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Leo B. Olson (DeKalb)


Scope and Contents

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

Olson Family History & Local History

Personal Papers

Military Service

Addendum 1

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Leo B. Olson (DeKalb), 1911-1990 | Northern Illinois University

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Collection Overview

Title: Leo B. Olson (DeKalb), 1911-1990

ID: RHC/RC/338

Extent: 3.75 Linear Feet. More info below.


Series I includes information on the history of DeKalb County and s also consists of materials of his wife, Elaine (Johnson) Olson and family history (the Nelson and Johnson families). Researchers interested in family history should also see the Yvonne Johnson Collection, RC 337.

The bulk of the collection consists of the papers of Leo Olson, which are divided into two series: Personal Papers (Series II) and Military Service (Series III). The Personal Papers consist of biographical information of Leo Olson and papers related to his community and professional activities. This includes diplomas, obituaries, photographs, awards, certificates, and a number of artifacts. Also included are portraits of Leo Olson and two home movies on 8mm film. His professional activities make up only a small portion of this Personal Papers Series. There is very little related to his time as communications director at DeKalb AgResearch.  Researchers interested in his professional activities should see the DeKalb AgResearch Collection, RC 190.

Series III documents the military service of Olson, who served in the United States Air Force in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Included are military records; correspondence to his wife, Elaine Olson; souvenirs from Australia; and military pins and patches. Of particular interest is the Bronze Medal awarded to Olson, as well as the photographs and scrapbooks of his military service.

Addendum: It is evident that Olson was a skilled artist and intrigued by birds, particularly parrots and finches, as he has several sketchbooks and loose drawings of avian that were compiled during his time of service in the Pacific Theater. Olson often completed his works of art by using watercolors to paint his bird drawings. Many of the sketchbooks and scrapbooks in the addendum contain taxonomy and species descriptions in addition to Leo’s drawing and watercolors. Also included in the addendum are photographs, mostly portraits of Leo or of trips with his wife, Elaine.

Date Acquired: 07/31/2014. More info below under Accruals.

Subjects: Advertising -- Agriculture, Aerial photographs., Air Force, DeKalb County (Ill.)-- History, Kishwaukee United Way, Northern Illinois University, Olson, Elaine V., Olson, Leo B., Sycamore (Ill.), Veterans, World War, 1939-1945 – Campaigns – Pacific Ocean, World War II

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The Leo B. Olson Collection consists of materials related to Leo Olson’s community involvement, professional activities, and military service from 1911 to 1990.  The collection also includes a small amount of materials related to Olson’s family and the history of DeKalb County. His professional activities make up only a small portion of the collection. There is very little related to his time as communications director at DeKalb AgResearch. A digital image of Leo’s Bronze Medal display is part of the collection.

Collection Historical Note

Leo B. Olson was born November 24, 1911 in Shabbona to Oscar and Minnie Olson. His family roots in DeKalb date back to before 1850. He was raised by his aunt and uncle and married Elaine Johnson in 1943. Leo attended DeKalb schools and graduated from Northern Illinois State Teachers College in 1932. To pay for college, he painted signs for a local business that led to a lifelong interest in sketching and painting. After graduating, he became a faculty assistant and went on to teach in a one room schoolhouse for four years. In 1937 he became the Advertising Manager at DeKalb Ag, where he put his design and promotional skills to use. Olson helped the company move to advertising on the national stage through issuing sales manuals, full page farm paper advertisements, radio and TV advertising, and use of field signs. He played a part in the design of the iconic DeKalb “Winged Ear” flying corn logo. He served as the Communications Director until his retirement in 1977. After his retirement, he taught at Kishwaukee College for one year and taught in the journalism department at Northern Illinois University from 1978 to 1986.   

Shortly after his marriage to Elaine Johnson in January 1943, Leo enlisted in the United States Air Force during World War II. He served in the Chemical Warfare Service in Australia, New Guinea, and the Phillippines, attaining the rank of staff sergeant when he was honorably discharged in 1945. During his service he was part of the Philippine Liberation and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and the Bronze Star Medal.   

