“I grew up in Provo, Utah. After graduating from Provo High School, I attended Brigham Young University for two years while living at home. When I changed my major to architecture, I transferred to the University of Utah, where I graduated in 1966. At that time, the School of Architecture was housed in some of the old Fort Douglas WWII barracks.
I was a first generation college graduate in my family. My dad, Kenneth Olsen, didn’t graduate from high school because he had to work on the family farm. My mother, Sarah Olsen, spent two years at BYU and taught for a few years. When she married my father, she became a full-time housewife. I don’t remember any discussion in my family about whether my siblings and I would go to college; the discussion was always about where we would go and what we would study.
A happy life
“I met my wife, Jody Olsen, at University College. We got married in 1964 when we were both students with limited financial resources. We lived well because my parents visited me every two weeks, bringing a “care package” with a loaf of homemade bread from my mother, canned or fresh fruits and vegetables, and frozen roasts and steaks, mostly from my father’s farm.
I remember there was a lot of camaraderie and mutual support between the architecture students at the University of the University. For example, most of the time there was a student volleyball game, even in the middle of winter in the snow, to help us relax and release ourselves. tension. My friendship with other students has been a very positive part of my university experience.
After graduating, Jody and I joined the Peace Corps in Tunisia. After Peace Corps, we moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where I worked as a planner and architect and where our children grew up until the family moved to Togo for two years. I also lived for more than a year in Jamaica and Sri Lanka and worked as an international consultant in many developing countries around the world.
My wife and I divorced years ago when I came out as a gay man. Jody and I are best friends, see each other regularly and vacation together. We consider ourselves a family. I married Bruce Swanson a few years after gay marriage became legal. Before we met, Bruce and I were both runners, and we always try to stay active and healthy. We set a goal when we came together to run a marathon across all continents, which we completed. Bruce is now working on a goal of running 200 marathons/ultra-marathons which he hopes to achieve in October. I walk/run mostly 10Ks and half marathons now, but try to complete one marathon a year to see how old I can still run a marathon. In the summer of 2021, I completed my 82 year marathon. Now I hope to complete my 83-year-old marathon this summer.
“Before he died, my father set up a family partnership with his farmland. The family recently sold land and I decided to give an inclusive scholarship to the College of Architecture + Planning which I named after my parents. I honor them with this EDI scholarship which will have a positive impact on aspiring architecture students.
-Robert Olsen, alumnus of the University of Utah School of Architecture