Living, Learning and Loving It
April 2020 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
Island resident and research genealogist Linda Olsen thinks having fun is not an option, but a necessity.
“My mom died from ALS at 53, and my dad died from lymph cancer at 68. My mom was always putting off doing things she wanted to do, saying she would do all that after she retired, and never got to retire,” said Linda, shaking her head. “That’s why I retired early. I try to live every day to the fullest. I don’t really have a bucket list. If I want to do something, I just do it.”
After years of working in digital equipment sales, first in Boston, then in Atlanta, Linda retired early and opted for the slower pace of St. Simons 11 years ago. “My brother Gary worked at FLETC with the DEA, and I used to visit him.” However, once her brother’s job was relocated to Quantico in Virginia, she said, “I lost my summer place. So, I bought a place on the Island in 1991.”
She and her boyfriend, Ken, who had also retired, made the transition to Island time together. However, after the economic downturn hit, Linda found herself looking for a part-time job, and was hired as a barista at the island Starbucks location.
“I went to work for them for 20 hours a week. Not only was it a fun place to work, but they have great benefits and they also make matching donations to the St. Simons Island Land Trust and Coastal Georgia Historical Society.” These are two local non-profits Linda belongs to which are near and dear to her heart.
Linda said her love of history and genealogy was a passion her parents instilled in both her and Gary. “They drove us everywhere to historical events, and we are both very much into history.”
Linda’s journey into genealogy began with researching her own family roots. That included discovering her last name, Olsen, was originally Owsivk. The name was Americanized when her grandfather’s co-workers in America couldn’t pronounce it. She also discovered from her father’s side, when her grandmother and her sister fled Poland, which was part of Russia in the early days of World War II, “they literally got on the last boat headed to America,” said Linda, who is an active member of the Coastal Georgia Genealogy Society and credits genealogy societies across the country with providing help in her research.
She’s also traveled to Scotland to research the roots of her mother’s family. “I’ve learned so much from walking in my family’s footsteps,” she said, adding she has found long-lost family members through her pursuit of her familial origins. “It’s amazing to view history through the eyes of the people you are researching.
“A lot of research is done online, but you get to the point that you can only find out so much. Then you’ve got to visit people,” said Linda, who gained more knowledge about conducting research in taking a week-long course in Boston from the New England Historical Genealogy Society. “They are the oldest and largest genealogy society in the U.S. and are the experts in research.”
Linda has compiled genealogy books for her family and was approached by Mimi Rogers, curator of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, to research St. Simons Island Lighthouse keeper Isaac Peckham and his wife Dora. “The Historical Society had very little information on him,” said Linda, who added at the time he was the lighthouse keeper in the 1800s, he was the only Peckham in Georgia. It took me a year to research him.”
Thanks to Linda, the Society now has a treasure trove of information on the couple. She was able to trace Peckham, an orphan, back to Connecticut and discovered the very colorful lives both he and his wife led. In February, she made a presentation at the Society’s A.W. Jones Heritage Center, called “Finding Isaac and Dora Peckham.”
In December 2019, Linda retired from Starbucks and has found more time to not only pursue more historical research, but other interests she loves, as well. When she’s not researching or making presentations, Linda can be found golfing, cycling or running, among other physical activities.
“I try to run two days a week, golf two days a week and cycle two days a week,” said Linda, who is a member of the Golden Isles Track Club, Sea Palms Golf Club and local road riding cycle club, The Chain Gang. “I was also in the original first group of Paisley birdie golfers. Every Thursday, the Chain Gang cycles around Jekyll Island twice and on Sundays, we go right to Brunswick and back.”
She is also involved in Road Scholar, an educational travel program designed primarily for older adults. “Fred Collins (founder of The Chain Gang) and I are going on another of their bike tours. Everything I do is for fun,” she said with a smile.
During her long professional career, Linda traveled the world for business, usually adding a little extra time for pleasure. “I’ve spent time in Hong Kong and seen every museum in Amsterdam.” She doesn’t travel much now, however, this summer she will combine a speaking presentation on the Peckham’s in Connecticut with family visits. “For me, it’s all about meeting friends, family and sharing stories.
“I have to agree with Ken’s assessment: We live in a vacation place,” she said. “We moved to the (Pier) Village area three years ago from Sea Palms; we can walk to so many places. The summer concerts are great, and I get to run on the beach. “If I did have a bucket list, the only thing I’d have on it would be to get a hole-in-one. Now that’s something I’d like to do one day!”
Life-Long Learner: The Nashua, New Hampshire, native has an undergrad degree in library science; Master’s in library science and instructional technology from Southern Connecticut University; certification in the American Revolution from American Military University online and tries to take one adult education course per semester at the College of Coastal Georgia.
Not Her Cup of Tea: “People may not know I don’t drink coffee even though I was a coffee master at Starbucks.”
Keeping It Clean: “I volunteer with Keep Golden Isles Beautiful (KGIB). I clean Lord Avenue each week. I worked with another Starbucks employee to give KGIB a grant the past few years. In 2019, it paid for the trash dolphin by the pier. This month we are working on a cigarette campaign for the Village.”