History department honors Olson with dedication ceremony, events

In honor of his 31 years of service to Sam Houston State University, history professor James S. Olson will be recognized with several upcoming events.

The SHSU history department is sponsoring various activities that will take place Thursday and Friday on campus and in the Huntsville community.

Following the speech by Distinguished Lecturer Peter Hammond Liddle, the new auditorium in Academic Building 4 will be officially dedicated in Olson’s name during a ceremony beginning at 2 p.m. Thursday.

According to Terry Bilhartz, one of Olson’s colleagues in the history department, the new auditorium was named for Olson following recommendations from university administrators, fellow professors and former students.

“Jim is well loved by his colleagues, his students and the community. As a result, the history department drafted a letter to President Gaertner proposing the new auditorium bear Olson’s name,” Bilhartz said. “President Gaertner agreed to the proposal and requested to the board of regents that the auditorium be named in Jim’s honor.”

Following the dedication of the new auditorium, a reception for Olson will be held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on 19th Street. The history department has extended an open invitation for community members to attend the reception beginning at 7 p.m.

On Friday the events celebrating Olson continue with a “Reflections on History and Historians” Conference to be held in the Olson Auditorium.

Bilhartz said the history department decided to hold the conference when they realized many noted historians would be in Huntsville to honor Olson.

“We haven’t been planning the conference for very long,” Bilhartz said. “When the president announced that the formal dedication would take place Feb. 6, we knew a number of distinguished historians from across the state and nation would be here for the occasion.

“At that time we decided to take advantage of their presence on campus, and treat our students to a one-day history conference,” he said.

The conference will feature five hour-long sessions beginning at 9 a.m.

The session titles include: “Careers in History: Why I Chose a Career in History,” “The Historian as Teacher: Challenges and Rewards,” “The Historian as Scholar: From Topic Conception to Publication,” “The Historian as Public Servant: Law, Journalism, Library Science and Medicine.”

The final session entitled, “Reflections on the Profession” will be an address given by Olson himself.

Speakers for the first four sessions will be various scholars from universities across Texas and the country. Bilhartz said the department is looking forward to their arrival.

“It will be a very exciting time for both the department and for our students,” Bilhartz said. “Most of our panelists are former mentors, colleagues, or students of Dr. Olson. Some are SHSU alums, and all are quality individuals with impeccable credentials.”

Bilhartz said although the primary audience for the conference is SHSU students, the university community and other out of town guests will be welcomed. There is no registration fee for the event.

Closing out the events honoring Olson will be a final reception Friday at Austin Hall at 7 p.m. Members of the university community and out of town guests are invited to celebrate Olson’s accomplishments.

Bilhartz said he hopes students, faculty and community members will take the opportunity to honor Olson for his service to SHSU.

“I hope people will attend to honor Jim for his many contributions to this university, and to treat themselves to an intellectually stimulating conference that celebrates history and historians,” Bilhartz said. “Of course it will also be a great time for current students and university faculty and staff to gather with former SHSU faculty and alums.

“We’re anticipating great crowds,” he said.

Since coming to SHSU in 1972 Olson has taught an estimated 35,000 students. He lists 24 major books to his credit and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the biography category.

At the university level Olson has received numerous awards. He was acknowledged with the Excellence in Teaching Award in 1977 and the Excellence in Research Award in 1988, a feat making him the first faculty member to ever receive both honors. In 1994, Olson became only the second person in SHSU history to receive the rank of Distinguished Professor.

Olson remains humble when reflecting upon his many accomplishments at SHSU.

“I have spent my entire professional career and most of my life now in Huntsville and after 33 years, I feel like I could not have made a better choice,” Olson said. “SHSU has been such a great place to work, with wonderful colleagues, bright students and supportive administrators. Huntsville has been a great place for Judy and me to raise our children.

“If I could start over, I would not change a thing. I consider myself a very fortunate man.”

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