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Leo Lester Olson

September 24, 1935 - April 22, 2020

Leo Lester Olson         Leo Lester Olson, 84, the artist, the teacher, the husband, the father, the grandfather, the grandpa and great grandpa, the lover of classical and jazz music, the lover of Ivar’s clam chowder, the family photographer, the history buff, lover of great wine and one of the most amazing men we have known, passed away Wednesday, April 22, 2020 beside the love of his life, Bonnie and his son David. Leo passed away on hospice at the house of his son David Olson in Salem, Oregon. 
         Leo was born in Billings, Montana in 1935 to Floyd and Irene Olson. He graduated from Senior High. He then joined the Marine Corps. After, he received a Bachelor’s degree from MSU Billings and a Master’s degree from MSU Bozeman. 
          After a short stint as a commercial artist, he taught at Lewis and Clark Junior High School. There, he pioneered animated film making in the school. He then moved to Billings Senior High. During his years at Senior High, he was able to convince the administration to put in a Ceramics Lab where he taught Ceramics and Sculpture until his retirement. While he was teaching he also produced art in a variety of media.
        A prolific potter, he produced thousands of pots. Including special Cream of Wheat bowls that you could buy from the company. Also, he did some noteworthy sculptures, many which were on a very large scale. The ones he was most proud of were a life size buffalo for the Greybull Wyoming museum, a life size bronc on the road out of Greybull to commemorate the wild horse refuge, a big horn sheep for the bank of Greybull, a 12 foot tall Christ figure for a church in Sheridan Wyoming, the bronc on the outside wall of Senior High School in Billings, Montana, the shepherd and sheep outside of Good Shepherd Church in Billings, Montana and the scout outside Lewis and Clark in Billings, Montana. He also had several pieces throughout Montana, Oregon, Washington and North Dakota. He had a life size Christ sculpture in Beaverton, Oregon that he was very proud of as well. 
          He was also very accomplished at painting. He loved to paint with watercolors and oils. Once he retired, he become interested in printmaking, etching, making home videos and sharpening up his photography skills. In retirement, he also became a co-director of the Sandstone Art Gallery in Billings. 
           In 1957 Leo married Bonnie Polesky. Together, they had two children, Nanci Lynn Olson and Dr. David Lawrence Olson. From those two children they were blessed with 3 granddaughters, Heather,  Kathryn  and Elizabeth .  Leo also was a great grandfather to Halle  and Ryleigh .
            Leo is survived by his wife of 62 years, Bonnie; his son Dr. David Olson of Salem. His siblings Jeff Olson, and Pastor Steve Olson. His granddaughters Heather, Kathryn and Elizabeth. As well as his two great-granddaughters Halle and Ryleigh. 
            Leo was preceded in death by his parents, Floyd and Irene Olson; sister Donna, brother Norm and daughter Nanci.
             A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers a memorial donation may be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation in honor of his son David and daughter Nanci.

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Guest Book Entries

This amazing family has lost such a sweet, sweet man My deepest sympathy for all of you 
Love Joni

Bonnie, there are no words to express how much we miss Leo. He was our founder and mentor & one of the nicest men I ever met. Our most sincere sympathy to you and your family. Madelein, Dean, & all the Sandstone people.  

Leo was larger than life to a lot of folks. To me as well. he was almost an idol... His ability to handle the worst life had to lay on him and still carry on with dedication and love is an inspiration.  
I knew him as a Vet, he was a pacifist and an X marine. We talked politics and Art. 
His Art Works will live on  ~ a testament to one really fine gentleman and comrade at Sandstone Gallery. 
You've been missed for a while Leo, and you will continue, to be Missed.
   Will Crain
   Sandstone Gallery ~ Billings, Montana

Leo was a delight to know.  I didn't meet him until 2006 when I joined the Sandstone Gallery which thrived under his leadership.  Please be sure our thoughts go out to the family and know that we miss him also.  I will never forget one of his later paintings, a favorite of mine.  It is of the farmhouse (?)  sitting high in the right hand corner with snow all around.  Thank you for sharing him with us.

Wonderful memories of a great man!

My condolences to the family. Leo was such a fine teacher. He was one of my favorites at Senior High in Billings. He was disciplined and had a generous and humble spirit. He will be missed by so many .

