Akron’s Irving J. Olson was amazing in his accomplishments before and after retirement.
He’s still accomplishing things and drawing applause since relocating in 1998 to Tucson, Ariz., and now he has entered that elite club of super-active centenarians.
Olson turned 100 on Nov. 26, but was feted with an early celebration Nov. 16 at the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, Ariz., attended by loved ones from near and far, including an entourage from Akron.
Olson — whose equally accomplished wife of 71 years, Ruth Bogen Olson, died in 2011 — has long been heralded as an entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist, arts patron and photographer. He is still traveling the world, having visited more than 125 countries.
His latest photographic foray is taking museum-quality “Water Drop” photos. His photos have gone on display at the Olson Research Center at the University of Akron, the Hearst Foundation and the Jewish Federation, and on the website of the Smithsonian.
For his Water Drop series, Olson said, “It usually takes between 200 and 500 tries to get a water drop that is good. It is not easy and it is very complicated. Water drops have minds of their own and it is difficult communicating with them.”
At his black-tie birthday party, Olson was presented with an honorary doctorate of human letters from UA by alumna Karen Krino, complete with cap and gown.
“As the story goes, he was first a student in the College of Engineering, but Dean Frederic Ayer informed the young Olson he was not making the grade and should change his major to accounting,” said Laura Massie of the university’s media relations department. “Ayer didn’t ask what Olson thought, he just transferred him. Less than a semester later, a quite unhappy Olson dumped all his papers and books on Ayers’ desk and left UA behind to begin his own business.”
Massie continued, “Even though these were the early years of the Great Depression, Olson was able to open a radio repair and sales business in his father’s garage. His brothers, Sidney and Philip Olson, joined the business, which expanded into Olson Radio Warehouse and then became Olson Electronics, a chain retailer and mail-order business. He sold to Teledyne Industries.”
Among those on hand to toast the honoree were his children, Stephen of San Francisco and Carolyn Stelman of Salem, Mass., and longtime family friend Mary Ann Jackson of Akron.
About his honorary degree, he said, “Being awarded the doctorate means I have not lived in vain.”