavin, Rory, and Helen all had a special place in grandma’s heart. She loved them dearly and loved spending time with them. Thad loved to spend time each summer with Grandma at her cabin in Christmas Valley –a dream come true for Lois.  Gavin loved reading books with grandma and working on the special projects she often brought on her weekly visits.  Rory was a photographer’s dreams come true.  She used to beg Grandma to bring out the camera and kept posing for pictures until the camera ran out of film.  On most Thursday’s you could find Grandma snuggling with Helen at Lisa’s home in Portland.

When summing up Lois’s life, many words come to mind: compassionate, generous, willing to serve, loving, caring, dependable. Everyone who knew her will remember what an example she was to those around her. She will be greatly missed by all.