DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Des Moines Mayor Richard Olson, who was instrumental in sparking the rebirth of downtown, died Tuesday evening in a car accident in Maine.
His death came two days after his 85th birthday.
Olson, who was mayor from 1972 through 1979, oversaw the first wave of redevelopment in downtown Des Moines. He was an early advocate of the skywalk system and backed development of the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and Nollen Plaza, now known as Cowles Commons.
Olson’s vision and passion played a significant role in winning over developer Bill Knapp to the downtown scene, according to the major developer and founder of Iowa Realty.
“He was the spark plug to get things rolling,” Knapp said Wednesday. “He was so intense in doing it that he got me and others involved to make Des Moines better.”
Maine Department of Public Safety officials said that on Tuesday evening, Olson crossed the centerline in the Chevrolet Tahoe he was driving and struck a GMC pickup truck driven by Phillip Carter in Dedham, Maine. Carter, 32, and passenger Roxanne Papken, 25, both of Bangor, Maine, died at the scene.
Olson’s widow, Cleojean Olson, said Wednesday that her husband was driving back to their vacation home after running errands.
To view the full story, go to the Des Moines Register.