I am saddened to hear of Mr. Olson's death.  I worked as a student with him and Mr. Heins in the art department at Billings Senior High.  He was one of those teachers who never forgot your face through the years and I loved seeing his pottery at different sales and events in Billings.  Truly a gifted artist and a wonderful man.  My sincere condolences to his family.

Leo we will miss you so much. I am thankful to have worked with you and to have seen so many of your beautiful pieces. My heart goes out to your wife and family whom you loved so much! Rest in peace fellow Bronc! Sincerely, Jacquie McDonald

So sorry to read of Leo’s death.  Another kind, gentle,and creative man has left us.  Janet Ludwig

A Leo was truly a great man!  He became one and will be remembered  by many as an artist and educator, husband and father.  May his Soul Rest In Peace.

Mr. Olson was one of the art teachers I had at Billings Senior High.  I remember the ceramics lab he set up on 3rd floor. I learned how to use a potters wheel at summer art camp previously so had an interest in using the wheel at Senior.  This was in the late 1960's when girls still had to wear skirts or dresses to school.  I was allowed to change into pants in order to use the wheel.  This was quite a novelty.  Mr. Olson was  a memorable teacher.

Our sympathy and thoughts goes out to you.
Audrey always thought so much of you both.
So many years since seeing you. 
Marj and Harold Kelso, Billings, MT.

Bonnie , I am so sorry to read about Leo’s passing. His artistry and talents will be remembered forever. What a great person he was. I still have a couple of his pottery and will think of him when I see them daily . Bonnie , take care if yourself ! Prayers to you and family

Mr. Olson was my ceramic teacher at Senior High. My thoughts and prayers are with the Olson family.
Dennisse Williams

I felt fond memories of my teacher, Mr. Olsen when I read his obituary in the Billings Gazette. I too followed a life full of ceramics and photography making and I am sure that the enjoyment which spurred me on was in large part, due to the role he played as my teacher and mentor. I eventually became a teacher too, and worked hard to help teens develop their skills in making beautiful things with their hands. Keeping a sense of humor through it all was was a lesson I learned from Leo. I would frequently meet Leo (and Nels) at Billings art events and we would share a laugh and reminisce about the school days at Billings Senior High. I continue to live in Billings and make photographs. My home on Burlington Avenue is within a short walk from 4th St. West where upon my routine strolls, I am reminded of his contributions each time I gaze toward the school and admire an outstanding steel bronc commanding space on the face of the school's Gym.

Hello Bonnie, David and family. Leo was a wonderful man. He always treated me with kindness and had a smile for me. His artwork was amazing and truly was one of the most talented people I have ever met. I am sorry for your loss. Please know what a positive impact he had on me.

Bonnie and David, so sorry.  Leo was such a kind man.   I have such fond memories of him.  So nice to see him when my Mom passed away.   Thinking of you.  

Katy McCollough Havasi

Former Senior High Alum, he was a great teacher, sorry for your loss.

Dear Bonnie and family,
I saw that Leo passed away.  Wow!  He contributed so much that will live on forever.  I know how hard it is to loose someone you love.  Know you are in my thoughts and prayers.  Always, Cheryl Malia-McCall

Leo was one of my art teachers at Senior High. I graduated in 1976. I spent many hours in his art class on extra time. I remember the potter's wheel well. Fired lots of stuff in his kilns. Leo, Les Hines, and Caroline Thayer were all my art teachers at Senior High. Eye have been able to reminisce of those great days. Sold lots of pottery at art sales at Senior High. Leo was a great teacher that took time to spend with me when asking for help on projects.

I taught at Lewis and at Senior with Leo. What a talented and kind man! When he retired, he made each of us a mug which was quite an undertaking. My prayers for your family. 
Nan Jones

So sorry for your loss. I had Mr. Olson as an art teacher at Senior High in the late 70's He was a super nice man and very talented. Was glad to have him as a teacher!

Leo was one of a kind. I knew him as an art teacher when I was a student at Billings Senior High and then later as a colleague when I worked at Senior as a counselor.  I remember when Leo retired, he gave each of us a mug he’d made which I still use. A great artist...a great teacher...and a great human being!   RIP, Leo!   

