Stan Olsen made sure he didn’t sacrifice family time while working long hours building an amazing 60-year career in auto sales.
The founder of Omaha’s Stan Olsen Pontiac and the Stan Olsen Auto Group always found time for his children as well as his employees, who, a son said, he treated like family.
Jim Olsen said his father could be counted on to attend school events or to take daily strolls through his dealerships, chatting with his workforce that once numbered 425 employees.
“He was really just like the guy next door,” Olsen said. “He was a very, very humble man who always looked to strive to do better.”
Stan Olsen, 91, died Saturday at Lakeside Hospital. Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Lutheran Church of the Master, 2617 S. 114th St.
Olsen was born in Denmark and emigrated to the United States with his family at age 5. He went to work at 15 on a farm near Avoca, Iowa, during the Great Depression and after his father died in a botched appendix operation.
After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, Olsen opened a Ford dealership in Walnut, Iowa, in 1951. He followed up with stores in Harlan, Iowa, and Council Bluffs before opening his first Omaha dealership in 1958 — a Pontiac store at 27th and Farnam Streets.
Olsen — with the help of the catchy advertising jingle “Stan, Stan, the Pontiac Man” — became an Omaha car dealing staple. The business flourished and he eventually built the Stan Olsen Auto Group, now run by his three children, on a 16-acre parcel that he bought in 1972 near Westroads.
His dealerships once sold 14 auto brands, from the domestic to the exotic, but that has been whittled down to five: Mazda, Audi, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Subaru.
Domestic automakers were too slow to switch to front-wheel-drive cars, Olsen said last year in a World-Herald interview, and labor costs drove their expenses too high.
Olsen said his daughter and two sons, who between them have 12 children, do a good job running the business.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” he said. “I just want them to keep doing what they’re doing and be happy.”
Jim Olsen said his father’s work hours had tapered off in recent years, but he still came into the office in the morning to call customers and ask if their auto service work went OK. He said his father “more and more” missed his wife of 57 years, Mary Ann, who died in 2008.
“He and my mom built the business side by side,” Jim Olsen said. “She was his business partner from the very beginning, and they did everything together.”
In recent years the elder Olsen spent even more time visiting with employees, asking about their work and their families. That’s a legacy the Olsen children promised their father they would continue.
“He really wanted to create a family atmosphere with all of his employees,” Jim Olsen said. “He always spent a ton of time visiting with them every day, and we’re going to continue that. He taught my brother and sister and I how important that is to a business.
“He might not be with us now, but in some ways he’ll be with us in whatever we do. He affected a lot of people and a lot of families, and that’s a pretty good legacy.”
Stan Olsen also is survived by his son John, daughter Jane and brother Ron Olsen, all of Omaha.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1272, email@example.com