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Olsen directing the band

Bob Olsen enthusiastically directs the band at the Masonic Home Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont.

Bob Olsen’s experience in music spans decades.

Trained by his father, Walter, who taught instrumental music in the Fremont Public School system, Bob Olsen was in sixth grade when he played his first professional job.

While in high school, he played with bands that performed in Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa.

He also performed with the KORN Kings during a half-hour show that started at noon on radio station KORN.

Olsen 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 the then Midland College in 1951.

During that time, 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.

His television career included weekly performances on KOLN-TV in Lincoln for eight years.

He later earned a master’s degree from UNL. He played with the Eddie Garner, Johnny Cox and George King bands.

Olsen taught a year at Utica and then eight year, part time in Fremont and part time in North Bend.

His father retired from teaching at FHS in 1961. That year, Olsen began teaching instrumental music for FPS, something he would do for the next 35 years.

He later retired from Dietz Music in Omaha, where he’d been a salesperson and adviser.

Olsen has been involved in various community projects, including performances during the John C. Fremont Days festival.

He enjoys working with students at the Eastern Star Masonic Home for Children in Fremont, something he’s done for about four years.

Using donated musical instruments, Olsen works to help students in grades 5-12 learn skills and gain an appreciation for music. The band makes public appearances.

“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 first worked with Masonic Home students in the 1950s when he was just out of college.

In a 2018 Tribune article, Olsen remembered 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.

Decades later, Olsen would ask 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.

In the fall of 2015, Olsen started 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 continued to teach the students.

“I teach the techniques of the various instruments to the students,” Olsen said in 2018. “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.”

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.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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