Colleen Dawn O'Connor Olson
Colleen Dawn O'Connor Olson

December 18, 1966 - September 14, 2018
Born in Bellingham, Washington
Resided in Cave City, Kentucky


Colleen Dawn O’Connor Olson of Cave City, Kentucky passed away peacefully in her home on September 14, 2018, encircled by family. She is survived by her husband Rick Olson of Cave City, and her sister Heather Barker of Seattle, Washington. Colleen recently retired from the guide force at Mammoth Cave National Park, serving 25 years as an interpreter.

The words “light” and “dark” carry many meanings for rangers who lead visitors through the longest cave in the world. Chris Clark, one of Colleen’s colleagues, wrote this about his friend:

Today, the lanterns of Mammoth Cave dimmed as one of our own rounded the next bend in the passage. Though the light dims, it can never be extinguished, for the research Ranger Colleen O’Connor Olson leaves to us, the memories of her exuding cheer and energy through years, as well as her friendship so many of us shared with her. Colleen showed us, no matter what you are facing, you can do so with dignity, and shine your light until it’s time to go. The hole left in our family circle will only close tighter so that you forever live in all of us. Rest Well Ranger.

She was a prolific writer and published five books on different aspects of Mammoth Cave, plus writing the history chapter for a compendium book on Mammoth Cave. Colleen was twice selected Guide of the Year and received the Ed Bishop Award for Research three times. Fellow employees voted Colleen to be "You’re My Inspiration", a peer award, and she received the National Park Service “Keeper of the Light Award” for her career-long achievements. Colleen initiated two health-focused Park programs: Hit the Woods for Health, where outdoor activity is a green prescription for better health; and the Mammoth-on, a cave, hike & bike triathlon now in its fourth year. If there is one word that can describe how Colleen was regarded by her coworkers and friends, it would have to be “beloved.” She is missed terribly.

Colleen was born to Clara May and Robert Talmadge O’Connor in Bellingham, Washington on December 18, 1966. She graduated from Lake Stevens High School in 1985, and from Central Washington University in Ellensburg in 1989. Colleen worked at Grand Canyon for the Fred Harvey Company and then for the Mammoth Cave Hotel starting in 1992, before beginning her National Park Service career.

In accordance with Colleen’s wishes, there will be two celebrations of her life in the summer of 2019: one at the Mammoth Cave Hotel; and one in her home state of Washington. In lieu of flowers or other gifts, donations may be made to the Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park ( or




Funeral Home
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Bowling Green, KY 42103