McKenzie’s Field—Ole Ole Olson Free

By Casey Gauntt

“I can’t see a thing!” Buddy gasped in a loud whisper. “They’re catching up,” I threw back over my shoulder. It was pitch dark, no moon, and we were running as though our lives depended on it. We heard the yells of about thirty guys closing in from all directions and caught the rays of their flashlights dancing off the houses and trees to the sides and in front of us. Bushes clawed at our bare legs and limbs lashed at our faces. “There they are!” one of the pursuers cried, now only a few yards behind us. As I screamed “Run, Buddy, r___!” something slammed into my throat. My feet left the ground rising rapidly above my head in front of me and, after what seemed like several seconds, ‘Bam!’ my back was slammed into the ground. The blood thirsty hoard quickly massed over me and their flashlights pored into my face. “We got you! We got you!” One of them had the good sense to ask “Are you OK?” I couldn’t talk. Moments later I heard Buddy shout from a block away “Ole Ole Olson, free free free!!” He had made it. Once again.

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Buddy Wheaton was one of the best Kick The Can players I’ve ever known. As the entire army of the already captured kids fanned out to run down the last two of us, Buddy rushed into McKenzie’s Field and kicked the unguarded can. Game over. I got up slowly. I was dripping with sweat and my neck hurt like crazy. I realized I’d run full speed into the laundry line behind Marcia Skoglund’s house and was, literally, “clothes-lined.”

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Dave Olson was one of the kids from our neighborhood. His father’s name was Ole, and I always assumed the cry “Ole Ole Olson” was named after him. I recently looked it up and some etymologists argue it’s a derivative of “oly oly oxen free” or, possibly, the German “alle, alle auch sind frei” (everyone, everyone is also free). I prefer my explanation.

The Kingston Trio - Ally Ally Oxen Free
It was July of 1961 in Itasca, Illinois and, as we did most summer nights, a bunch of boys and a few girls had gathered for several hours of Pom Pom Pull Away (we called it “Poll” Away), Kick The Can, bicycle tag and roughhousing.I was eleven years old. Itasca was a very small, quiet town surrounded by farms and linked to Chicago twenty miles to the east by the Milwaukee Railroad. We got three stations on our black and white T.V., there was no F.M. radio and the number for our newly installed rotary phone was 898.

The McKenzies lived across the street from us on Greenview Rd. and had a large backyard where we staged our games. It was widely believed that Mrs. McKenzie, Rose, was a sister of Alfonse “Al” Capone. Their son Doug used to mow our half acre of lawn until he cut off four of his toes with his sit down power mower. After that my brother and I were sentenced to cutting the lawn with a dull push-by-hand contraption.

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Back then, Irving Park Road was the main highway through town . There were no stop lights or stop signs and traffic blew by fast. Late one afternoon that summer I was headed across town to Washington Park for a little league game. I got to Irving Park, dismounted my bike, began to walk cross the road and—have you had one of those moments where something happened you couldn’t explain but knew, deeply, it was big? The next thing I remember, I was on the other side of the road facing the traffic and everything was moving in slow motion. A red and white station wagon was only a few yards past the point where I was standing and holding my bike. Its blaring horn was an arrow of sound shot through both of my eardrums. The driver’s bare, hairy arm was thrust outside his window, his fist shaking violently as he screamed back at me “You wanna get yourself killed?!”

I never saw that station wagon— or any cars for that matter—when I started to cross Irving Park Road. And, for the life of me, I don’t know how I made it across the road without getting hit by it. When things returned to normal speed, I got back on my bike, rode a short ways and began shaking and sobbing. I got off, sat down on a sidewalk and cried for a long time. ‘What just happened?’ I kept asking myself. Over and over.

One winter night in 1966 after a fresh, heavy snowfall, Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olsen, a year ahead of Buddy and me in school, went for a ride on a toboggan towed by a car driven by another boy over by Washington Park. Rodney had asked Buddy to join them and as Buddy was waiting in his driveway to be picked up, his mother stuck her head out of the door. “Buddy, you have a phone call.” Buddy said he’d call back whoever it was after the outing with Rodney. His mom persisted, “It’s Kathy,” Buddy’s girlfriend. He came inside and took the call. Kathy Wentzel, who had been sick and missed several days of school, asked Buddy if he would bring his biology textbook over to her house so she could catch up on some homework. Buddy said “Sure,” and when Rodney and Gary swung by a few minutes later, Buddy was backing out the driveway and told them he couldn’t go with them.

