A keeper of Newcastle’s History receives the MLK Medal of Distinguished Service
StoryFor Vicki Olson, it’s the memories of hearing coal sorters “shaking the black chunks into the bunkers,” and the “whooshing” sound of coal dropping and sliding into coal delivery trucks. It’s a history that predates the city of Newcastle and it’s a history she is dedicated to preserving. Today, Metropolitan King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn acknowledged Olson’s effort by presenting her the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service.
“I am happy to award this Medal of Distinguished Service to Vicki Olson,” said Dunn. “Vicki’s tireless work to capture the history of Newcastle is not only admirable but reminds us all the value of preserving the past for future generations.”
“Vickie Olson has worked tirelessly to keep the history of Newcastle alive,” said Newcastle Mayor Rich Crispo. “Using her personal background of growing up in town, she has researched many former residents and concluded by becoming the most knowledgeable docent for our miner’s cemetery. Her drive to restore and maintain the cemetery is exemplary, and her tours on Memorial Day and Newcastle Days are very informative.”
Before it was a city, the community around Newcastle was the location of one of the last working coal mines in the region. It’s also the home of one oldest cemeteries in King County, the last resting place of the immigrants who help bring the coal from the ground. It’s where Olson’s Grandparents, Grandfather Bernardo Baima and Grandmother Andriena Rubat-Borelle are buried.
Olson says the “old-timers” would take time to help maintain and preserve the cemetery, cutting the grass, tending and repairing the gravestones. Olson’s father would give tours of the historic cemetery and after retiring from the Issaquah School District, Vicki Olson decided to carry on her father’s legacy.
After completing her teaching degree at Western Washington University, Vicki returned to her Alma Mater; teaching in the Issaquah School District. In 1978 Olson joined a group of ambitious volunteers eager to keep Newcastle’s history alive and created the Newcastle Historical Society, of which she currently serves as Vice President.
“My work with the Newcastle Historical Society is to raise awareness of the rich history of Newcastle,” said Olson. “Conducting tours of the crumbling cemetery and telling stories of the lives of the men women and children buried there are part of my duty. I would like to thank Councilmember Dunn for this acknowledgement and extend an invitation to anyone who may be interested in attending a historic tour to join me this coming Memorial Day.”
Olson retired from teaching at the Issaquah School District in 2000, but acknowledges that while she may be retired, her teaching career is not yet finished. Her work for the Newcastle Historical Society includes presenting informative hikes, lectures, and hands on displays educating the public on Newcastle’s local history.
Olson not only provides tours of the cemetery, but researches the people who are buried there to help connect “old” Newcastle to the growing number of people who now call the city home. Since 2013 Olson has organized and led numerous volunteer restoration efforts of the historic cemetery and provided guided tours of the historic Newcastle Cemetery on Memorial Day and Newcastle Day. She also provides educational outreach, and has spoken about her work at the Dante Alighieri Society in Seattle, the Renton Museum, and the Newcastle Library.
Olson is working with city officials in developing a long-range plan to preserve the space, turning the cemetery into a park-like setting where visitors can enjoy the “beauty and peacefulness.” She currently lives with her husband, David in rural King County where they enjoy hosting family and friends at their annual water-slide party.
Olson is one of nine citizens living across King County whose contributions to their community echo the incredible selfless leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The MLK Medal of Distinguished Service recognizes those who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to make a difference in communities across King County.