Dr. Leland J. Olson delivered thousands of babies in Omaha and taught or mentored countless future physicians.
His impact on his home state — and beyond — will continue to be felt through the millions of dollars he and his wife, the late Dorothy H. Olson, gave to the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Olson died Saturday at his Omaha home from complications of an earlier stroke. He was 92.
The Olsons were strong supporters of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the entire NU system. They established professorships at the Lincoln campus, the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing.
What began with a gift in 1993 became the Olson Center for Women's Health at UNMC.
In 2005, the couple provided funding for the center's outpatient facility on the campus. It was their fifth major donation to the department of obstetrics and gynecology since 1986.
The outpatient facility is one of only a handful of multidisciplinary women's centers in the country. Represented there are internal medicine, surgery, radiology, psychiatry, mammography, ultrasound and physical therapy.
“The Olsons' support for UNMC has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Carl Smith, professor and chairman of UNMC's obstetrics and gynecology department. “Their generosity has allowed us to undertake a transformation of how women's health care should be delivered in our region. They were visionary people.”
Edson Bridges said of his longtime friend Leland Olson: “He was a visionary in the sense that he wanted to move the College of Medicine along. What he believed in, he would put capital behind it to make it stronger.”
Olson and his wife were early investors with Warren Buffett.
Other Olson gifts to the NU Foundation created the Olson Biomedical Laboratories, provided support for the Center of Nursing Science at UNMC and created a resident research fund.
“Lee and Dorothy Olson are among the most generous donors ever to the University of Nebraska Foundation,” said John Niemann, senior vice president of the foundation.
The Olsons each received an honorary doctorate from UNMC as well as the University of Nebraska Foundation's Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Service to NU.
Leland Olson grew up in Palmyra, Neb., helping his mother at the family's hardware store after his father died unexpectedly.
“He would not forget where he came from” and did things for Palmyra, said Bridges.
Olson attended the University of Nebraska, studying literature on a Regents Scholarship. The College of Medicine recruited Olson for training, and he graduated from medical school in 1944.
Olson interned at Harper General Detroit and finished a residency in obstetrics and gynecology in 1949 at UNMC.
After military service, he was appointed in 1952 to UNMC's volunteer faculty, on which he served for 60 years.
He started his own practice, Midwest OB GYN, and had several business partners over the years. He practiced at Methodist Hospital, where he served as chief of staff, until he retired in 1986.
“He willingly served as a mentor to many young physicians, both clinically and from a business operations perspective,” said John Fraser, president and CEO of Methodist Health System.
Outside of medicine, Olson's interests included cars, investing, Nebraska football, traveling and boats. His classic car collection included a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, a 1935 three-window Ford coupe, a 1941 Mercury and a 1997 Chevrolet Corvette, said daughter Dr. Karen C. Olson of Omaha.
“My dad practiced a long time in OB-GYN, but he had such varied interests and was well-educated in those interests,” she said.
Survivors also include two other children, Dr. David L. Olson and Nancy D. Olson, both of Omaha; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Leland Olson was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years.
A graveside service will begin at 10 a.m. Monday at Forest Lawn Cemetery, 7909 Mormon Bridge Road. A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Monday at Roeder Mortuary's 108th Street Chapel, 2727 N. 108th St.