Remembering Olsson and Santeford

Professor Emeritus Milton Olsson Passes Away

by Mark Wilcox, University Marketing and Communications

An educator, composer and conductor who spent more than three decades leading choral and orchestral groups at Michigan Tech has died. Professor Emeritus Milton Olsson died Saturday at UP Health System – Portage hospital in Hancock from complications resulting from catastrophic injuries he sustained in October. He was 80.

Milt Olsson

Olsson came to Michigan Tech in 1976 as director of choral and orchestral activities. His establishment of the Michigan Tech Concert Choir and his work as director of the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra (KSO) quickly brought him to prominence in the arts and music scene not only in the Upper Peninsula but throughout the state. Under his guidance, the Michigan Tech Concert Choir grew from less than 20 to nearly 100 members. Olsson began the Concert Choir’s tradition of performing internationally.

In 1993 Olsson was appointed the first chair of Tech’s newly created Department of Fine Arts, now known as the Department of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). Olsson’s efforts and influence reached far beyond the MTU campus. He was a past president of the American Choral Directors Association of Michigan and was in high demand as a choral adjudicator and clinician.

Olsson earned degrees in music theory and composition from Wayne State University and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder in the literature and performance of choral music.

Olsson was widely respected as a composer and arranger and had several of his compositions performed by the KSO and other orchestras.

Among his highlights at Michigan Tech was the performance of his composition “MASS,” written to celebrate the opening of the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts in 2000.

According to his family, one of the most cherished memories of Olsson’s career was conducting the KSO with rock music legend Alan Parsons. The performances featured his son PJ Olsson, who is the Alan Parsons Project lead singer, and some of Olsson’s arrangements. They produced four sold-out shows.

In 2009 Olsson retired from Michigan Tech but remained active and vital in the music and fine arts community, and served as conductor of the Keweenaw Youth Symphony. 

Jared Anderson, chair of VPA, commented on Olsson’s legacy.

“Milt Olsson’s musical legacy will reverberate throughout the Michigan Tech community for generations. He was a gifted conductor, composer, teacher, mentor, administrator, visionary and friend. Joel Neves and I often joke that it took two of us to replace one Milt Olsson. He will be sorely missed in our lives and in the lives of so many students that he inspired over his long career at Michigan Tech, from 1976 to 2009.” 

Neves, the current conductor of the KSO, said the success of the orchestra is due in large part to the foundation laid by Olsson.

“Milt was a legend here in the Keweenaw: Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. I will be forever grateful for his personal mentorship and friendship, and of course his stunning musical mind,” said Neves. “Milt dreamed big and was hugely influential in the building of the Rozsa Center and taking the Concert Choir and Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra to greater heights. His artistic legacy is only matched by his humanity and kindness toward all. He was a great man, father, artist and colleague.”

Among Olsson’s survivors are his wife Trudy and their sons, Dave (Karyn), Stephan (Cathy) and PJ; and grandchildren, Cameron, Amelia, Ana, Kinzli, Bella and Sophia. He was preceded in death by his grandson Remi. 

There will be no funeral, but a memorial service is being considered for the future. The family is encouraging those who wish to, to give to the Milton Olsson Endowed Scholarship at Michigan Tech


Professor Emeritus Henry Santeford Remembered

by University Marketing and Communications

Michigan Tech professor emeritus Henry Santeford passed away peacefully at his Superior Location home, surrounded by his family, on Sunday, Feb. 14, following a lengthy illness. Santeford, a Michigan Tech alumnus who spent more than two decades teaching at his alma mater, was 78.

A native of Chicago Heights, Ill., Santeford earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Michigan Tech and PhD from Colorado State University. In 1972, he joined the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences as a staff research hydrologist in Washington, D.C.

Santeford’s love of snow, ice and mountains made him the perfect candidate to head up the first National Weather Service/NOAA field station tasked with unraveling the mysteries of Alaska’s hydrology. His passion for teaching lured him back to academia at the University of Alaska, where he lectured at both the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses. In 1974, he was the recipient of Michigan Tech’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

In 1980, Santeford joined the faculty of Michigan Tech teaching water resource engineering with a focus in cold regions hydrology in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Highly respected by his students, he received the Chi Epsilon Outstanding Faculty Award multiple times, was the faculty advisor for the MTU Ridge Roamers and the Four Wheelers Club and was an active board member of the John Wesley House. He retired as professor emeritus in June 2001.

Following his passing in February, several former students remembered Santeford on Facebook:

  • “Dr. Santeford was one of my favorite professors at Tech. And I use the things I learned from him in my career to this day. I’m grateful for the energy and passion he invested in his students!”
  • “One of my favorite professors at Tech! He was animated, funny and had passion for his position, students and community. I’ll never forget his State jokes and I learned a lot about hydrology!”
  • “He made an impression on all of us — he was so lively and fun with his course work. I loved our labs — we were always making something cool to observe how water flowed and moved in different scenarios.”
  • “Dr. Santeford’s last year teaching was during my senior year in 2001. He helped shape the course of my career with his classes in hydraulic structures and hydrology. I remember him and his lessons with great fondness.”

Santeford was a 35-year fixture in the holiday kitchens of Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly and, as the son of a carpenter, he constructed the large oak cross hanging in the sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church in Houghton, where he was a member. Among his survivors are his wife of 52 years, Sally, and their daughter, Jodi Santeford of Chicago.


3 Comments on "Remembering Olsson and Santeford"

  • Scott Conners
    May 12, 2021 at 6:54 am

    When I think of my classroom time at Tech, Dr. Santeford stands out as the best professor I had. His passion for the subject was evident in every presentation. He loved to share real life examples to help cement the lesson into his students memory.

    My favorite class was the Snow and Ice class. I learned things that I still reference today. I’m pretty sure I’ll think of Dr. Santeford every time I see a snow drift for the rest of my life.

  • Richard Boes
    May 14, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    I had the pleasure of knowing both Milt Olsson and and Henry Santeford
    .
    Henry and I both graduated from MTU with BSCE degrees in 1964. I especially remember when we both took surveying at the end of our Freshman year in the summer. I lost track of him after graduating but it looks like he had an interesting life

    Milt Olsson – I sent 4 of my kids to MTU while he was there. They were involved in the Jazz singers. I always got very warm compliments from my Sons (Eric and Chris) regarding Milt.

  • Chris Boes
    May 26, 2021 at 8:55 pm

    Dr. Milton Olsson (Doc as we knew him in Tech Singers) was a great mentor, teacher, director, creative soul, and so many other things. We all had great fun with Doc in Tech singers – even though he was our directory, he was also a fellow fun-lover and everyone who became a tech singers alum will remember the fun we had both on and off stage. I remember interviewing Doc for a class project and asked him questions about Eddy Van Halen. He said that he appreciated the virtuosity of EVH and we had a great conversation about rock music from a philosophical standpoint (his favorite place from which to pontificate) and from a performance and entertainment standpoint too. I really appreciated his viewpoint. Eddy Van Halen died this past year as well – two greats on one year. Doc will be missed.

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