Dr. Kurt Oliver Olsson died on February 26, 2017 at Sacred Heart Medical Center from complications following a heart attack. Kurt was born on September 16, 1941 in Chicago, IL to Karl and D. Sally Carlson Olsson. He spent much of his childhood living and attending school in the North Park community of Chicago, where he and his family were actively involved in the Evangelical Covenant Church founded by Swedish immigrants. During World War II, Kurt stayed with his mother and brother Alan at his grandparents’ home in Iron Mountain, MI while his father was deployed as an army chaplain to Europe. Kurt graduated from North Park Academy High School in 1958 and North Park College with majors in English and Philosophy in 1962. He completed a master’s degree in Comparative English Literature (with a concentration in the Renaissance) at Columbia University in 1963. Following a one-year teaching position in New Mexico, he pursued a Ph.D. in English and Medieval Studies at the University of Chicago. It was there that he met Charlene Andersen, whom he married on June 30th, 1968.
Kurt began his career as an assistant professor of English at the University of Virginia in 1968. In addition to his teaching and research endeavors there, he served as the Acting Director and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in English. After completing a sabbatical in London from 1973-74, he moved to Moscow, Idaho, where he spent the remainder of his academic career at the University of Idaho. He received tenure in 1977 and served as Director of Undergraduate Studies in English from 1975-79. In 1980, he assumed his first chairmanship of the English department and served in that capacity until 1986. He was promoted to full professor in 1982. He became Acting Dean of the College of Letters and Science in 1989, and a year later was chosen for the permanent position, which he held until 2002. As Dean, he particularly valued his role in helping to secure a substantial National Endowment for the Humanities grant to support the enhancement of teaching in the humanities and the Humanities Fellows program. Due to his diligent fund-raising efforts, this endowment grew to nearly $2 million. Among his many other efforts on behalf of the university community, Kurt was Chair of both the University Center (Idaho Commons) Planning Task Force (1994-95) and the University Center (Idaho Commons) Implementation Task Force (1995-96). He also served as Associate Provost for one year from 2002-03 before returning full-time to the English Department. There he was once again Chair from 2005 until his retirement in September 2009.
A champion of the liberal arts and interdisciplinary education, he was Chair of the Idaho Humanities Council from 1998 to 2000, and was active both locally and nationally in the Phi Beta Kappa Society, serving as Senator from 2000 to 2009. He was also a passionate teacher, and was recognized for his dedication to teaching through the Associated Students of the University Outstanding Faculty Award (1988) and Alumni Award for Faculty Excellence (1982). His research interests centered largely on the medieval poet John Gower. In addition to writing a range of articles and reviews, he also completed the book John Gower and the Structures of Conversion: A Reading of the Confessio Amantis (1992). The International John Gower Society twice awarded him the John Hurt Fisher Prize, the Society’s highest honor, for his contribution to Gower Studies (1995; 2010).
Kurt possessed a natural curiosity, and over many years enjoyed learning about and debating questions across a range of disciplines at monthly meetings of his Wranglers group. As a former trumpet player, he loved listening to music and attending live concerts. Kurt also valued his Swedish heritage and preserving family recipes and traditions. In addition, he remained a dedicated athlete throughout his life. Kurt’s favorite sports in high school and college were track & field and football. He was proud to receive the 1958 Chicago Daily News Silver Knight Award for Sportsmanship and to be inducted into the North Park Viking Hall of Fame in 1990 for his athleticism, character, and service to the community. As an adult, he played everything from flag football and soccer to tennis, and during the summers would frequently be found taking a sail ride or snorkeling with his family at James Lake in northern Michigan. In recent years, he had developed a love of walking, and this winter commented upon how much he enjoyed his snowy walks in Moscow. Throughout it all, he remained a devout fan of the Chicago Bears and World Champion Chicago Cubs.
Kurt was also an active member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, where he served as President of the Church Council and in a range of other capacities. During his retirement, he divided his time between Moscow and the family’s cabin at James Lake, and continued to enjoy academic research, reading (especially British and Scandinavian mysteries), music, cooking, travel and outdoor projects.
Kurt was a kind, loving, and humble man who will be remembered for his quiet faith, gentle spirit, and integrity. Survivors include his wife Charlene Kay; daughter Katherine Marie (Chris) Carter and grandchildren Emma Linnea and Sara Kristina of Mountain View, CA; daughter Annika Mai (Christoph) Hofstetter and grandchildren Mattias Paul, Lukas Emil, and Elsa Christina of Mercer Island, WA; daughter Brita (Jeremy) Nettleton of Machiasport, ME; brothers Alan (Sunny) Olsson of Concord, MA and Rick (Karin) Olsson of Columbia, MD; sister Sarah (Bill) McCarthy of Columbia, MD; brothers-in-law Mark (Denise) and Paul (Jeanne) of Sioux City, IA; sister-in-law Karen (Fred) Schneider of Cincinnati, OH; and 7 nieces and 10 nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Dr. and Mrs. Karl A. Olsson and his granddaughter Karina Elin Carter.
The memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 4, 2017, at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, with a luncheon following in the church fellowship hall. A committal will precede the service at 9:30 am at Moscow Cemetery. A viewing will take place at Short’s Funeral Chapel from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Friday, March 3, 2017. Memorial contributions may be made to Emmanuel Lutheran Church (1036 W. A St., Moscow, ID 83843), the Kurt O. Olsson Visiting Lecture Series (English Department, University of Idaho), or the Kurt O. Olsson Early Career Research Fellowship program (College of Letters, Arts, & Social Sciences, University of Idaho), which supports research programs and creative activities for newly hired faculty.