It’s late afternoon and Bob Olsen is working with band students.
Guiding the musicians as one might direct an orchestra, he leads them through a practice run of the scales.
Not an unusual scene for a music teacher and youth.
But this teacher just celebrated his 89th birthday.
For the last three years, the local man has been teaching instrumental music to youth at the Masonic Home-Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont.
With donated instruments and lots of enthusiasm, Olsen has worked to help students in grades 5-12 learn skills and gain an appreciation for music.
The band makes six to eight public appearances a year and students say they like the music man who takes the time to help them learn to be proficient.
“Bob is a musical genius,” said Ron Giesselmann, Masonic Home executive director. “Most of the kids he works with at the children’s home have never played an instrument. Within a month, they know enough to play with the rest of the band, because he’s a good teacher.
“And he rewrites music they are able to play so they can be a part of the 30-person band.”
Olsen’s own music education began decades ago.
Trained by his father, Walter, who taught instrumental music in the Fremont Public School system for 38 years, Olsen was only in sixth grade when he played his first professional job.
Olsen performed with the KORN Kings during a half-hour show that started at noon on the radio station KORN.
He was the youngest of the seven-member band.
“I’d play the show and hustle back to school,” he said
Olsen graduated from Fremont High School in 1947 and Midland College in 1951.
He played with various groups including the Jan Garber Orchestra, Wayne King Band and Dick Wickman Band. With the Wickman band, he traveled to New York City and Chicago with live shows on WLS and WGN radio.
Olsen was just out of college when he started working with Masonic Home kids in the 1950s.
He remembers two brothers, Jim and Ed. Jim later died in an out-of-state car accident, but his brother Ed won a scholarship to a conservatory in Chicago and became a band director in Kansas.
Olsen later earned a master’s degree from UNL and played with other bands.
And after his dad retired from teaching at FHS in 1961, Olsen began teaching instrumental music for FPS—something he’d do for the next 35 years.
Olsen later worked as a salesman and adviser at Dietz Music in Omaha and then retired again.
Throughout the years, he stayed busy with music projects and as a Mason was involved in Masonic Home activities.
Then one day, Olsen talked to Giesselmann about volunteering as a band director and teacher at the Masonic Home.
The idea struck a chord with Giesselmann, who’d been one of Olsen’s students at Fremont Junior High School.
So Olsen put a notice in the Fremont Tribune asking area residents to donate musical instruments.
“Initially, we got a dozen – flutes and clarinets, a trumpet, trombone and even a tuba,” he said.
In the fall of 2015, Olsen began working with the students.
“We sat down as a group and decided who would like to play the various donated instruments and we took off from there,” he said.
Olsen commends Tom Thomason, director of child services, for coordinating the students’ schedules so they can participate in the band.
From 4-5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, Olsen works with small groups of students.
“I teach the techniques of the various instruments to the students,” Olsen said. “And every student in the home at the present time is playing a musical instrument. We have all different levels. Some are quite proficient and could play in any high school band and some are very beginning students.
“All students have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument regardless of their abilities.”
Olsen works with the entire band from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Band members play a variety of instruments.
“We also have a rock band and Mike Semrad is the leader of that,” Giesselmann said.
Sometimes, those rock band instruments like the bass guitar, are incorporated with the stage band.
The stage group plays a variety of music.
“I write the arrangements,” Olsen said. “We play some rock and jazz and traditional marches, even a polka.”
He even wrote an arrangement called “The Masonic Home Mambo.”
Olsen believes students benefit from being in the band.
“First of all, it gives them an appreciation for music,” Olsen said. “They have an opportunity to play an instrument that they wouldn’t have had before they came to the home, because of the donated instruments.”
Students can learn a lot from being in the band.
“It teaches them responsibility,” Olsen said. “They have to learn about instrument care and working with other students. It gives them a project to all work together toward a common goal.”
Giesselmann also sees the benefits.
“I think it does a lot for their self-esteem and brings another dimension of the arts into their lives,” Giesselmann said.
The students usually make six to eight public appearances a year. Since they’ve started, the group has performed for the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and Masonic organizations.
Their big performance takes place for an audience of about 400 during the Grand Chapter of Eastern Star conference in Kearney.
“They love hearing the kids play,” Giesselmann said.
Perhaps one of the most special performances is a Christmas concert the band presents for residents at the Nebraska Masonic Home retirement community in Plattsmouth.
“They have been quite well received,” Olsen said of the band members. “They usually receive standing ovations wherever we perform.”
Students in the band enjoy the opportunity – and Olsen.
“I like it here because Bob makes you feel welcome and he always gives us solos to do that are based on our level of experience and it brings all of us together,” said a student named Raven.
