HSU Dean, 1902-1942
Dr. Julius Olsen came to Simmons College in 1902 with the intention of teaching on the “frontier” only briefly. Hired by President Oscar Cooper, and staying through the presidency of Dr. Jefferson Davis Sandefer, Olsen remained at HSU for 40 years.
Dr. Olsen was born in Chicago in 1873 and received his bachelor of science degree in 1893 from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. He went on to earn his doctorate with honors from Yale in 1902 in chemistry and physics. In addition to holding the post of dean, he taught classes in geology, physics, chemistry, math, and botany. He also founded and served as sponsor of the Julius Olsen Chapter of the Scholarship Societies of the South, and was instrumental in the formation of the national honor society Alpha Chi.
He was a member of the Physics Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of America’s Who’s Who. His alma mater conferred a doctor of science degree on him in 1922.
Dr. Olsen and his wife had five children: Mrs. Regina Lewis, Julian, Claudene, Ollie Lena, and Julius Nelson who died at the age of five in 1914. After the death of Julius, Dr. and Mrs. Olsen established the Julius Nelson Olsen Medal, which continues to be awarded each year to the graduate with the highest grade point average.
The home built by the Olsen family near the campus in the 1920s, scheduled for renovation under the Securing the Future Campaign, is an Abilene Historic Landmark. Dr. Rupert Richardson wrote that Olsen was uniformly recognized as a great teacher, a scholar, a gentleman, and a sympathetic and understanding Christian. Tributes poured in from across the nation when he passed away in 1942.
After his death, a Liberty Ship built for WWII was named for him in his honor and christened by Mrs. Olsen and their daughter Ollie Lena. Dr. Olsen is also remembered through the lecture hall in Sid Richardson built from a memorial fund in his honor.
In his eulogy, HSU President Dr. W.R. White said of Olsen, “Dr. Olsen gave remarkable strength to the curriculum, and in the selection of the faculty. He was responsible, as no other man could be, in the building of Hardin-Simmons University prestige in the field of science. He will be greatly missed.”