By Phillip Whitten
AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 13. JERRY Olson, President of the Amateur Swimming Union of the Americas (ASUA) and a former Vice President of USA Swimming died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack last night in Austin. Olson was 67.
Olson was one of the key political leaders and strategists for USA Swimming, serving as Chairman of the International Relations Committee from 1994-98. Most recently, noting that the swimming dates for the 2003 Pan American Games overlapped with the dates of the 2003 World Championships, he, along with several others, was instrumental in convincing the Pan Am Organizing Committee to change its swimming dates to eliminate the overlap — no mean feat for a multisport festival such as the Pan Ams.
Ron Van Pool, President of USA Swimming, lauded his friend and colleague: "USA Swimming, ASUA, USAS, FINA and everyone in the aquatics comminity has lost a dear friend. Jerry's family has lost a husband, father and grandfather.
"People like Jerry Olson do not come into our lives very often – not often enough! Jerry was a friend, counselor, confidant and leader. I know that each of us has been touched by Jerry in our own ways. It is a time to take stock of what life and friends really mean and to say thanks, each in our own way."
Mike Unger, newly-appointed Chief Operating Officer for USA-Swimming, said: "Jerry was a phenomenal representative and great spokesman for USA Swimming. His death is a tragedy not only for his family, but for the entire aquatic community."
Dr. Tere Ma, Vice President of USA Water Polo, echoed those sentiments: "Jerry's death is a tremendous loss for water polo and not just swimming. In the past couple of years, I have learned that not all people in swimming hated water polo. In truth, Jerry was an outstanding example of a leader in swimming who supported and promoted water polo throughout the world.
"He came to the USA Water Polo Annual Meeting. He suffered the heat of South Florida in August to attend the Junior Pan American Water Polo Championships. He introduced me to others in the Americas aquatics family when I was by myself. Jerry was proud – he told me so – that he could represent and promote water
"It is not possible for me to express the depth of my feelings regarding this matter. Simply be aware that the loss is felt by water polo, as much as it is felt in swimming."
A Full Life
Gerald T. Olson was born on the southside of Chicago, June 21, 1935. He graduated from Leo High School, Chicago, Illinois, in 1953, and received his Bachelor's degree in Music in 1957 and his Master's degree in Guidance and Counseling in 1962 from the College of Saint Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. After graduation, he served in the Air Force on special assignments in Germany.
Upon his return, Jerry married his college sweetheart, Barbara Jean Cassidy, on June 17, 1961. Jerry's musical talents were showcased in the early 50s with an appearance playing his xylophone on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour in New York City. He became a professional musician playing percussion in several jazz bands and with the Minneapolis Symphony. Music remained a passion for him throughout his life.
Jerry's commitment to education began with teaching in the public and Catholic Schools in Minnesota. Jerry was associated with Laidlaw Brothers, an educational publisher, for 17 years. He moved his family to Austin in 1971, and became a trustee on many Catholic school boards including St. Michael's Academy. He was currently serving as the Vice-Chair of the St. Gabriel's Catholic School Board of Trustees.
Jerry was honored for his service to the Catholic Church when he was knighted by the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Jean, Jerry and their family have been members of St. Theresa Parish for over 30 years. In Austin, Jerry was involved with several technology start-ups, most notably, National Instruments.
In 1985, Jerry co-founded The Olson Group, a strategic marketing and design company from which he retired in 1999.
Another life-long passion of Jerry's was athletics and the promotion of youth sports, particularly swimming. His first experience with the sport was at the Westover Hills Club where he served as President, anchored the family relay and enjoyed his neighbors and friends. Since 1982, he served on and chaired committees affiliated with USA Swimming and the International Olympic Committees. As President of ASUA, he was active in promoting the advancement of the sport in South American countries. He was fulfilled by his trips to faraway places, and he always carried with him a genuine sense of purpose to enrich the lives of young athletes through organized sports. So committed to his efforts he took on the task of learning Spanish at the age of 65.
An avid basketball player, he also coached various youth teams in Chicago and Austin. He was a leader in the Austin sports community, serving as the President of the Greater Austin Sports Foundation in the mid-90s; on the YMCA Austin Metropolitan Board from 1989 to the present and as its Chairman from 1993 – 1995. He was instrumental in building the Town Lake Branch pool and in breaking ground on the East Communities Branch.
Jerry was honored with the YMCA Distinguished Service Award and Will Miller Outstanding Volunteer of the year award, the highest honor in the organization. Jerry recently was named Chairman of the Executive Committee of Athletics Advisory Board, committed to promoting athletics and athletic facilities at the University of St. Thomas, his alma mater.
Jerry is survived by his wife of 41 years, Barbara Jean; his four daughters, AnnMarie Olson, DDS, Cathy Olson Muth, Patti Olson Rogers, and Maureen Olson Staloch; his grandchildren, Cassidy Kist, Ethan Rogers, Sawyer Staloch, and Olivia Muth; and sons-in-law, Brent Muth, Michael Rogers, and Ted Staloch, all of Austin, Texas. His brother, Don A. Olson of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, also survives him.
Wake services will be held at Cook-Walden Funeral Home, 6100 North Lamar, Friday November 15 at 7:30 p.m. A Funeral Mass will be held at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, 4311 Small Drive on Saturday, November 16 at 10:00 a.m.
The family gratefully requests in lieu of flowers, contributions in Jerry's name, be sent to the YMCA of Austin, c/o Larry Smith.