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Scholarship honors Paul and Jeanne Olsen

February  12, 2013

Last fall, Pam and Bob D. Wilson ’72 decided to thank and honor a beloved Augustana couple who have, through many years of teaching, coaching, mentoring and true friendship, changed the Wilson’s lives for the better.

The Wilsons, of Kentwood, Mich., gifted the Paul V. and Jeanne Donstad Olsen Scholarship to celebrate “the many ways Professor and Coach Paul V. Olsen and Jeanne Donstad Olsen ’68 have inspired generations of students at Augustana College to go the distance in life.”

In addition to serving as a professor in English literature and writing, Dr. Paul Olsen has been the Vikings head men’s cross country coach since 1966 and head men’s track and field coach since 1969. Olsen has been selected 12 times by seniors to deliver their “last lecture” during senior honors week at the end of the school year.

Jeanne Olsen provides equal inspiration through her 27 years as a hospital chaplain and unwavering support of the Augustana experience. In recognition of that combination of classroom, team experience and all-encompassing enthusiasm, the new scholarship provides scholarships for students who have demonstrated exceptional passion in academics and extraordinary leadership in co-curricular activities at Augustana.

“Paul taught my freshman English class,” Bob Wilson recalled, “and my friendship with and admiration for him developed from there through the four years he was my cross country and track coach and into the many years beyond.”

The couples became close friends and often vacationed and camped with their sons along the shores of Lake Michigan.

“Although I did not recognize it during my youth, I can now easily see how I learned so many valuable life lessons from Paul,” Wilson said. “He has a special joy in living. He loves to laugh and joke around, and he helps students develop accountability and responsibility. Paul is a man of hope and passion, encouraging others to do the best at whatever they choose to accomplish.

“Over the years, I read and heard stories of the impact Augustana has had on so many students. When I thought of my own experience at Augustana, Pam and I wondered how we could do something to help offer that opportunity to young people of future generations. I know that Jeanne and Paul have positively impacted so many people over the years. As a reflection of that impact on so many, we established this scholarship in their name to honor them and to encourage future generations of students and leaders.”

The Olsens remain humbled by the honor of the named scholarship.

“I’ve always thought it is a responsibility, honor and privilege to be a coach and a teacher that mentors,” Paul Olsen said. “I often say the coach who overestimates his influence is a fool, but one who underestimates his influence is an even bigger fool.

“To have the privilege of serving as a mentor, and then to be acknowledged for it by someone you love, is an honor.”

The Wilsons got married during Bob’s senior year at Augustana. Even back then, Paul Olsen saw the couple as selfless.

“Their generous giving to Augustana doesn’t surprise me at all, as they have been giving from day one,” Olsen said. “It started with them baking chocolate chip cookies for the team, which symbolized their love, energy, enthusiasm and passion for Augustana.

Every night for four years I watched him demonstrate an incredible work ethic, palpable passion and enthusiasm for others in their performances—he would be as excited about another runner’s mile as he was for his own. That enthusiasm for others coupled with a passion for what he did himself; it does not surprise me that he continues to give.”

Looking to the future, Wilson offered words of advice to current students.

“Listen to the many stories told by students who have gone before you,” he said. “Bottom line: each of us determines how events in our own lives affect our travel through life.

“With all the opportunities of education and involvement available at Augustana, use that time wisely to learn, to laugh, to participate and to grow.”

Anne Bergren