Another student, Christiana, shared similar thoughts.
“Bob really tries to involve everybody and he’s open to being able to let you try new instruments so you can become more experienced,” she said.
Christiana and Raven chose to play the clarinet, because their moms had played that instrument years ago.
Elissa plays the saxophone in both the stage and rock bands.
“I think band here is really fun, because Bob tries to make it fun,” she said.
None of the students plan to become musicians, but they think playing music is a fun hobby. Elissa even imagines getting together with friends years from now to play music for fun.
In the meantime, Giesselmann appreciates what music is doing for the students today.
“We think music is a big part of growing up and we want to make that part of the lives of the children who live out here,” Giesselmann said.
Looking back on his career, Olsen notes that many of the musician friends he played with are gone now, but he plans to stay healthy, keep active with the students and enjoy his family.
“They keep me young and I like their effort,” he said of the students. “Most of them give me 100 percent.”
Fremont Health was recently recognized by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska as a Blue Distinction Center for Maternity Care.
The Blue Distinction Center for Maternity care designation is part of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Blue Distinction Specialty Care program.
The program recognizes hospitals that show expertise in delivering improved patient safety and better health outcomes, based on objective measures that were developed with input from the medical community.
“Fremont Health is proud to be recognized by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska for meeting the rigorous Blue Distinction Center quality selection criteria for maternity care,” Melinda Kentfield, Director of Acute Care Nursing at Fremont Health Medical Center, said in a released statement.
Nearly 4 million babies are born in the U.S. annually, making childbirth the most common cause of hospitalization, and cesarean sections the most common operating room procedures, according to National Centers for Health Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ).
Reducing early elective delivery is an area of focus for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). according to Health Affairs, elective inductions result in more cesarean deliveries and a longer maternal hospitalization.
The Blue Distinction Centers for Maternity Care program evaluates hospitals on quality measures for vaginal and cesarean delivery.
“Our labor and delivery staff is continually working on initiatives to enhance the safety for moms and babies, most recently implementing new protocols to address postpartum hemorrhage, the leading cause of maternal deaths,” Kentfield said.
Along with the being recognized as a Blue Distinction Center for Maternity Care, Fremont Health also earned a “Safe Sleep Champion” designation from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services in February.
“Many of our nurses have also become Certified Lactation Counselors in order to help mom and baby be more successful with breastfeeding,” Kentfield said. “We feel truly honored when a new mom chooses us and we’ll do everything in our power to make sure she receives excellent care and has a great experience.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the nation have recognized more than 1,000 hospitals as Blue Distinction Centers for Maternity Care. Hospitals recognized with this designation are assessed using a combination of quality information supplied by hospitals and cost measures derived from BCBS companies’ medical claims.
Since 2006, the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program has helped patients find quality specialty care in the areas of bariatric surgery, cancer care, cardiac care, maternity care, knee and hip replacements, spine surgery and transplants, while encouraging health care professionals to improve the care they deliver.
Amy Spies hopes area residents will take part in a musical opportunity.
Zoe — a music and drama ministry for seventh- and eighth-graders of all faiths — is resuming this year after a hiatus.
“We’re trying to get the word out about the ministry and invite kids to be a part of it,” said Spies, director of worship arts at First Lutheran Church in Fremont.
Zoe is a music and drama ministry that offers youth a chance to grow in their faith and share God’s word with community members and those they meet on tour.
The group will tour over Father’s Day weekend at Okoboji in Iowa. An hourlong home concert is set for 6 p.m. June 18 at First Lutheran Church in Fremont.
Spies said the concert is a show with a theme.
This year’s theme is: “Grace Wins.”
Participants will learn songs around the theme and stage skits in between the songs.
Practices begin April 3.
Most practices will take place from 7-9:30 p.m. Fridays, but some will be held on Tuesday nights in that same time frame.
Those interested in participating may go to the website: www.flcfremont.org, then to the events tab for the registration information. Interested people also may stop by the church at 3200 Military Ave., or call Amy at 402-721-2959.
“We don’t turn away anybody. We want everyone who wants to participate to have an opportunity to do that,” Spies said, adding, “We’ll work with scheduling.”
Scholarships are available to cover the $130 registration cost. Registrations will be taken through mid-April. For more information, call Spies at the church.
“We know kids are super busy, but this is a really unique opportunity for them to do something in the midst of busyness, which is more spiritually based,” Spies said. “It’s a good chance for them to take a step back and have a chance to grow in their faith and be with their friends doing that.”
In past years, youth from more than 20 area churches have taken part in the ecumenical music ministry.