1925 - 2019
Ellis Olson, an accomplished French horn performer and conductor, taught music in the Seventh-day Adventist school system at both the secondary and collegiate levels. He was also a trained nurse who at the end of his career worked as a nurse and music therapist in Southern California while also continuing to work as a freelance musician. He also had a music instrument repair business until a few years before his death.
Ellis was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 28, 1925, while his parents, Oscar and Ellen Elizabeth Johnson Olson, a talented musician and gifted pianist, were serving there as missionaries. He and his three siblings traveled extensively while his parents served as missionaries in various countries. When Oscar became ill, the family returned to the U.S. in 1931; there his father taught in Canada for a year, before moving with the family to Pisgah, North Carolina, where he served as the pastor, boys' dean, and Bible teacher at Pisgah Institute, now Mount Pisgah Academy.
In the late 1930's, he started lessons on the trumpet while in North Carolina, studying for free with a musician who was working under the auspices of the Federal Music Project, a federal program established in the U.S. during the Great Depression to help put musicians back to work. He was drafted into the Army in 1946, where he served as a typist while stationed in Chicago and New Jersey.
Following his discharge, he took a course in instrument repair. In 1947, he enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College, and then transferred two years later to Union College as a music major. He switched to nursing in his senior year and completed a B.S. in nursing in 1955. During this time, he met Mary Henklemann, a nursing student, and they married on January 1, 1955 in the College View Church. He had taken enough hours in music, however, to nearly qualify for a degree in music and was immediately hired by Wisconsin Academy to direct the band and teach instrumental music when he graduated.
Olson became interested in the French horn when he was teaching at WA. He studied with Philip Farkas, John Barrows, Waldman Linder, and Wendell Hoss, leading horn performers and teachers of that era, and became known as an accomplished French horn player.
While at WA he studied at the Vandercook School of Music in Chicago and completed a master's degree in music education in 1959. He took a study leave in 1968 and began work on a doctoral degree at the University of Southern California. His major field of study was music education, with secondary emphases in history and literature, instrumental performance, and educational research.
In 1970, while still doing graduate work, he accepted a position at Union College, and later completed a D.M.A. at USC in 1975. His dissertation was titled An Experimental Study Comparing the Effectiveness of Wind Chamber Ensemble Music Experience with Larger Wind Ensemble Experience.
At UC, he conducted the orchestra and brass ensembles, taught brass, and assisted with the band until 1979. At that time, he moved to Redlands, California, and entered the field of psych nursing, and then worked as a music therapist until retirement. During those years and after retirement he also taught private music lessons, was an adjunct teacher at La Sierra University, and did freelance performing.
Throughout his career, Olson performed as a soloist and recitalist and in numerous ensembles. While at WA he had played in the symphony at Madison, Wisconsin. As a doctoral student he played in the University of Southern California symphony orchestra and while teaching at UC, played for a short time in the Lincoln Symphony. While living in Southern California, he played horn in the Riverside Community College and Loma Linda University Church orchestras, and in the LLU Church brass choir, and freelanced in the Los Angeles area.
All through his life Ellis was known as a sensitive, caring, and empathetic person, always wanting to help others in every way possible. He was a thoughtful committed Christian and family man who enjoyed talking with his family and friends and making music with and for them.
Ellis and Mary, traveled widely and frequently throughout the world, visiting over 45 countries. In 2004 Ellis traveled to China as a member of the orchestra that accompanied the Mitzlefelt Choir during its tour in that country.
Ellis was living in Redlands, California, when he died on April 5, 2019, at age 94. He was survived by his wife, Mary; their children, Elizabeth, Eric, and Ellen Rood; several grandchildren; a brother, Lennart; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Sources: Lennart Olson, interview with Dan Shultz, 2007; Ellis Olson, interview with Dan Shultz, October 10, 2004; Mary Olson, email response to this biography, June 6, 2019, both were major sources for this article; Life Story at his memorial service, Loma Linda University Church, April 20, 2019; U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-47 for Ellis Eric Olson, Ancestry.com; Dan Shultz, personal knowledge from working with him as a colleague at Union College from 1970 to 1979; Dan Shultz, personal knowledge about the family.