UNMC loses one of its top supporters - Dr. Leland Olson

Dr. Olson and his late wife, Dorothy, contributed millions of dollars to fund women's health and nursing initiatives

Leland Olson, M.D., one of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s top supporters, died Saturday at his home in Omaha due to complications resulting from a previous stroke. He was 92.

A native of Palmyra, Neb., Dr. Olson had a large obstetrics and gynecology practice – Midwest OB GYN in Omaha – and worked primarily at Methodist Hospital. Over the years, he delivered thousands of babies. He retired in 1986.

Dr. Olson received his medical degree from UNMC in 1944 and completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at UNMC in 1949. Following military service, he was appointed to UNMC’s volunteer faculty in 1952 and served in this capacity for 60 years, most recently holding the post of senior consultant.

Dr. Olson and his late wife, Dorothy, were married for 66 years prior to Dorothy’s death in 2010.

The Olsons were longtime contributors to UNMC for a variety of women’s health and university initiatives.

In 2005, they provided funding for The Olson Center for Women's Health outpatient facility, which occupies the entire fourth floor of the Durham Outpatient Center and is the largest outpatient clinic on the UNMC campus. This was their fifth major donation to the department of obstetrics and gynecology since 1986.

The Olson Center for Women's Health was initiated in 1993 through their generosity, and in addition to housing an outpatient clinical facility, it has recently surpassed $5 million in research funding awards to UNMC and UNO researchers.

The Olson Center's outpatient facility is one of only a handful of truly multidisciplinary women's centers in the country. In addition to Ob/Gyn, the UNMC departments of internal medicine, surgery, radiology, and psychiatry also are represented, as well as the hospital's mammography, ultrasound, and physical therapy departments.

Since 1986, the Olson family has made multiple gifts to the University of Nebraska Foundation worth millions of dollars. In addition to the women's center, these gifts included:

  • funding for two research floors in UNMC's The Lied Transplant Center to create the Olson Biomedical Laboratories;
  • providing funding support for the Center of Nursing Science at UNMC;
  • creation of a resident research fund and a distinguished chair for UNMC's obstetrics and gynecology department;
  • funding for one of the earliest -- and now largest -- endowed chairs in the UNMC College of Nursing; and
  • two endowed chairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"Nobody in Nebraska has done more for women's health than Leland Olson," said UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D. "It was his passion. He truly made a difference for our students, residents, faculty and patients. He will never be forgotten."

The Olson family has had a long association with the University of Nebraska. In addition to his medical degree from UNMC, Dr. Olson received his bachelor’s degree from UNL in 1941. Dorothy Olson received her nursing degree from UNMC in 1943 and her bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1967. 

All three of the Olson children earned degrees through the University of Nebraska, with a son, David, and a daughter, Karen, earning medical degrees at UNMC and daughter, Nancy, earning a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees through the University of Nebraska system. In addition, David Olson’s daughter, Kendra Olson Swanson, received her medical degree from UNMC. 

In recognition of their contributions to the University of Nebraska, Dorothy and Leland Olson each received an honorary doctorate from UNMC as well as the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Service to the University of Nebraska.

Dr. Olson is survived by his three children, David Olson, M.D. (spouse Lynn Scott, M.D.), Karen Olson, M.D., and Nancy Olson, all of Omaha; grandchildren, Kendra Swanson, M.D. (spouse Mitchell), Omaha, and Christian Olson (spouse Catherine), New York, N.Y.; and great grandchildren Nathan Swanson and Elizabeth Swanson, of Omaha. In addition to Dorothy Olson, he was preceded in death by his parents, Christian and Marie Olson; and his sister, Janet Weed.

Visitation with the family will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday at Roeder Mortuary, 2727 N. 108th St. A graveside service will be held at 10 a.m. on July 15 at Forest Lawn Cemetery, 7909 Mormon Bridge Rd., with a memorial service following at 11 a.m. at Roeder Mortuary.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.

What others are saying:

"The Olsons' support for UNMC has been nothing short of extraordinary. 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 who were ultimately driven to find new and better ways of delivering health care and educating future generations of health professionals."

Carl Smith, M.D., professor and chairman of UNMC's Ob/Gyn department

“Lee and Dorothy Olson are among the most generous donors ever to the University of Nebraska Foundation. It was a team effort. They appreciated the excellent education they received at the medical center and the professional opportunities that resulted. They maintained their allegiance and support throughout their lifetimes and played a substantial role in the growth of both the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing.”

John Niemann, Ed.D., senior vice president, University of Nebraska Foundation

“Dr. Olson was a great supporter of women’s health and the medical center. He devoted his life to women’s health and continued after his retirement from active practice. He supported all facets –- from training of providers to research to provision of services.”

McClure Smith, M.D., chairman of the Ob/Gyn department, 1987 to 1996

“We were both small town boys and our fathers ran hardware stores. We both practiced in Omaha our entire careers. We were longtime friends and enjoyed each other’s company. We respected each other and we both felt strongly about giving back to the university.”

Stan Truhlsen, M.D., retired ophthalmologist and a medical school classmate of Dr. Olson

“Lee was really a good guy and a caring physician. He distinguished himself with excellence in patient care and student education. He was a major moving force in helping UNMC provide health care for the underserved.”

Joe Scott, M.D., chairman of the Ob/Gyn department, 1978-1987



Tom O'Connor
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4690 (office)
(402) 650-7063 (cell)