Former ΦBK Senator Kurt Olsson

Kurt Olsson, who served as dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Idaho from 1990 to 2002 and was a longtime member of UI’s Department of English, passed away on Sunday, February 26 at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.

Olsson was was active both locally and nationally in the Phi Beta Kappa Society, serving as senator from 2003 to 2009.

Olsson earned his doctorate in English and medieval studies from the University of Chicago in 1968. He held a master’s degree in English from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from North Park College in Chicago. He began his career as an assistant professor of English at the University of Virginia, where he taught from 1968 to 1974. While there, he served as the acting director and assistant director of Undergraduate Studies in English. In 1974 he joined the faculty at the University of Idaho, where he dedicated the rest of his academic career. He received tenure in 1977 and served as director of Undergraduate Studies in English from 1975 to 1979. In 1980, he assumed his first chair of the English Department and served until 1986. In 1989 he was appointed acting dean of what was then the College of Letters and Sciences. He served as dean from 1990 to 2002, and then returned to the English Department. He again served as the English chair from 2005 to 2009, when he retired.

Under Olsson’s leadership, the College of Letters and Science at UI developed the Humanities Fellows program. This began with a $300,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, written by Olsson. He raised the 3-1 match required, resulting in an endowment supporting the enhancement of teaching in the humanities of $1.2 million. 

Survivors include his wife, Charlene Kay; daughter Katherine Marie (Chris) Carter and grandchildren Emma Linnea and Sara Kristina of Mountain View, California; daughter Annika Mai (Christoph) Hofstetter and grandchildren Mattias Paul, Lukas Emil, and Elsa Christina of Mercer Island, Washington; daughter Brita (Jeremy) Nettleton of Machiasport, Maine; brothers Alan (Sunny) Olsson of Concord, Massachusetts, and Rick (Karin) Olsson of Columbia, Maryland; sister Sarah (Bill) McCarthy of Columbia; brothers-in-law Mark (Denise) and Paul (Jeanne) of Sioux City, Iowa; sister-in-law Karen (Fred) Schneider of Cincinnati; and seven nieces and ten nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Karl A. Olsson, and his granddaughter, Karina Elin Carter.

Memorial contributions may be made to Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1036 W. A St., Moscow, ID 83843; the Kurt Olsson Visiting Lecture Series (English Department, University of Idaho); or the Kurt Olsson Early Career Research Fellowship program (UI College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences), which supports research programs and creative activities for newly hired faculty.