Last Sunday night, Linda Olson received NU’s prestigious Trailblazer Award.
By Randy York
A week from today, the coordinator of Registration and Records at the University of Nebraska will spend her last day in the office. Linda Olson will end 35 years of working for the university and 25 years as the first and only athletic certification coordinator in Nebraska history. She is the very definition of an unsung hero … someone you never hear about, yet somebody who plays a big part in the very lifeline of Nebraska Athletics.
“The mantra on the wall for Nebraska Athletics is integrity, trust, respect, teamwork and loyalty, and Linda was all of that. She was the voice that every coach and athlete needed to hear regarding eligibility,” said Matt Martin, who has recruited dozens upon dozens of international student-athletes for the Nebraska track and field team. “A lot of people have become institutions around here … Tom Osborne, Bob Devaney, Al Papik, Gary Pepin, Francis Allen, George Sullivan, Don Bryant … those people spent a long time here and worked in the public eye, but for my money, this lady right here, is one of those institutions. I only wish the people of Nebraska could know what a big part she played and what a big impact she’s had on Nebraska Athletics.“
Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s longtime senior associate athletic director for Academics, feels the same way as Martin, who has translated global transcripts with Olson for 17 years. “I was the recruiting coordinator for track and field when I first met Linda,” Leblanc recalled. “I had a lot to learn about eligibility and calculating grade-point-averages and everything else. Linda is a very smart woman with great intuition. She’s a true professional and a real superstar for everyone she worked with and around. She has done an amazing job.”
So amazing that Leblanc thought long and hard about what to give a quiet leader who worked so tirelessly and effectively for an athletic department that couldn’t claim her as an employee, but will forever claim her as an important colleague and a great friend. At a packed reception Thursday inside the Student Life Complex, Leblanc presented Olson with a ring that included the words “Academics” and “Athletics”.
Leblanc: Olson Connected Academics with Athletics
“Linda has probably done a better job than anybody connecting those two words,” Leblanc said. “We put Academics first and Athletics second, and that’s exactly what she taught us all. We had already recognized Linda Sunday night with the Trailblazer Award, but we also wanted to host a reception for faculty and staff. We all know how important her role was.”
A fan of the arts more than athletics, Olson was humbled to receive the Trailblazer Award named in honor of Dr. Barbara Hibner, a longtime member of the Nebraska Athletic Department and the inaugural recipient of the Trailblazer Award. Dr. Hibner died on March 7, 2007, and her legend lives on alongside such honored coaches as Terry Pettit, Rhonda Revelle and Carol Frost, plus an impressive list of donors and others who have enriched and enhanced Nebraska Athletics.
“I worked with Dr. Hibner for many years,” Olson said. “I was in the Registrar’s Office, and we had to add two full-time positions (Jayne Kapke and Lisa Dority) to do the job we needed to do. I am so proud of all the academic accomplishments achieved by our student-athletes. Even though I didn’t work with them directly, I marvel at the way they could handle all their schedules, assignments and requirements. They break down all the stereotypes some have about student-athletes.”
With a challenging job and a high level of her own pressure, Olson found a way to cope. She enjoys camping, family, birds, biking, reading and movies. “I enjoy going to theaters in Lincoln and Omaha,” she said. “That’s how I relieve my stress. I go to one football game a year and some volleyball. The sport I enjoy watching most is tennis.”
New Bike is Olson’s Retirement Present to Herself
To celebrate her retirement, Olson bought a new bike this week and plans to camp more often in Louisville, about halfway between Lincoln and Omaha. “I like to camp at Two Rivers State Park and Branched Oak Lake, too,” she said.
Revelle had some fun at Thursday’s reception, revealing how she once asked Olson for a shoe size and remembered a long pause on the phone when she said she wanted to send over a pair of adidas shoes. Olson called it a conflict of interest, and Gary Bargen was not surprised. Nebraska’s longtime associate athletic director for Compliance drove from Kansas City Thursday to communicate the benefits of retirement to a dedicated colleague following in his footsteps.
Having retired from the Nebraska Athletic Department himself 8½ months ago, Bargen assured Olson she would enjoy retirement. “Linda had a very heavy load at Nebraska, but she never complained,” Bargen said. “Her integrity and honesty were never questioned and will never be questioned. She won’t miss all the NCAA meetings and all the conference meetings she attended, but they will miss her because she was the one asking all the important questions and interpreting the feedback to come up with the right answers. She will be missed, but she leaves everything in great hands.”
Isn’t that what all true trailblazers do? Blaze the trail with innovative solutions to complex problems and then let the next generation reinforce what they’ve already solved?
Happy Retirement from the NU Athletic Department
Happy retirement, Linda, from all the student-athletes you helped certify for competition, plus their parents, their coaches and all the staff members who respect you and admire the job you’ve done so well for a quarter century. You have earned the opportunity to retire from work, but not from life.
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