Perhaps his most enduring contribution to his humanitarian legacy can be summed up in five letters: WATEA.
That acronym stands for the Wisconsin Automotive Truck Education Association, a non-profit he co-founded 17 years ago to promote the transportation industry in Central Wisconsin and across the state. It is the charity to which Mr. Olson chose to donate the money that accompanies the Humanitarian Award.
While WATEA has its hands in numerous programs and initiatives — many of which germinated from Mr. Olson — one signature program stands out, hands down.
Wheels to Work
WATEA oversees the Wheels to Work program, which provides reliable vehicles — or vehicle repairs — to low-income individuals in and around Wausau who need transportation to get to work or seek employment. Clients secure no-interest loans on the vehicles, or vehicle repairs, as well as affordable monthly payment plans catered to that individual's budget.
In keeping with Mr. Olson's hand-up-not-hand-out philosophy, recipients also must do their part. Each must meet with the program coordinator, review his or her budget, then attend four classes — at no charge to the client — including mandatory courses on making a budget and on vehicle maintenance.
The program, now in its sixth year, has distributed 240 vehicles as of year-end 2016.
An independent committee that judged the nominees for this year's Humanitarian Award said each candidate had merit, making the selection process difficult. But, it said, Mr. Olson stood out because of the Wheels to Work program, "especially appropriate based on the nature of the business," the committee said
Mr. Olson smiles when asked about his humanitarian nature.
"...When you've learned to (help others) because it's the right thing and there is no ulterior motive to what you're doing, you're just doing it because it's the right thing," he said, "man, that's when it feels good."
When you listen to members of the community describe Mr. Olson, you almost expect him to be wearing an "S" under his tire-themed polo shirt: more Clark Kent than Kent Olson.
"I just remember being struck by him the first time I met him," said Rene Daniels, executive director of the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, a non-profit that works to put others to work. Mr. Olson is chairman of Ms. Daniels' board.
Passion for his work
"He's not a wallflower," Ms. Daniels said. "You can tell when he's in the room. He's a man of presence. A man that clearly is going to get things done. And it was obvious to me the very first time I met him. I really think he is a role model for community involvement. He really is passionate about the work he does.
"His enthusiasm is contagious. And I think that's what you need to get things done."