Glenn G.C. Olson’s middle name was reportedly taken from the names of Swedish kings — Gustav Charles.
But as his longtime friend Dave Nimmer recalled, the initials could have stood for “Good Citizen.”
A longtime public servant, Olson, 85, died peacefully in his sleep on June 17 after living with dementia for several years.
A native of Minneapolis, Olson was a second-generation Swede who graduated from the University of Minnesota and for many years worked as an engineer at what is now Xcel Energy Corp.
But his real calling involved serving the public in many capacities whether it was on a council, board, committee or task force.
He served two terms on the Minneapolis City Council from 1963 to 1967 and was elected president in his second term. He was also vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC), the chairman of the Transit Providers Advisory Committee, a member of the Hiawatha LRT Corridor Land Use Committee and chairman of the MTC’s Advisory Committee on Transit.
In the 1960s, he championed Nicollet Mall and the city’s skyway system, as well as light-rail service — long before it was fashionable to do so.
Even after his family moved from south Minneapolis to his parents’ homestead in Greenwood, he ran for a seat on the tiny city’s council in 1976 and won. He also served on the Minnetonka school board for two terms, including one as chair.
All told, Olson never lost an election.
His son, David Olson, now president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said, “it was an amazing thing, no matter what group he was involved in, he’d rise to the leadership level.”
But friends and relatives say Glenn Olson’s leadership style wasn’t overtly ambitious; he certainly wasn’t power-hungry. He eschewed publicity and disliked talking about himself.
His son said he had a can-do attitude that made him a consensus builder among many constituencies.
“One of my favorite stories is how my dad would sit in his office with David Roe, the president of the [Minnesota] AFL-CIO, and they’d smoke a cigar together. You wouldn’t think that a Republican and a union leader would get along that well, but they did,” he said.
Nimmer, a former reporter for the Minneapolis Star who met Olson while on the City Hall beat, said, “he was one of the most honest, honorable, humble guys I’ve ever met.”
Olson was a member of the Young Turk Republican contingent in the 1960s, a moderate wing of the party that aspired to make government more responsible to the populace. Others included Gary Flakne, Wayne Popham, Jack Provo, Jerry Nelson and Arne Carlson, who became governor.
“He was able to work with so many people, and he had the ability to cross the aisle,” said Olson’s daughter Elizabeth Erdahl, of Minneapolis.
At home, Olson enjoyed jumping into Lake Minnetonka for a quick swim, smoking a good cigar, tending to his raspberry bushes, playing bridge with friends and embarking on fishing trips to Canada.
He was deeply proud of his Swedish heritage. As Nimmer eulogized, “He didn’t miss a Sallskapet meeting, with its combination of chilled aquavit, cold beer, meatballs, white sauce, table chatter, old jokes and new tales. ... He was not a great fan of lutefisk; at least he never went back for a second helping in my presence.”
He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara, his good friend Marge Dolan, and sister, Irene Hahl; and is survived by two daughters, Erdahl and Mary Claire Potter, of Hudson, Wis.; son, David, of Golden Valley; sister, Beatrice Lindsten; four grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
Services have been held.