Terry Olson grew up in Alaska. When he was 13, his parents loaded an old school bus full of their family possessions and drove the 1,300-mile, unpaved Alaska Highway to a town none of them had ever been to: Seward, Alaska. Their arrival coincided with the Silver Salmon Derby – a big event for the town – so there were no vacant hotel or motel rooms (not that there were many of those to begin with). Terry’s father was able to convince a landlord with a house for rent to rent it for a week while they figured out where they were going to live.
Alaska calls itself “the last frontier,” and Terry discovered there were indeed people of every stripe and color there. He slept more in the dark winters and less in the bright summers. One of his early jobs was preparing and cleaning dump-truck- loads of fresh-caught salmon for freezing and shipping to markets around the world. When the fishing boats came in, it was round-the-clock work – sometimes 24 hours straight. The meat staple in their house was moose meat that Terry or his father had shot and butchered.
Terry was at home in Alaska and enjoyed the variety of ideas and worldviews he encountered. But when he headed off to college in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, he discovered that he was truly an urban boy at heart. He majored in theatre, art and music, which had all become his passion after a freshman trip to Europe introduced him to professional theatre for the first time.
Eventually, Terry helped start SAK Theatre and moved the roving street theatre troupe to Orlando to open EPCOT Center. Orlando, he found, had that same kind of “people from all over” feel that Alaska had, only in a more cosmopolitan way. It felt like home.
In the ensuing nearly four decades, he has helped start, manage and consult with dozens of arts organizations in Orlando. Currently, he heads the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs for Orange County and serves as the Chief Instigator for FusionFest.
With plenty of friends and his parents continuing to live in Alaska, Terry and his family have often traveled back there, but he is always glad to step out of the airport in Orlando and feel the warm, lush air embrace him.