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While Buddy was over at Kathy’s house, Rodney and Gary were flying through a snow-packed intersection just as another car sped through. It missed the towing car but smashed into the toboggan. Gary and Rodney were both instantly killed.

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Ole, Ole Olson, Free
McKenzie’s Field is dedicated to the memory of Rodney Hendrickson and Gary Olsen (1949-1966) and Ryan William Wheaton (1981-2012). Please consider making a donation in memory of Ryan Wheaton to Outward Bound, P.O. Box 62161, Baltimore MD 21264

CLICK HERE - If you would like a Specially-Crafted PDF version of this story for saving or printing.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Helm April 14, 2012 at 12:59 am

I do remember the tragedy, but was unaware of Buddy’s involvement. My memory tells me for some reason it happened on Central Av. in Roselle. I moved to Bonnie Brae about 15yrs ago, just down the street from where Rodney and Buddy lived. Moved from there last January to North Dakota. While there, I became friends with Rodney’s younger sister’s husband and spent time with her also. They still live in same house.

I am assuming Ryan is Buddy’s son, and do not know about his death. My thoughts and prayers to Buddy and his family.


Darlene Baier September 25, 2012 at 2:24 am

Thank you so much for your beautiful writings and stories. I also remember very clearly the next morning after Rodney and Gary were killed. My mother always had a radio going on in the kitchen when we were eating breakfast, and we heard about it then.
I appreciate the time you have taken to post pictures and stories of our wonderful childhood in Itasca. Thank you so very much for the memories!


Casey Gauntt casey December 19, 2012 at 1:16 am


By Grover Genro Gauntt

Downtown Los Angeles in the Koreatown district, 1978. I was leaving the Zen Center pre-dawn, driving south on Normandie to an errand or a meeting—I can’t remember now. It was cool and dark and the fog was low and thick. I had been on the road for all of one minute when I came to the intersection of Normandie and Olympic Avenue. Visiblility was maybe fifty yards. The light was green so I continued without hesitation through the intersection at probably 30 miles an hour. When I was one-quarter of the way in I saw a car slipping out of the fog at cruising speed on Olympic about to run the red light from the west—my right—and engage me fully at the center of the crossing. Although there was no time to react, I remember doing something quickly (unconsciously) with the wheel……………..and then I was across the intersection. I will never forget the immediate insight that a huge miracle had just happened. Time had somehow warped so that the collision would be averted. An accident that was about to surely transpire, was not allowed. Grace.

Just think. These things happen to all of us all of the time. We only notice the obvious ones. It’s always time to be grateful.


Casey’s Note: My brother Grover shared his story with me in November of 2010 shortly after I had sent him an early draft of McKenzie’s Field—Ole Ole Olson Free and the stories of Buddy Wheaton’s and my near misses with fate at an intersection in the 1960s.


