John E. Olsson, P.E., L.S. M.ASCE, founder of Olsson Associates, and past president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Nebraska Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies, passed away on January 28 at the age of 88.
Olsson Associates, a prominent Lincoln, Nebraska–based engineering design company that provides engineering, planning, landscape architecture, surveying, and environmental services, and which started as a 2-person company in 1956, now employs 900 people in 24 offices in 8 states.
Olsson’s projects include designing diesel power plants, working for the City of Lincoln, performing water and sewage work for small communities, studying fallout shelters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and designing a total energy plant for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. He led his firm until 1976 and retired in the early 1990s. He remained involved with the firm’s board of directors until his passing.
Born May 14, 1926, in Queens, New York, Olsson like his father and grandfather decided to become a sailor and entered the New York State Maritime Academy, graduating first in his class in 1946 with a degree in marine engineering. When maritime union employees at the shipping line he worked for went out on strike, Olsson exercised the Navy commission he earned at the academy and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he became an officer aboard the U.S.S. Spokane.
After completing his commitment to the reserve in June of 1947, Olsson visited his family in Nebraska and decided to enroll at the University of Nebraska, where he would go on to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1951. He worked as an engineer for Fulton & Cramer for 5 years before he became the sole engineer in his new company, John E. Olsson Professional Engineering. Working with his wife, Jean, who performed clerical work, their first project was a cemetery plot for J. Township in Seward County.
As the years passed the business grew, and in 1962 Olsson joined a partnership with Clark & Enersen. Then in 1970, he formed John E. Olsson & Associates. Today, the company’s recent projects range from the Antelope Valley Revitalization, in Lincoln, to a long-range transit plan for the Kansas City [Missouri] Metro, campus improvements at Arizona State University, and a wind farm in Broken Bow, Oklahoma.
In addition to his 50-year involvement in the AWWA, Olsson was also involved with ASCE, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Council of Engineering Examiners, and the Nebraska Examining Board for Engineers and Architects.
Recipient of the University of Nebraska’s 1996 Outstanding Alumnus Award, Olsson served on the boards of Olsson Associates, the Cooper Foundation, the National Bank of Commerce, and Ameritas Life Insurance. He founded the Olsson Family Foundation, and was involved in many community organizations, including serving as president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and the Community Chest (now the United Way), as well as on the boards of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army.