Leo was always as squared away in life as he was in the Marine Corp where we graduated with Platoon 268 (Merit Platoon- 1954) at Marine Corp Recruit Depot, San Diego. Semper Fi. I was a great admirer and envious of his outstanding talent. He is one of those people that you never forget. The world needs more people like him.  My condolences to his family.

I grew up admiring the Good Shepherd statue. That was, and still is, an extension of my home. Thank you for sharing your gifts.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Bonnie, Kaitlyn and I think of you often. 
was just reading on a Facebook page about who your favorite teacher was.... Mr Olson came up many times. I never had him as a teacher but know he was a wonder man, husband and father! 
Joanna and Kaitlyn Church 

Dear Bonnie and David,
We are so sorry to hear about Leo. As you know, Leo and LeRoy grew up together in 
Billings and joined the Marine Corps together.He was the best man at our wedding.  He was LeRoy's cousin but as close as a brother would be.  He was one of a kind,  Please contact us, Bonnie at 406- 278-9174 in Conrad, Montana.
 Our love and prayers to you and your family.
LeRoy and Terry Bender

Mr. Olson instructed several classes I was fortunate enough to take at Billings Senior High School. I hadn't known of his service in the military but what I do remember was this accomplished skilled and gentle man who gave all to his students guiding us shape form and color. During those times of  the late sixties and early seventies he seemed to encourage truthful depictions in our art, that by itself was something that shaped my outlook on life to this day.  I am sorry for your families loss. 

I am so sorry for you.  I remember Leo, mainly from GOOD SHEPHERD LUTHERAN, he was active there he did several displays for us to watch him make ceramic bowls  etc.  PLUS,,,THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP out in front, everyone knew where our church was. Also having worked for SD#2.  He was so talented.  GOD BLESS YOU.

Leo was a gentleman's gentleman.... one of the kindest teachers that I have known.  Over the many years that we were colleagues in the Art teaching businesses, we often traveled together to meetings for the cause.  He is a man that is hard not to love.  His gentle manner with students and willingness to speak up for them is udparelled.  The world is a better place because of him and I am proud to call him a good friend.  Jim Seaton

Leo was my longest best friend. We met as next door neighbors in 1947. We graduated from Senior and later joined the Marine Corps together   We had many adventures in our tour of duty and.during the ensuing years.  I have several oils, inks and watercolors that I acquired over the seventy odd years of our friendship. With many twists and turns we ended up next door neighbors again. I especially treasure an oil nude one of three he completed in a surrealistic manner. He  was one of the finest if not the finest man I have ever known.  I will miss his talent and intellect.

David, Bonnie and Family, Our deepest sympathy. I have such wonderful memories of Leo. Great neighbor, colleague, educator, baseball coach, and even early morning chauffeur to athletic practice at Will James. He influenced many lives and his legacy will endure.

My sincere condolences as you mourn the loss of this remarkable man.  Ed taught with Leo at Lewis and Clark '66-'70 and with Bonnie at Meadowlark '78-81, always having had great admiration for you both.   I treasure his ceramic pieces I have and also his welded metal sculpture of flowers.  Ed's composition "Follow" was inspired by and credited to Leo's sculpture of the Good Shepherd in front of our Billings church.  Prayers of comfort for Leo's family are offered.

Bonnie and family,

Liz and I are so sorry to hear of your loss. Living at least a thousand miles away since the late 50s it is no surprise that I knew little of Leo's amazing accomplishments. The one thing I did know: He was a really good guy. We can't ever forget that. May the Lord give you peace, comfort and healing.


My condolences to Leo’s family.. I worked in the office at Senior High while Leo was teaching there.  He was such a talented man.  I have six of his pottery pieces and my personal coffee mug.  I also have a minature oil Derrick that he made for me as a gift for my geologist husband.  Peace to you, Lilah Meldahl

Dear Bonnie, David and family,
My deepest sympathy. I was shocked and saddened to hear that Leo had passed away.
He was always so kind and incredibly talented. I loved driving by his bronzes and sculptures when I lived in Billings.
His work will live on for decades. So proud to call him my cousin.
I'm very sorry for your loss. Sending my love.


