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More than a fish tale

After a long career as a fish scientist and hatchery manager, James H. Olsen, 89, has written a richly illustrated book, "The Nature of a Man," that covers his years growing up with his poor, dirt-farming family in Iowa, with no electricity or running water — and only horses to get around during the Depression years, when the family lost the farm.

It tells of his time serving in the Army glider corps in World War II, getting his degree in Iowa, then joining the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1953.

Olsen spent 33 years doing hatchery work in Hood River, and then on the Umpqua and as manager of the Butte Falls hatchery.

A longtime resident of Talent and Medford, Olsen now lives at Emeritus at Mountain View, a retirement community in Ashland, with his "happily unmarried" partner June Bruyneel, 82. The couple met three years ago, after both lost their spouses.

As the couple dined together at Mountain View, Olsen showed off a 1984 clipping from the Mail Tribune that showed him examining a fish at the Butte Falls hatchery.

Cooing over Olsen's obvious fondness for fish, Bruyneel noted, "He's kind, highly intelligent and he extends his kindness through his sons. That's how we met. Jim sent his son downstairs to invite me to dinner with him. We do lots of walks and swimming. He's perfect and has a cute look on his face."

Stationed in England during World War II, Olsen was a mechanic on the gliders that ferried troops to D-Day landing sites. He did not fly in the assault on Nazi Germany and noted the gliders were dangerous, with most troops preferring parachutes.

After the war, Olsen took advantage of the GI Bill to get a college education at Upper Iowa State University. An avid motorcyclist, he trekked all over the West and up to Alaska with a college pal.

The book contains much history and many endearing anecdotes, such as the frugality and wise use of resources taught by his grandfather during Olsen's childhood. The elderly man, born in 1855, would light his pipe with a magnifying glass to save on matches.

"The ritual stuck with Jim and it influenced him to better understand how people unknowingly waste their resources," the book notes.

But the center of his life was the fish hatchery work. He was manager of Rock Creek Fish Hatchery and later Butte Falls Fish Hatchery. The Rock Creek facility produces fall and spring chinook, coho, summer and winter steelhead and rainbow trout, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website. The Butte Falls hatchery was demolished in 2011.

"It was a wonderful career and great people to work with," says Olsen, noting he got the record for best "conversion rate" of seed per pound of fish.

"I didn't like to retire from it. It was a good job for an Iowa farm boy."

Olsen will sign copies of his book at Emeritus at Mountain View at 2 p.m., June 7. The book costs $20.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.