CAMPUS Closeup: Tom Olson
Tom Olson (Plant Operations) is in his 23rd year as an electrician at NMU. He is one of three on staff who keep campus facilities and streetlights illuminated, help the HVAC technicians keep motors and pumps running properly, work with broadcast and telecom staff on some of their equipment and provide temporary power for special events. Olson vividly recalls an emergency request to run power from the Superior Dome to a CNN satellite truck when its generator died just before a live broadcast of President Barack Obama’s campus visit. A thank-you note from the network is still attached to the bulletin board in his work area.
A Marquette native, Olson developed a love of construction and carpentry from his dad, who was a homebuilder. But his dad had a friend who was an electrical contractor and conversations about that line of work prompted Olson to pursue the trade himself. After completing his apprenticeship, he embarked on a 16-year career with Local 1070 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
“My brother-in-law, Joe Cherrette, was a painter at Northern (now retired) and told me about an electrician opening at the university, so I applied,” Olson said. “It wasn’t a hard transition because electricians are a pretty small and close-knit fraternity in the area. I already knew the guys here because I had worked with some of them before coming to campus. I was happy to get the job and I still enjoy it. I like the variety, working with my hands and seeing a project through from start to finish. My work partners are good, too.”
Two projects NMU electricians have been involved with this summer include replacing some of the 300 lights that shine on the Superior Dome field and surveying streetlights to ensure adequate levels before students return for the fall. Olson once noticed that two residence hall parking lots remained vacant over the summer, yet were fully illuminated by the surrounding light poles. His idea to reduce the lighting levels during summer low-traffic periods, without compromising safety, was the subject of a 2009 CAMPUS story and was credited with saving about $9,000 per year in energy costs. He encourages NMU employees to notify his shop of locations where internal or external lights are out so they can address the issue.
Olson enjoys work so much that he’s turned it into a hobby. He and Cherrette help each other with carpentry, masonry and electrical projects at their camps north of L’Anse on Huron Bay. Olson and his wife, Beth—a radiographer at UP Health Systems-Bell—enjoy entertaining family and friends at camp, kayaking and exploring the area’s impressive waterfalls (Leatherby Falls is among his favorites). They also go on birding expeditions near and far (at right is Beth's photo of a Magnolia Warbler).
“My wife’s a huge birder, but I get involved in that, too. We even went to Cozumel for that purpose. A lot of people who go somewhere warm for vacation spend time at a beach. We have a professional bird guide waiting for us and go in search of species we haven’t seen before. Another hobby I’ve really gotten in to is pickle ball. It’s supposed to be the fastest-growing sport. It’s a combination of tennis and racquetball. There’s a net and you play with a paddleball racquet and whiffle ball. It’s best as a doubles game. There are two outdoor courts and an indoor court in Sands Township. Northern is setting one up in the PEIF, too.”
The couple are parents of twin sons. Matt is an NMU graduate of the diagnostic genetics program now working at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Mark is a musician in Houghton.