We're so sorry, Bonnie. Leo had many talents.  We will always enjoy his shepherd and sheep sculpture at our church plus his candle holder sculptures.  We will keep you and your family in our prayers.  

Leo was a joy to work with at Senior High.  I was so tickled to snatch up a piece of his pottery collection that I had my eye on. It still resides with me and now means so much more as a memory piece.
God Bless your family during this difficult time.  

So sorry to hear the news, and sending condolences to Bonnie and the family.  As a classmate of Bonnie's at Billings Senior High School, I watched his art and artistry flourish over the years. I have enjoyed using his notecards (from his paintings).  This loss is immense, and so was his creativity and spirit.

Bonnie and family,
Please accept my condolences in the passing of Leo. We were long time teachers at Senor High. I enjoyed his sense of humor and appreciated his art work as he completed many of his works,  Billings is the richer for having his work dotting the community art scene. I cherish the vase that he created for my retirement from Senior High. May he rest peac..

Bonnie and family I am sorry for your loss of this great person Leo. I had Leo for a teacher at Lewis and Clark Jr High and I can't tell you how much I learned from this man. He help mold me into the artist I am today. To me he will always be one of the Greats. At some point I started babysitting Nanci and David when time arose and my teacher became my friend. I hold all you very dear to my heart. With deepest sympathy. 

Bonnie, David, and family,
I am so sorry to read about Leo’s passing. I have such fond memories of growing up on Miles Ave. when I think of Leo my memories are of a gentle man with a great smile. He was so talented and from a young age I knew his work, but as an adult I have great admiration for his art. He touched many lives and made this world a better place. 
Christi Clevenger Paris

Condolences to the family...
Hi Bonnie, my daughter, Katie, was in one of your classes at Newman School, I think. I always enjoyed Leo's artwork, and appreciated the bronco on the Senior High wall. Blessings as you enter this new phase of living on your own, there will be so much to learn. It's good that we are live-long learners.
Love, Thana and the Fischer family

Sending love and prayers to you all. Leo was a talented man in so many areas, teaching, throwing pots, sculptures.  I think of him every Sunday at Good Shepherd with so many visible signs of his talents.  It was heartwarming to read all the fond remembrances from his varied paths. Judy and Dale Peterson

Our prayers are with you and your family, Bonnie.    We have many items in our home that Leo made and we are still using the tea pot he made for us.  They are treasures that we will pass on to Natalie when we move to Mission Ridge.   Our sympathy to you and hope to visit with you soon.   Boyd and Evelyn McGee

I taught at Billings Senior where I got to know Leo quite well. He taught and mentored my younger brother, Dean, a few years before I started at BSHS. Dean went on to a long career teaching art/pottery at West High. He never really had a plan B as far as I know. Even though I was a science/math teacher, I really enjoyed sharing my passion for art with Leo. My pottery collection is huge, and includes Leo's pieces, including a large covered bowl that was given to me at retirement. Due to its size, it has become the receptacle for all those tax-related receipts one accumulates during a year. I always enjoyed catching up with Leo at the Sandstone Gallery, where I became aware of how strong he was with watercolors. Our conversations would branch into everything from our love of the nearby mountains and rivers (fishing) to politics. I am sorry for your loss. He was a smart, talented, well-liked, and kind man who was a positive influence on so many over his lifetime - two in my family alone.

Hello Olson Family, 
My sincere sympathy and compassion on the loss of  your father, husband, friend, Leo.  I did not know him personally.  I do have an oil painting he painted for the opening of my husband Gary Pfaff's office in Laurel in 1965.  My husband's friends, who I do not know, presented it as an office "warming" gift.  The frame needs minor repairs and the canvas needs a more secure attachment to the frame.  My husband Gary passed in January 2019. I have the painting in storage now.  We often thought about contacting Leo just to assure him the painting has been cherished by my husband for 55 years and taken care of. I am sorry now we did not do so. 
I do not know how to submit the photo to your Guest Book via my cell phone photo.  Should I email the photo to myself and then email to you?  I also thought about loaning the painting to the Y'stone Art Museum for display however, do not know if that is possible?  Hoping to hear from you.  If you do not want my note submitted to your Guest Book Entries, it is your choice.  My phone number is 652.5161 or cell 591.8630  and my email is   Hoping to hear from you.  

