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Donald "Donny" Olson was born in 1953 in Nome, Alaska and grew up in Golovin, Alaska. He comes from a family with a long history of reindeer herding. His great-grandfather on his father's side, Ollie Olson, came to Alaska in 1898 as part of the Saami herders that Sheldon Jackson brought over from Scandinavia to teach Alaskans about herding and settled in Golovin, Alaska and married a local woman. There also were reindeer herders on Donny's mother's side. On both sides, the reindeer stayed in the family until World War II. Donny was raised by his grandparents, so he grew up hearing about herding. His father was involved with the aviation industry. Donny became involved with reindeer herding as a kid helping with corraling the local herd in Golovin. After leaving the village for college and medical school, Donny returned in the early 1970s when Jim Isabell was starting to helicopters for reindeer herding and was excited about the possibility of flying them. In the 1980s, he purchased his own helicopter and started providing local helicopter services to reindeer herders around the region. In addition to being a trained medical doctor and pilot, in 2001 Donny was elected to the State of Alaska Senate representing the Nome region.