Olsson Associates

John E. Olsson

The Early Days

John E. Olsson's life and career began on the East Coast in 1926. His parents, both Swedish immigrants, settled in New York and raised their family in the Richmond Hills neighborhood of Queens. 

John was the second son of Albin and Ida Olsson; Ted was born just two years earlier. The boys grew up during the Depression, a time when many people didn't have cars. Since there was little traffic, young John could often be found riding his bike in the street in front of their home on 128th Street. In his early teens, John also used his bike to deliver flowers for Fluhrs, a local florist. 

JOHN was born in queens, new york in 1926. photo circa 1920S.

As the boys got older, Ted attended Brooklyn Technical High School and enlisted in the Army, while John went to Richmond Hill High School and entered New York State Maritime Academy after graduating in 1944. He chose the engine room option and graduated first in his class in his division in 1946 with a degree in marine engineering. 

After about three months of working for Lykes Brothers shipping line, the Maritime Union went on strike. Not the patient type to wait around for the strike to end, John took advantage of the Navy commission he earned at the academy and enlisted in the Naval Reserve. 


The Nebraska Connection

After John completed his commitment in June of 1947, the Olssons visited family in Nebraska. John's laments with a relative in Lincoln on being too late to get into most schools back east led to a meeting with the chancellor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The chancellor said the university tended to cater to Nebraska students, but allowed him to enter that fall to broaden the student population. 

John was an active student--a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and an officer in UNL's student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In addition to taking classes, he worked part-time for local engineering firm Fulton & Cramer for three years at a dollar per hour. He made many lasting and important friendships in his college days, including Charlie Oldfather, who later became a lawyer and helped John in the early years of what would become Olsson Associates.

John graduated from UNL in 1951 with a mechanical engineering degree and went on to work full time for Fulton & Cramer for the next five years.

Ready for a Challenge

In 1956, John knew it was time for a change. He could have gone back to being a sailor with the Navy, moved back to the East Coast, or remained with Fulton & Cramer. But he took a risk and started his own consulting engineering firm, John E. Olsson Professional Engineering, on March 9, 1956. 

The firm's earliest years were challenging--practically feast or famine. John was the only engineer in his newly formed company, and Jean, his late wife, performed much of the clerical work. The firm's first project was a plat of a cemetery for J. Township in Seward County for a fee of $56. 

An Evolution to Olsson Associates

The firm added staff members slowly in the early years, as John wanted to be sure he had enough work for everyone. Through a few mergers, splits, and several name changes, the firm of 22 employees became Olsson Associates in November of 1973. 

Despite having a degree in mechanical engineering, John became a registered civil engineer and gained much early work through municipalities. As the municipalities grew, so did the firm. As time progressed, his key projects included designing diesel power plants, working for the City of Lincoln, performing water and sewage work for small communities, studying fallout shelters for the Army Corps of Engineers, and designing a total energy plant for St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
John led the firm until 1976 when Carl Bodensteiner took over as president. 

In addition to his 50-year involvement in the American Water Works Association, John has also been involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ACEC of Nebraska (a past president), the National Council of Engineering Examiners, and the Nebraska Examining Board for Engineers and Architects. John has long believed in being involved in one's profession and one's community--a value that still remains in Olsson Associates' culture today. 

John also believes in supporting education. For him, this support included his involvement on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Engineering and Technology Advisory Council. In 1996, John received the college's Outstanding Alumnus Award. In 2002, a room was named for the Olsson family in Othmer Hall. 


Since retiring in the early 1990s, John and his wife Nancy have enjoyed traveling, including a tour around the world. He also enjoys being grandpa to his many grandchildren.

In 2006, John was recognized at Olsson's 50 year celebration in Kansas City, surrounded by family, friends, old colleagues, and hundreds of current employees. 

John and Nancy Olsson in 2006

Connect with us