Bonnie - I am so sorry about the loss of Leo.  I remember being at your home in Billings some years ago when he generously shared some of his amazing art work.
Very talented and kind man.  Sending you sympathy across the years and miles, Susan Cummins Tidyman

I love Leo. I met him when I was a little kiddo who lived in his neighborhood. He and his wife were always so kind and thoughtful to a goofy kid riding around the neighborhood looking for conversations. When I eventually got to high school and had him as a teacher, we were both delighted to reconnect. He was one of the kindest, most present, most lovely humans I have had the pleasure to know.My heart is with you as your honor this wonderful soul.

So sorry for your loss of this great man. I knew he was a sculptor & had art pieces in Billings but none of those in Wyoming. We visit Wy often, next time we're there I make a special trip to Greybull to see his work. I have known of Leo & the Polesky family for many, many years. Dear friends. Lillian (Bunny) Jenkins

Dear Olson Family, 
Leo was commission by my husband, Gary Pfaff's friends, who I did not know, to paint an "office-warming gift" for his newly opened Dr. of Chiropractic Office in Laurel, Montana in 1965.  Gary passed in 2019.  He coveted the oil painting for 54 years.  I now have the painting in storage.  The frame needs a little bit of work and the canvas needs to be better affixed to the frame and I will see to the repairs.  
We meant to contact Leo for several years to thank him and let him know the painting as been in Gary's loving care for these many years.  We did not know Leo personally however,I now wish I had contacted Leo.  As  Leo's family, I wish to express my gratitude for his sharing of his wonderful talent.   I am going to contact the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings and perhaps  loan the painting for display.  My sincere healing to you - the Olson Family.  Take care.  Marlene Pfaff  

Leo contributed to the education of many students, to the art world of Billings, and to the faculty of Senior High. His recognition of my husband's and my retirement with his lovely ceramics reminds us of him whenever we entertain guests. We also remember Leo each time we pass the shepherd at Good Shepherd. He was a good friend and a kind person.

Bonnie,David,Heather. So sorry to learn of Leos passing. We loved having u as neighbors on Reimers. I remember the day he came over to our home to catch a bird the cats brought in. Actually it was a baby Bunny. He tripped over a book self in his way and fell. I felt terrible. He said he was ok and got the bunny out. He was a dear man  as ur r a dear Lady. Miss u Bonnie   Hope u r doing ok

Leo was a great teacher at Senior High as well as a prolific artist. I have always admired the sculpture of the good shepherd at our church, Lutheran Church of three Good Shepherd..I wasn’t aware that he had sculpted so many others.  May you cherish memories of him.  I hope you’re doing well, Bonnie. You mentored students from my classes from the Career Center, Child Services. I enjoyed visiting your classroom. LaVonne Iverson

May your memories of his gentleness, creative spirit and his love comfort you. I was fortunate to have been a student of his at both Lewis and Clark Jr. High and Senior High school. 

Hello, I just learned of Leo's passing and wanted to extend my condolences. I was a student at BSH (class of 74') and Leo figured prominently into my getting out of high school and finding my life's path. I became an art teacher! I've been teaching in college for the past 25 years and Leo had a profound influence on my teaching style, in no small part due to the classes I took from him but his easy going style and curious mind. He really made the Art program at Senior great!..
I do have a small inquiry, when I was at Senior High myself and many others made films, Leo had a camera and taught us stop frame animation, I would love to see these again. I'm a filmmaker at present,and teach filmmaking at CSUEB here in California. My film screened at the Babcock in Billings last year as a part of the Mint festival, I had secretly hoped Leo would be in the audience and I could connect with him and thank him for lighting that spark, but alas that was not to be.
I've enclosed a picture from the yearbook of the Art Club in 1974, I'm pictured as well as maybe Leo's most successful student  the filmmaker John Dahl.  John and I are still in contact with each other and I know he'd love to see his student films as well... If anyone still has these old spools I'd gladly have them transfered to a digital medium. Sorry to go on and on, but if anyone has some idea about tracking these films down I'd appreciate hearing from you.

Please feel free to contact me: