Remembering John Olsen (1923 – 2017)

Arizona rancher and former trustee helped establish the Prescott Campus

Embry-Riddle lost a treasured and longtime friend when John Olsen (H ’16), a former Embry-Riddle Trustee, honorary alumnus and a current member of the Prescott Campus Board of Visitors, passed away March 19, 2017.

A number of his friends and colleagues offered their remembrances of him:

“Through my career at Embry-Riddle, John was always a present and vocal advocate for the university and supported the Prescott Campus through all the thick and thin of it. He was low key in demeanor, yet very high powered in influence and action.”
— Prescott Campus Director of Library Services Sarah Thomas

“About a week after I arrived on campus nearly eight years ago, John stopped by the office and at age 86, he invited me to go fly with him. He passed on his collective wisdom about the university, campus, and the great people I would work with here and in town! And then with consummate skill and judgement, he showed me the proper way to land at Sedona!”
— Prescott Campus Chancellor Frank Ayers

“I met John Olsen in 1979. He gave of his time and his financial resources to help ensure the success of our campus. He understood the economic value it added to the Prescott community and the huge, positive influence Embry-Riddle had on the lives of our students.”
— Prescott Campus Dean of Students Larry K. Stephan

“John owned an airplane and had parked it at the Prescott Airport since 1958. I think I was one of the last people to fly with him in his plane. Last fall, we toured all over the Big Chino Wash. He gave me an amazing history tour of the ranches below. He was an amazing dude.”
— Dave Roy (’89, PC), director of safety and communications at Guidance Aviation in Prescott, Ariz. and member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

“John Olsen was one of those rare individuals who was outstanding in everything he was involved in, and was passionate about each one: be it his family, his community, his business or flying.”
— John Jenkins, Prescott Campus professor of mathematics

“When John gave you a smile with his eyes, along with his firm and weathered handshake, you knew that you were with a gentleman who valued faith, family, friendship, hard work, honesty and joy. He loved aviation and Embry-Riddle, and he cherished our students and alumni.”
— Bill Thompson (’87, PC), executive director of alumni relations at Embry-Riddle

“I actually knew John Olsen best from working at Olsen’s Grain in both the Prescott and Chino Valley stores. John was always stopping by the stores for one thing or another and always checked in on us young guys working there. He always had some little nugget of advice for us. A funny one was just after another employee, Mike, and I had each gotten engaged to a couple of young ladies. He took us aside and said, ‘Getting married, eh? Well boys, it ain’t all hot pants and sunshine! You have to work at it all the time.’ Sage advice.”
— Chuck Marks (’96, PC), Embry-Riddle Prescott Campus Board of Visitors member

“In August of 1978, I was the fourth student off the bus arriving at the new ERAU campus in Prescott, Ariz. A New York City street rat, it wasn’t long before I got into trouble. Within three days, I was looking at being sent home. I don’t exactly recall how John Olsen came into the picture, but I remember him listening to my story. There were no admonishments or judgements from him. When he left, I remember him telling me to take care with second chances.

“Two days later I was told I could stay. It seems John had put in a good word for me and convinced the dean and others that I was worth giving a second chance.

“Several years later, I found it ironic when Chancellor Frank Ayers afforded me the honor of serving on the Board of Visitors, and I reunited with John, who was already serving on the board.

“Before John passed away, I had the opportunity to thank him for all that he had done for me. He didn’t say much, but after I had finished, I saw the smile that I had long remembered and he commented that ‘I seemed to have done well with my second chance.’ Godspeed John Olsen.”
— Bill Cusick (’84, PC), Embry-Riddle Prescott Board of Visitors member

For more about John Olsen’s life and contributions to Embry-Riddle and the Prescott, Ariz., community, click here.