Dr. Milton L. Olsson, age 80, died Saturday, April 3 at Portage Health from complications resulting from catastrophic injuries he sustained in October. Milt was born in Anderson, Indiana on September 21,1940 and spent his early years in Rochester, Michigan. Milt met Trudy Kinzli, an immigrant at Wayne State University. She was the sunshine of this life for 62 years. Milt and Trudy Olsson were married in 1959.
Along his life path, Milt inspired thousands of people with his music, his teaching and his kind and understanding personality. Milt was an incredible musician, conductor and composer who played piano beautifully, had a wonderful voice, a fantastic sense of rhythm and an impressive talent for improvisation. Milt was not only a great performer; he was a great listener. People loved to be around Milt, and he loved to be around them.
Milt’s musical expertise was vast. Rooted in gospel music, Milt wrote pop songs in Detroit during the 1960’s while studying classical composition at Wayne State University (WSU). He served as Music Director for the City of Detroit’s Department of Parks and Recreation and became Division Director of the Metropolitan Arts Complex, a cultural arts project associated with Motown. Milt earned degrees in Music Theory and Composition from WSU and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) in the Literature and Performance of Choral Music.
After completing his degree at CU in 1976, Dr. Olsson accepted a position at Michigan Technological University (MTU) as Director of Choral and Orchestral Activities. His work with the classical and jazz choral ensembles and the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra quickly brought him to prominence on the local arts scene, across the State of Michigan and around the world. Under his leadership, the MTU Concert Choir did eight international concert tours in China, Brazil, Russia, Central Europe, Chile and Argentina. For thirteen years he served as Chair of the MTU Department of Fine Arts (now Visual and Performing Arts) since its formation in 1993, bringing the arts into the mainstream of campus life.
Milt’s cultural impact on the local community will continue by the inspiration he helped seed. He supported all local arts and was a leader in the artistic awareness. He was a driving force in the creation of the Rosza Center of the Performing Arts, which continues to inspire students and the community with world renown talent.
Milt was very proud of these personal musical accomplishments. His performances of “MASS”, his own composition written to celebrate the opening season of the Ted and Lola Rozsa Center of the Performing Arts at Michigan Technological University in 2000. In 2001, Milt was commissioned to edit and orchestrate a loose assembly of manuscripts written in 1874 by Gustav Gundlach called “The MASS”. Gustav Gundlach was the grandfather of Herman Gundlach, a well-known Upper Peninsula Developer and Contractor.
In 2011, Milt was awarded the Maynard Klein Choral Award by the American Choral Directors Association of Michigan. Milt Olsson’s numerous musical compositions and arrangements spanned over 60 years and clearly demonstrated his background in numerous musical styles and his deep knowledge of music history.
One of the most cherished memories of Milt’s career was conducting the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra with rock icon and legend Alan Parsons featuring his son P.J. Olsson, who is the Alan Parsons Project lead singer. The performances featured some of Milt’s arrangements and produced four sold-out shows in the local community.
Milt enjoyed conducting the Keweenaw Youth Symphony for a few years and was important in the development of the Copper Country Suzuki Association. He was also a celebrated instructor and performer in PJ Olsson's Rock Camp.
Milt’s contributions to us did not stop at music. Milt was a Little League and Senior League baseball coach and leader for many years and was very active in the Houghton Rotary Club. Milt received Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Rotary Foundation. Milt was an advisor for MU BETA PSI and Mont Ripley Ski Patrol for 35 years. He also advised for the Central Division Ski Association during his son’s ski racing days.
Being a musician did not stop him from designing his own house, including painting and fixing almost everything inside and out. Milt claimed he liked plowing his long driveway, cutting down trees and making firewood, but his family knows better.
The most important and NUMBER ONE thing about Milt was his love for his family. He was so proud of his three sons – Dave, Stephan and P.J. and their many accomplishments. He loved his six grandchildren with all his heart and they loved their “OPA”. The community and family know that he was the best husband a wife could wish for during 62 years of marriage.
The Olsson family requests that in lieu of flowers and cards, please help celebrate Milt’s life with a contribution to the Milton Olsson Endowed Scholarship at The Michigan Tech Fund.
The O’Neill-Dennis is assisting the family with the arrangements. Please go to www.oneilldennisfh.com to leave online condolences.
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