Casey Gauntt casey March 31, 2013 at 12:36 am

Hello, Rodney!
I mention in Wheaton- The Bermuda Triangle that I keep a journal where I write down my early morning dreams—the vivid dreams—the ones that seem so real. And maybe they are. I’ve found if I don’t write the dreams down within a few hours, I forget them, like the other dreams that never even reach that level of consciousness. Writing has always been a mnemonic for me—I just remember things so much better if I write them down. But here’s something really interesting that I’ve observed. Even though the dreams are so vivid, and I’ve dutifully entered them, a few months will go by and when I pick up and read through the journal I discover I’ve forgotten most of those dreams—I mean, it’s not like I forgot parts of them— I don’t remember ever having them. They seem to slip underneath the surface with the other dreams. I feel by writing them down, I’ve trapped them here— in this place— but if I lost my journal those dreams would be gone as well—wherever it is they go.
A couple of mornings ago, I had a vivid dream about Rodney Hendrickson, one of the boys to whom I dedicated McKenzie’s Field. He was a year older than me, was a friend growing up, and he was killed in 1966 as he and a friend, Gary, were towed behind a car after a snow storm. When Hilary got up and came into the kitchen she saw me writing furiously in my journal. “Another vivid dream?” she asked.
I was having some wild dreams that morning. Rapid fire- jumping from one to another. I was in a gym or an auditorium somewhere. I wanted to work out and there was this huge big screen T.V. on a wall, interactive, and I was pushing several buttons to select the work-out I wanted…some other guys come in and push a button and they begin doing some exercise program flipping around in their lazy-boy recliners…what kind of work out is that? I wonder…. Now I’m in an old building… a residential hotel…it’s strangely built… there are no halls…you walk from one person’s flat into the neighbor’s…I walk through flat after flat…I’m supposed to be there to check out some units a client wants to buy…I’m lost and feeling uncomfortable walking through strangers’ bedrooms… a young woman offers to take me on a tour of the units I’ve been looking for…this building is more weird…stairs dead end into thin air…one moment your inside, the next outside…it’s like a beehive…the unit numbers are all over the place…unit 301 is on the fifth floor, and 513 is on the 2d…but this woman knows where she’s going, thank God…we arrive in this beautiful penthouse…enormous living room, ocean views, a ridiculously large fireplace, like the one in the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane…there are a couple of kids playing in front of it…there’s no fire… their father is sitting a nearby sofa, dressed nicely in a sport coat and tie, reading the paper…mom is standing off by herself, and gives us a forced smile..I feel a little uncomfortable barging in the middle of these folks home, but my tour guide assures me “everything is fine” …we leave the family in the living room and walk into another room, this one full of people milling around…maybe it’s a bar or a restaurant… there’s group of men talking…they all are dressed nice, like the father, with sport coats, a little old fashioned—like folks wore back in the 40s and 50s, I’d say…one of the men look up at us and oh, my God, its Rodney Hendrickson. I can’t believe it! I haven’t seen Rodney for so many years. I shout to him “Rodney, how are you? It’s been so long.” He looks older—I’d guess 50s—his hair is thinner, some lines in his face, around his eyes, but there’s no mistake, this is Rodney. “Are you still living in Itasca?” “Sometimes,” he said. He mentioned he was working on the East Coast, Philadelphia I think…can’t remember what he said. “How’s your brother Frosty?” I’ve always thought Frosty, his older brother, same age as my brother Grover, had one of the coolest names, ever. “Not so good these days,” Rodney said. He didn’t elaborate and then he said he had to get going. I gave him one of my business cards and asked him for his email address. He blurted out something really fast that didn’t have his name in it or an @ in it—something édu’ …maybe a university…I was frustrated I didn’t get it down…it was unlike any email address I’d ever heard. “Can I have your cell phone number?” but then I woke up before he could answer.
As I awoke, the dream so vivid in my mind, my first thought was Rodney’s dead—he’s been gone for 47 years—but that didn’t occur to me in my dream—he was very much alive—he looked good, nicely dressed, he seemed happy and busy and was out with friends.. I was surprised to see him, and although I don’t think he was expecting to see me, neither did he seem surprised—it had been a long time. I was exhilarated—pumped up by the dream. I was really happy Rodney and I had just had a visit.
Oh, that’s right, I forgot—it was only a dream.
March 30, 2013


Jim Hughes October 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm

We moved to Itasca in 61 or 62, and moved again – to Minnesota – in 66. Those 4 years were the longest we’d ever lived in one place, so I still think of it as the town where I grew up. Every now and then I search the web for things relating to Itasca, that’s how I found your story. Thanks for creating it.

I was a year behind you at North School and Lake Park HS, a shy, small kid from out of town, so we didn’t really connect – but I remembered your name right away. Were you in BSA Troop 56?

Irving Park Road – that great mysterious highway leading out of town, to the horizon… and listening to an endless freight train moving slowly through town at night…


Mary Moncatch Kane August 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I have enjoyed your writings very much. I sure remember the tragic event that took Gary and Rodney’s life. I was best friend with Gary’s girlfriend, Josie when this happened. The sadness that overcame LPHS was something I will never forget. I did not know of Buddy’s close call and I am sure he has always consider Kathy as a living angel. Thank God for this intervention.

Warm Regards,
Mary Moncatch Kane


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