Mike Olienyk, 97, formerly of Belfield, died Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, at the St. Luke's Home, Dickinson.
Mike's Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, at St. Bernard's Catholic Church, Belfield, with Fr. William Ruelle as the celebrant. Interment will follow at St. Bernard's Cemetery, with military honors provided by the Belfield American Legion, William C. Blair Post No. 144. Visitation will be on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Ladbury Funeral Service, Dickinson, and will continue at the church from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a rosary and vigil at 7 p.m. Visitation will also be on Thursday one hour prior to services at the church.
Mike Olienyk was born May 2, 1915, on the Olienyk homestead in Billings County, one of six children born to Prokop and Dokia (Ktytor) Olienyk. He and his siblings attended a one-room country school where he completed the 8th grade. Since there was no school bus and since boarding him in town would be too expensive, he did not attend high school and remained at home to work on the farm.
At age 17 he went to work for a neighboring farmer for a year, doing general farm work for an annual wage of $250, most of which he saved. He then took a job at Prokop's Pool Hall in Belfield for $15 per month plus free room and board. Unsatisfied with his future prospects, he traveled to Washington state in search of other employment opportunities in 1936. He worked in apple orchards and with a threshing crew, but was unable to find permanent employment.
In late October he hopped a freight train back to Belfield. He landed a job as a car salesman for McGarvey & Schneider, but after a few months decided he wanted to be in business for himself. In the spring of 1937, using money he had saved and a small loan from his father, he bought a pool hall that served beer. As the business grew, Mike changed the name of the establishment from the Wayside Inn to Mike's Bar and borrowed an additional $500 from his father to buy a liquor license.
His personal life flourished as well. Mike married Josephine Basaraba on Nov. 5, 1939. Their first child, Michael, was born the following year and Mary Jane was born in 1943. With World War II escalating, Mike was drafted into the U.S. Army in August, 1943, one of the first married men with children to be drafted in Stark County. Following basic training, he served as a drill instructor and as an instructor in infantry tactics, earning the rank of sergeant. In 1945 he entered officer candidate school, but since World War II was ending he was discharged prior to being commissioned.
Mike was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in January, 1946, and returned home to his family and his business. John was born in 1946, Kathy in 1948, Loretta in 1950 and Deborah in 1957. In the late 1940s Mike decided to build a movie theatre. The Belfield Theatre opened in mid-December, 1950. The first movie shown was a musical, "Duchess of Idaho" starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson. Prices were 50 cents for adults, 35 cents for students and 15 cents for children. Mike sold the theatre in 1971.
In addition to managing his businesses, Mike was active in civic affairs. He became a member of William C. Blair Post No. 144 of the American Legion in Belfield shortly after his discharge from military service. He served as post commander twice, and permanently as post chaplain. Mike was named "Legionnaire of the Year" for the State of North Dakota in 2002 and he represented the Wm. C. Blair Post at the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2004. He was also a long-time member of the Knights of Columbus and was named "Knight of the Year" in 1993. He was elected to the Elm Grove School District Board in 1952 and served for 24 years, most of them as board president. He also served in the House of Representatives of the North Dakota State Legislature for five terms, beginning in 1963. He was a member of the Appropriations Committee and chair of the Veteran's Committee. He served as well in various other organizations. He was particularly active as a volunteer in several capacities for St. Bernard's Church and was inducted into the North Dakota Ukrainian Hall of Fame in 2002.
Mike sold Mike's Bar in 1976 and went into semi-retirement, remaining active in the community and St. Bernard's parish. He also took care of the large yard around the home and tended a vegetable garden during the summer. He walked to the Dairy Queen at the interchange northeast of town several times per week, a round trip of about two miles, and enjoyed many games of pinochle there with friends. In 2000, at the age of 85, Mike earned his high school equivalency diploma (GED). Since the average age of a GED earner is about 24, this feat was quite remarkable and a newspaper article in The Dickinson Press highlighting Mike's achievement was picked up by the Associated Press and received national attention, including publication in "Stars and Stripes."
Ardent patriotism was one of Mike's hallmarks. He was a proud member of what Tom Brokaw dubbed "The Greatest Generation." He extolled the virtues of democracy and capitalism at every opportunity, and often spoke of how fortunate we all were to be living in such a great country. Every morning he proudly hoisted the American flag on a flagpole in the front yard of the family home.
Mike's wife, Josephine, passed away in 2002 and Mike continued to live in the family home for several years thereafter. He sold the home in Belfield in 2008 and moved into a retirement community in Dickinson in August of that year.
Mike is survived by four children, John Olienyk, Windsor, Colo., Kathy Wills, Minot, Loretta (Steve) Waite, Baltimore, Md., and Deborah (Bob) Walker, Walnut Creek, Calif.; daughter-in-law, Margaret Olienyk, Annapolis, Md.; son-in-law, Marvin Bloedow, Ladysmith, Wisc.; nine grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and one brother, Steve (Caroline) Olienyk, Florence, Ore. He was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Josephine on May 15, 2002; son, Michael; daughter, Mary Jane Bloedow; two brothers; two sisters; and his parents. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorials to the Heartland Hospice in Dickinson. Arrangements are with Ladbury Funeral Service, Dickinson, www.ladburyfuner