Area Personality: Chuck Olson takes pride in SAM Van
For some residents, a trip to the doctor is no small task. Many people can’t drive and would have no way of getting to their physician without the Somerset Area Ministries Vans and the people who run them.
Chuck Olson, the treasurer of SAM Van, said that it’s all worth it when he hears the callers’ sighs of relief.
“You can hear the relief in their voice when they get that ride to Pittsburgh for that medical appointment,” he said.
Olson is the former pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Somerset and now runs most aspects of SAM Van.
“I consider it a ministry,” he said. There are no income requirements to receive a ride, and the trips are free; however, most people give donations.
Since February of 2004, SAM Van has been shuttling people from the methodist church to Pittsburgh, Altoona, Johnstown and other cities.
In that time more than 11,000 people have been shuttled more than 775,000 miles.
“We’re well over 20,000 volunteer hours,” Olson said.
SAM Van has seven volunteer drivers, and they make at least one trip every weekday.
Olson also takes care of the van maintenance and gasoline. In the past, he also answered the phones and scheduled drivers. Earlier this year, he was able to hire someone to help with that work.
He keeps SAM Van running with the help of local donors and other churches. A major help is the Somerset Community Food Pantry. Olson said the pantry buys all of its food at Giant Eagle, then gives SAM Van the gasoline discount.
“I know it’s a very much needed service, and people appreciate it,” Olson said.
One of Olson’s friends and another local pastor, Art Gotjen, said that Olson does a lot of work for SAM Van that isn’t seen every day.
“He’s the financial secretary and keeps track of the records, and purchases the vans and receives money and applies for grants — a whole host of things,” Gotjen said.
Keeping up with the vans’ daily operations is a heavily involved job, but Olson and the other parishioners have spread their work to other ministries as well, according to Gotjen.
“A whole series of ministries acme out of that, and he just keeps working,” he said.
When he’s not busy with the SAM Vans, Olson spends time with his wife of 54 years, Marjorie (Lenzyel) Olson, and their kids, Joanne Hostetler, Andrew Olson, Stephen Olson and Julie Hartman. One of his favorite activities with his kids is visiting Chick-fil-A grand openings throughout the country.