The Rev. Clark B. Olsen died on January 21, 2019 at the age of 85.
Clark was born on June 22, 1933 in Boston, MA to Arthur W. Olsen and Catherine B. Olsen. He graduated from the Oberlin College, OH with a Bachelor of Arts in 1955, following which he earned his Bachelor of Divinity from the Harvard University in 1959.
Rev. Olsen was ordained on October 28, 1959 by the UU Congregational Society of Westborough, MA (formerly the First Unitarian Society of Westborough) where he carried out his ministry from 1957 to 1962. He was then called to the Berkeley Fellowship of UUs, CA where he would serve until 1968. In that year Rev. Olsen accepted a call from the Unitarian Church in Glasgow, Scotland, and served the Scottish congregation for five months as an interim minister. Finally, from 1968 to 1978, he served the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, NJ before launching a second career as an organizational consultant to corporations, nonprofits, and churches.
Rev. Olsen carried out a great deal of services on behalf of the denomination. He was Board Member for the Pacific Central District from 1965 to 1968. He served the NY Metro District as a Board Member from 1970 to 1974, and as President of the Board from 1971 to 1973. He then functioned as a “Good Offices” person for the NY Metro District, UU Ministers Association from 1974 to 1976 and chaired the NY Metro District, R.E Committee for a year (1975-1976). In 1976, Rev. Olsen became a Theme Speaker for a week conference “Life on a Star” held in Star Island, NH. Furthermore, he was a member and Vice-chairman for the UUA Planning Committee and served the UUA’s Fulfilling the Promise Committee. Rev. Olsen functioned as Vice-President for the UUA for two years (1986-1988); he also served on the UUA’s Board (2007-2008). He was Denominational Affairs Chair (2011-2017) for the UU Congregation of Asheville, NC. Moreover, he served as a leader for numerous workshops on UU Worship for local groups, districts and for the UU Ministers Association annual meetings.
Throughout his life, Rev. Olsen was a staunch advocate for civil rights and racial justice. Upon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s call to his fellow clergy to march for African American Voting Rights in the wake of “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, Clark travelled to Selma, AL. While walking to the Brown’s Chapel to hear Dr. King speak, Clark and two other UU ministers, Orloff Miller and Jim Reeb, were beaten by four men; two days later Rev. Reeb lost his life. This incident proved to be critical to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and inspired Clark to be a more empathetic, more human, and compassionate leader in the cause of freedom and justice. Clark started speaking worldwide about the Civil Right Movements and his personal experiences. He traveled to Selma ninety times to share his story through a Sojourn Project (a California based nonprofit that takes middle and high school students to civil rights movement locations to forge understanding and awareness towards personal and civic responsibility). In 2015, UUA awarded him the UUA’s 2015 Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.
Rev. Olsen also labored tirelessly on behalf of the communities to which he belonged. He provided Clergy Consultation Service on abortion from 1968 to the time of abortion rights legislation. He was a member of the Morris County Drug Abuse Council from 1971 to 1975 and Chairman of the Advisory committee for the Morris School District. Rev. Olsen was on the Legislative Action Committee for the State Sen. Stephen Wiley and succeeded in establishing a new bikeway planning office in the NJ Dept of Transportation. He was also on the Board for the Family Service Agency in Morristown, NJ. In his spare time, Clark enjoyed reading, listening to music, gardening, being with friends and working with tools. He had great interest in camping and travelling. He travelled extensively in the United States and had visited nearly every country in West and East Europe.
Clark is survived by his wife Anna Olsen; his children Marika Olsen and Todd Olsen; and his brother Lee. He was predeceased by his first wife Ludmilla, his sister Elaine, and his brothers Dexter and Tyler.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a charity of one’s own choosing as well as to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.
A celebration of Clark’s life will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place, Asheville, NC 28801.
Notes of condolences may be sent to Anna Olsen at 23C Trillium Ct, Asheville, NC 28805.