Leo was a dedicated and active member of the DeKalb Community as evidenced of his involvement with numerous organizations. He was a member of the First Lutheran Church and served on its council for six years. He was active in the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, a member of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, and served on the NIU Foundation Board of Directors. He was a member and president of the NIU Friends of the Library and received many awards and honors during his service. From the early 1970's to 1987, Leo was an active member of the Kishwaukee United Way, where he served as president in 1987. After his death, the Kishwaukee United Way established the Leo Olson Award in 1989 to honor his many contributions to the organization.

Subject/Index Terms

Advertising -- Agriculture
Aerial photographs.
Air Force
DeKalb County (Ill.)-- History
Kishwaukee United Way
Northern Illinois University
Olson, Elaine V.
Olson, Leo B.
Sycamore (Ill.)
World War, 1939-1945 – Campaigns – Pacific Ocean
World War II

Administrative Information

Repository: Northern Illinois University

Accruals: Additional materials were donated in 2015.

Alternate Extent Statement: 1 digital file (6.11 MB)

Access Restrictions: There are no restrictions on access to the collection. Twenty- four hours advanced notice is requested for the audio-visual material due to the need of special equipment.

Use Restrictions: Property rights in the collection belong to the Regional History Center, literary rights are dedicated to the public.

Technical Access Note: A digital image of Leo’s Bronze Medal display may be accessed on the computer in the Center's reading room.

Acquisition Source: Yvonne Johnson

Related Materials:

Researchers interested in his professional activities should see the DeKalb AgResearch Collection, RC 190.

Researchers interested in family history should also see the Yvonne Johnson Collection, RC 337.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series I.: Olson Family History & Local History],
[Series II.: Personal Papers],
[Series III.: Military Service],
[Addendum 1],

Series III.: Military Service
Box 4
Folder 1: Letters from New Guinea, 1945, no date
Folder 2: Tree Poem by Joe O'Donnell, no date
Folder 3: Japanese Cartoon from World War II, no date
Folder 4: Koala Bear Photograph, no date
Folder 5: Australian Alphabet by Hal Missingham, 1942
Folder 6: The Koala Bear by C.B. Barrowcliff, circa 1943
Folder 7: Ration Cards, Stamps, and Certificates, 1943-1945
Folder 8: Correspondence, Leo Olson to Elaine Olson, July 2-4, 1943
Folder 9: Telegram from Leo Olson to Mrs. Leo Olson, probably December 22, 1943
Folder 10: Newspaper Articles and Poems, no date
Folder 11: Military Newspapers and Clippings from USA and UK, 1944-1945
Folder 12: Leo Olson Military Records, 1943-1945
Folder 13: Bronze Star Medal Display, Patches (2) and Photo (2), no date
Folder 14: Hand Painted Japanese Handkerchief, no date
Folder 15: Military Portrait of Leo Olson, circa 1944
Folder 16-17: World War II Photographs (72) (1 negative), 1943-1945
Folder 18-19: World War II Gun Camera and  Aerial Photographs (44), 1943-1945
Folder 20: Finches of Australia and New Guinea (25 reproductions), 1944
Box 5
Item 1: Military Artifacts
Item 2: Ammunition casings (3), no date
Item 3: Military patches (9), no date
Item 4: US Armed Forces Service Ribbons (6), circa 1943-1945
Item 5: Military Pins (10), no date
Item 6: Bronze Star Medal, no date
Item 7: Decoration Medal, Good Conduct, 1944
Item 8: Medal, Campaign and Service, Victory, WWII, 1946
Box 6
Item 1: Military Scrapbooks
Item 2: Photo Scrapbook, Australia, New Guinea, Philippines, 1944-1945
Item 3: Military Service Scrapbook, 1943-1946
Folder 1: Loose Ephemera found in Military Service Scrapbook, no date
Folder 2: Loose Cards and Miliary Records found in Service Scrapbook, no date
Folder 3: Loose Photographs from Military Service Scrapbook (10), no date
Folder 4: Loose Scrapbook Pages, circa 1944-1945
Oversize Drawer 35
Folder 9: Military Aerial Photograph (1), no date

Browse by Series:

[Series I.: Olson Family History & Local History],
[Series II.: Personal Papers],
[Series III.: Military Service],
[Addendum 1],

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