El Dorado native and former NFL player Rance Olison always kept his hometown close to heart by participating in and spearheading multiple community-oriented efforts, leaving a legacy of giving back after he died of heart complications earlier this month.
Olison may have been best known in El Dorado for the annual holiday meat giveaway held in honor of his late mother, Carrie Kendrix Buggs, from whom he had said he learned the virtue of altruism. His other charitable endeavors included funding clothing and toys for children, assisting with fundraisers for the Nile and Marzell Smith Museum of African American History and scholarships to help students go to college.
His efforts touched the community so often that last year, when Olison was facing serious health challenges, the community gathered around him and hosted “A Love of Praise” gospel musical for Olison’s benefit.
Olison died on March 11 at age 65.
Olison, who attended both Washington and El Dorado high schools during the transition from segregation to integration of the city’s public schools in the late ’60s and early ’70s, played football and participated in track, garnering an athletic scholarship to play football at San Diego State University.
While playing football for SDSU, Olison earned a spot on the All Conference team and was named the Most Inspirational player. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1975.
As a free agent in the years that followed, he signed and played in the World Football League, with the San Francisco 49ers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.
Olison wrapped up his pro ball career in 1982 in the U.S. Football League.
He returned to college and earned a second bachelor’s degree in physical education and history from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
Olison has taught, coached and served as athletic director on the university and high school levels at schools in Arkansas (Crossett High School), Kansas and Texas, retiring in 2009 from the San Antonio Independent School District. He also coached his own minor league football team for 10 years.
Following the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, he marked the historical moment by creating a booklet, titled “What the World Wants from Obama: Barack Obama’s Souvenir Historical Guide from 1619 – 2008.”
In 2014, Olison was welcomed into the American Football Hall of Fame.
He was a member of the National Football League Former Players Association, San Antonio-Austin chapter, of which he was elected president in January 2015.
Olison had often spoken fondly of his life growing up in El Dorado, where, he had said, he came of age in a tight-knit community who looked out for his best interests.
His strongest influence was his mother, who taught him and his sisters the importance of being of service to others, he had said.
“That’s what God wants us to do. You give back and watch how it works for you,” he previously told the News-Times.
The 2017 meat giveaway included turkeys, hams, hens, ducks and game for low-income community members. The annual event, which also is held in San Antonio, Texas, also awarded 36 bicycles to the top six students at various area churches who excelled academically in their respective grades.
Olison also co-founded the L.C. Ross Scholarship Fund, which has helped more than 80 children attend college or university, and was honored by many El Dorado organizations for his work with the community. Mayor Frank Hash declared March 20, 2017, as Rance Olison Day in honor of all of his contributions.
In May 2017, Olison was the guest speaker at the Nexans AmerCable/News-Times Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet, just two weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery. There, he emphasized that the journey of life is about “we” and “us,” not “I” and “me.”
Olison is survived by his wife, Mary “Mae” Olsion, son Rance “Buster” William Olison Jr., stepdaughter Kareem Thomas, two brothers, five sisters and two grandchildren. Services were held last weekend in San Antonio.
A memorial service for El Dorado native and former NFL player Rance Olison will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Zion #2 Missionary Baptist Church in Urbana, with the Rev. B.E. Artis serving as pastor.