GREENVILLE, Pa.—Dr. Robert Olson ’60, H’09, Thiel College’s 18th President, will receive the Louis and Barbara Thiel Distinguished Service Award at the institution’s Founders’ Day celebration Feb. 5.
“It is with profound pride that we are able to honor Thiel alumnus and former President Dr. Olson for the immeasurable contributions he has made to his alma mater as both an administrator and a professor,” President of Thiel College Dr. Troy D. VanAken said. “Dr. Olson earned the position of President by steadying the institution and guiding it through a turbulent time. This is a richly deserved recognition of someone who has dedicated more than 50 years to Thiel College. We are ever-grateful for all Dr. Olson has done, continues to do and will do in the future for our proud institution.”
After graduating summa cum laude in 1960, Olson earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in history from The Pennsylvania State University in 1962 and 1969, respectively. Olson returned to his alma mater in 1965 as an assistant professor of history and rose through the associate and professor ranks teaching a variety of U.S. history courses with a special interest in the history of Native Americans. In 1999, Olson was appointed to the position of vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college after having served as interim vice president and dean since 1998.
In 2005, he retired, but was recalled to assume the interim presidency of the College in March 2007.
In November 2008, the Thiel College Board of Trustees officially designated Olson as the 18th president of the College, retroactive to his interim appointment. Olson served as president for 27 months. As president, Olson created an environment that allowed the College to more effectively carry out its mission and established a trusted system of shared governance on campus.
Beyond campus, Olson is active within the community. He served as president of the Reynolds School Board from 1981 to 1989, is a member of the Mercer County Historical Society Board of Directors and belongs to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Greenville. He serves on the Greenville Salvation Army Advisory Board and has been on the Board for Glade Run Lutheran Services in Zelienople, Pa. for more than 10 years, where he is currently chairman of the service board. He is also a 50-plus-year member of the Organization of American Historians.
Olson, a resident of Mercer, and his late wife, Margaret—who was for many years the college’s bookstore manager and purchasing agent— are the parents of a son, Erik.
The Louis and Barbara Thiel Distinguished Service Award is presented annually to individuals who demonstrate exemplary character, continuity of leadership, and long-term service to Greenville and its environs. The recipients must demonstrate a commitment to the common good above private interests. The award is named after Louis and Barbara Thiel, whose generosity made possible the founding of Thiel College in 1866.
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