John Kubal/Register: Retired Brookings High School teacher Lori Olson shows off a few of the more than 800 colorful face masks she has made since the coming of the coronavirus pandemic. Included in her output are 300 masks, each with an embroidered “BHS 2020,” for this year’s Brookings High School graduating class.

In the age of the coronavirus, people across the nation have taken to wearing masks that serve as safety barriers that protect the wearer and/or the people with whom the wearer comes in contact. 

While some masks are of a clinical or industrial nature, many Americans are wearing cloth masks, often handmade by a variety of people with a variety of skills, to protect those around them.

One of those mask makers is Lori Olson. She can sew about 10 masks an hour.

A longtime Brookings resident, she retired a year ago after teaching physics at Brooking High School for more than 30 years. Additionally, she’s been an avid quilter for more than 25 years, operating a “long-arm business” where she does quilting for people. 

She has sewed more than 800 masks. 

She has made masks for her daughter-in-law, a doctor at Sanford, and for a son-in-law who also works at Sanford.

“I thought OK, they might need a mask,” Olson said. 

After making masks for them, she considered not making any more. Then talking with a friend, she considered making more for those who need a mask. ”Especially when they started saying, ‘Wear a mask, wear a mask.’”

“So I texted my friend, and I had friends come over in tears because they couldn’t find a mask,” she explained. “And they were so grateful. They hadn’t been out of the house and they were worried about going to the grocery store. One lady said she hadn’t gone to get a prescription filled because she was afraid to go in (to the pharmacy).”

Teachers, grads

“Then it hit me how important this was,” Olson said. 

A friend, an elementary teacher who had to deliver papers to her students, texted her about getting a mask.

“I got to thinking, wow, teachers are out in the public and they need a mask,” the retired teacher said. She emailed the Brookings School District and invited teachers to text her if they needed a mask. 

“And the word has spread.”    

Next came a phone call from Brookings High School Principal Paul von Fischer asking if she would make masks for the graduating seniors. She agreed to, researched and procured the material “that they liked,” and made 300 masks. Olson personalized each mask, embroidering “BHS 2020” on the bottom.

“It’ll be special for them,” Olson said. “I hope that they’re excited about it. I did get a couple students respond and say they loved them. So I was excited for that.”

She also responded to a request to make masks for some Flandreau graduates.

Now she’s getting requests from Brookings businesses to make masks. 

“I’ve had people come and send them to Chicago, to Texas and to Denver,” Olson said. “One grandma came and told me her daughter lives in Denver and she can’t find a mask for her little one.” 

The woman’s husband is an essential worker, so she had to take her child with her when she went out to do such things as grocery shopping. Olson made “a little kid’s mask” to fit the need.

Multiple colors, patterns

To date she has been able to meet most of her fabric needs with materials on hand in her quilting cabinet. Some she made with leftover fabric of many colors and patterns, so each mask is pretty much an original design.

She showed one mask with an Army motif, for a son who had served; one showed “camping and canoeing” for another son who’s a sportsman.

One problem she had to solve was procuring the elastic for the securing straps that go behind the ears. She found a good buy on hair ties at a dollar store: 100 for a buck. So she bought a hundred; but when she returned for more, there were none. She went on the store’s website; the minimum purchase, however, was 2,400 (a case).

“My kids were laughing at me,” she said, laughing herself. “Well, 2,400, I’ve gone through a lot of them (at two ties per mask).”

Olson admitted that for some people wearing a mask for a long time “can hurt the back of your ears.” She offered a couple of solutions: “There’s a channel in here,” she said, showing off a mask. “So cut this elastic out and put a shoestring through there and just tie it around your head.”

The second solution: “Some people will take a big paper clip and put it behind their head and hook the mask to that, so it won’t rub on their ears. There are ways to adjust them if they’re not fitting the way you would like them to.”

One question applicable to her handiwork is one many are facing as the pandemic continues: How long will it last? 

For Olson, how many masks will she make? 

“Two weeks ago, I thought I was done. Then somebody asks for some and I make a few more. And then the high school called.

“(Now) I think – a year. I don’t know. It’s going to be awhile.

“I’ve had some of my teacher friends come and say, ‘Well, I don’t know if we’ll have to start school wearing these next fall.’ So … yeah, I think that’s what we’re looking at.”

While Olson will make masks for businesses at $5 per mask, she provides individuals with masks at no charge (Some people have made donations.) 

To get a mask, text Olson at 690-5952, or email her at

Contact John Kubal at

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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