Kristen Dresen found peace and connection while gardening with her father (above) when he was suffering from dementia. As the new owner of Olson’s Flowers, she believes flowers possess the power to help people heal and connect.

In bloom

The powerful personal story behind Olson’s Flowers’ new owner

When Kristen Dresen’s father was diagnosed with dementia, the man she loved so dearly started slipping away. It is a long and erratic goodbye that many people are forced to say to their parents. But when he would work in the garden with his daughter, he would return to her, becoming more fully himself for a few blissful hours that swelled as they pressed up against the abyss of time and age.

“I had started to grow flowers, it was kind of a hobby that got out of hand and really scaled up a lot in recent years,” she recalls. “What happened was, we had a farmer who was using our land, and he stopped using our lower field, so I told my husband I was going to plant some flowers there. The farmer was my dad, and he had dementia that came on very quickly. He might not remember what he had for breakfast that day, but when he would come and help me with my flowers, he’d come back. He was a full-on farmer again.”

Dresen, who grew up on a family farm in a tiny Wisconsin town, was nearing two decades working at Epic at the time, and her employer graciously gave her ample time off.

“We spent that whole summer together,” she says of her dad, hesitating for a moment as a tear rolls down her cheek. “I feel like if it wasn’t for flowers, I might have just gone to work and missed that last year with my father. He was a typical farmer, a man of few words, but when we would sit there, we would talk and be together.”

When he was admitted to a memory care facility, Dresen brought carloads of flowers for him and everyone else there. When he died, she handled the floral arrangements for his funeral. In those distinct scents, which will return year after year for as long as the world persists, she still detects memories of the time they spent together.

And that, more than anything else, is the reason she is the new owner of Olson’s Flowers, Mount Horeb’s oldest and most iconic floral shop. Dresen took over the business in August of this year, taking the reins from the family that gave the store its name. Bill and Muriel Olson met at a party in a cow pasture in rural New Glarus many years ago, fell in love, got married, and spent their lives together running the flower business. The shop moved to Mount Horeb in November of 1962, and it has been in the village ever since, currently at 214 East Main Street. Bill died in late 2020, and the family announced they were planning to sell shortly afterward.

It was more than merely a business then, and it remains far more than merely a business today, as Dresen, who is keeping the name just as it is, works to guide Olson’s into the future.

“Flowers are one of the few universal things,” she says. “On good days and bad days, when there’s a birth, or when someone gets sick or for a funeral. They are so meaningful. Someone might not remember all the details of those days, but they will remember the flowers. They anchor those moments, in good times and bad.”

The way the simple smell of a lilac bush can send someone 50 years into the past, to a time and place that no longer exists, is all anyone needs to know about the power of these bursts of color and fragrance.

“I really like learning about neuroscience, and I think the senses have so much to do with it,” she says. “I’ve been trying to learn about that, and lean into it.”

Dresen and her family have lived in Mount Horeb for more than a decade. “Mount Horeb is that true small town,” she explains. “Madison was lovely but it was too big, and when we moved to Mount Horeb we immediately started making friends. It’s a town where people and businesses help each other out. It’s a place where people stick around. It’s a community where, if someone is going to go out to eat, it’s probably going to be here, in town.”

“It’s way bigger than the town I grew up in, but Mount Horeb still feels like a small town because everyone here is so connected,” she continues. “When your drop your kids off at school, it feels like they are being taken care of by family.”

It was shortly after moving to Mount Horeb that Dresen first ventured into Olson’s Flowers while exploring her new home. She continued visiting over the years, eventually walking through the door one day and simply asking if she could work there for free in order to learn more about being a florist.

“I’ve loved flowers my whole life, but also the energy of this place,” she explains. “I never knew Bill [Olson] but when I started spending time here, I got to hear all these stories about him, about how kind-hearted he was.”

“That’s why it’s bigger than running a flower shop, or being a small business owner,” she says. “I’m proud of both of those things, but it’s more than that; it’s the connections.”

Dresen said even during her 20 years in the corporate world, she always looked at the human side of business. “Epic is healthcare,” she says. “It’s helping people. That’s what I loved about it.”

While her father helped inspire her to love flowers, her mother – who went to nursing school in the 1980s with four small children at home - showed her that it’s okay to change course in the middle of your life and pursue your dream job.

“She showed me that doing that was okay,” she says. “That’s why, pursuing this dream, I have zero doubt that it’s the right decision.”

Dresen spent much of the prior evening talking on the phone with people who were planning funerals. Some of the conversation was about flowers, but much was about the people who recently passed out of the world.

“Someone who calls for a funeral arrangement might just need someone to talk to,” she says. “My experience is, I want to spend my days doing that.

In addition to many of her own flowers, Dresen is also carrying ones from other local growers she met in recent years though a gardening group.

She was handed the keys to the business on August 5, which would have been Bill Olson’s birthday.

“That first morning, I couldn’t sleep,” she recalls. “I got here at four in the morning. I was out front watering the flowers. It was quiet and still and dark. It just felt completely right.”

Her first month owning the business has only reinforced her sentiments.

“It’s been about what I imagined, but probably even better,” she says. “I’ve gotten a lot of hugs and high-fives and stories from people.”

Jeff Grundahl, who recently bought the property and was instrumental in bringing in Dresen, said he’s glad Olson’s will remain part of the community for another generation.

“As a lifelong resident, I know how important the Olsons have been to Mount Horeb,” said Grundahl. “Through the purchase of the real estate and business, that knowledge deepened, and I am proud that we found someone to not only continue but to enhance the business.”

“Kristen … and her local flower farm bring new farm-to-vase options to our community, and her passion is very evident from the moment you walk in the door,” he continued. “I look forward to working with Kristen to bring new life to the local business community and real estate in the coming years.”

Shortly before her father died, Dresen had a short but pivotal conversation with him in a moment of lucidity.

“I think I’m going to do the flower thing,” she told him.

“Oh,” he replied. “I know you will.”

Should this article be featured?: 

Mount Horeb Mail

114 East Main Street
Mount Horeb, WI

Subscribe to our RSS Feed

Comment Here