Sally lived in a suburb of Chicago from her birth in 1947 until she left to attend Michigan State University where she studied elementary education with a focus on teaching in inner city school systems. Coming of age in the ’60’s, she became a civil rights and antiwar activist, married Jim Olson, lived in Detroit and taught in the inner city while Jim attended law school to become an environmental attorney.
They migrated north to Traverse City, Jim’s hometown, where they added 3 daughters to their family while Jim pursued a career in environmental law and Sally taught school and became a grassroots environmental activist. In 1978 they moved to the Neahtawanta Inn on the Old Mission Peninsula and launched a renovation project that would last for many years. Their initial goal was to use the Inn as a conflict resolution center to address environmental legal conflicts, as well as other workshops and gatherings. During this time, Sally discovered the practice of yoga and became a yoga teacher. In 1980 Sally was one of 4 women to start the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, a grassroots environmental advocacy organization. In 1983, Jim and Sally parted ways (and are still friends); Sally remained running the Inn as an eco-friendly, welcoming and affirming bed & breakfast, teaching yoga, raising their daughters and continuing to pursue environmental/peace activism. After getting to know the infamous Bob Russell when they were both serving on the Oryana Food Co-op board of directors, they were married in 1987 at the Inn on the Summer Solstice and on the same day launched the Neahtawanta Research and Education Center, a nonprofit organization focusing on peace, personal growth and environmental issues. The Inn was used as a gathering place for the community of kindred spirits along with many workshops, performances and programs.
For the next 26 years, Sally and Bob ran the Inn, raised their daughters (Jim was also involved raising their 3 daughters; Bob had a daughter as well), worked to address local and regional issues through NREC and Sally continued to teach yoga. Since Bob’s death in 2013, Sally has continued to run the Inn and NREC with a focus on community resilience, nonviolence and establishing a local Beloved Community Network. Late in 2018 Sally and the Neahtawanta Center’s board decided to dissolve as a non-profit organization and convey NREC’s assets and support to Title Track, where Sally serves as a member of the board of Directors.