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University of Iowa Foundation News Release

Sept. 2, 2004

$5.5 Million Olson Estate Gift Benefits Multiple UI Programs

Gifts totaling approximately $5.5 million from the estate of Robert A. Olson (left), a University of Iowa graduate with degrees in both business and law, will benefit nine separate UI programs, UI Foundation officials announced today.

A longtime resident of Kansas City, Olson died in August 2003. Among the UI areas benefiting from his estate is the UI Libraries, where the Robert A. and Ruth B. Olson Special Collections Fund will receive approximately $1.4 million. Olson worked at the libraries while a UI student in the 1930s.

"Special collections are the rare and unique collections that truly distinguish one university from another," said University Librarian Nancy L. Baker. "The most wonderful thing about Mr. Olson's extraordinary generosity is that it gives the UI Libraries the flexibility to respond to unanticipated opportunities to enrich its special collections and services. His gifts will enable us, over time, to address long-standing needs, build on existing strengths and establish new directions. We are exhilarated by the opportunities offered by a gift of this size and honored by the trust and confidence that Mr. Olson placed in us."

Other units and programs receiving Olson estate proceeds include the UI Museum of Art, UI Athletics, the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, the College of Law, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Museum of Natural History, the UI Presidential Scholars Program and unrestricted support of the UI through the UI Foundation.

A native of Lansing, Iowa, Robert "Bob" Olson earned an undergraduate business degree in 1933 from what was then the UI College of Commerce, and graduated from the UI College of Law in 1935. He married Iowa City native Ruth Bywater in 1937 and worked in the public utility industry in Chicago until 1947, when he joined the Kansas City Power and Light Company. Over the next 26 years Olson held most of the executive positions in that company, becoming president in 1960 and retiring as chairman of the board in 1973. He was very active in the Kansas City business community, serving on the boards of several local corporations and volunteering his time among civic and cultural organizations.

Olson maintained his ties with the University of Iowa as well. He was a member of the Presidents Club, which recognizes the UI's most generous contributors, and also a member of the UI Alumni Association, from which he received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1982.

"Many UI Foundation staff members visited with Mr. Olson over the years, and it was obvious that he took great pleasure in his association with the university," said UI Foundation President Michael New. "His estate gift demonstrates his wide-ranging interest in the UI and his desire to see the university continue to thrive in the years ahead."

After Ruth Bywater Olson's death in 1979, Bob married Thelma Woodbury Hunter (1917-2000) and enjoyed spending his retirement years with her children and grandchildren.

The Olson estate gift is part of the UI's $1 billion comprehensive campaign, which will run through 2005 and is being conducted under the guidance of the UI Foundation. Named "Good. Better. Best. Iowa: The Campaign to Advance Our Great University," the seven-year effort is raising private funds to help launch a variety of initiatives across the university, substantially increase the number of UI scholarships and endowed faculty positions, support new educational and research facilities, build the UI's endowment and fund outreach and service programs to benefit Iowans.

The UI Foundation is acknowledged by the UI as a preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the university. For more information about the "Good. Better. Best. Iowa" campaign, visit its web site at


STORY SOURCE: UI Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa 52244-4550

CONTACT(S): Michael New, president, UI Foundation, 319-335-3305, Writer: Susan Shullaw

PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: Photos of Robert Olson, Nancy Baker, and Michael New are available at the following URLs: