Kevin Oltjenbruns remembered for her ‘remarkable spirit’ and dedication to students

Kevin Oltjenbruns portraitColorado State University lost a great friend and leader on Nov. 1 when Kevin Ann Oltjenbruns passed away after an extended battle with cancer.

In remembering the life of this remarkable teacher, scholar, and administrator, many themes emerge, but Oltjenbruns’ dedication to students, her leadership, and her giving spirit were hallmarks of her achievements.

Boettcher Scholar

Oltjenbruns’ association with CSU stretched more than 40 years. She arrived at CSU in 1967 as a prestigious Boettcher Foundation Scholar to major in mathematics with a concentration in computer science. Oltjenbruns’ career trajectory changed when she took her first child development class as a junior, because “it fit into her schedule,” which turned out to be a fortuitous choice. After completing her B.S. in mathematics in 1971, she went on to earn her master’s degree in child development and family relationships in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in 1974. After earning her master’s, she was hired as an adviser and teacher for the department, eventually earning her doctorate in 1989 in educational and psychological studies from the University of Colorado.

Hospice founder

Kevin Oltjenbruns and Alicia Cook
Kevin Oltjenbruns, left, with Alicia Cook.

Oltjenbruns was a dedicated teacher and scholar. In her lifespan human development course, she started to address death and dying and found that students had a profound interest in the topic. As a pioneer in that area, she went on to develop both undergraduate and graduate courses in grief, loss, death, and dying with her good friend in the department, Professor Alicia Cook. She and Cook co-authored the first textbook, Dying and Grieving: Lifespan and Family Perspectives, that addressed these topics from a lifespan developmental perspective, and they later wrote a second edition.

“Kevin was a dear friend and a much-valued colleague,” Cook said. “I was fortunate to know and learn from her for over four decades. Kevin had a special way of connecting with students and she was an exceptional teacher. Even many years later, Kevin’s students and advisees remember her and her classes vividly and with much fondness.”

Inspired by the idea that those experiencing illnesses could be cared for at home in their final days, Oltjenbruns was instrumental in helping found the first hospice in Fort Collins in the ’70s, what is now Pathways Hospice, and she also served on the Board of Directors and various committees.

Giving to students

Kevin Oltjenbruns
Kevin Oltjenbruns, left, with Jill Kreutzer, right, and a scholarship recipient.

Oltjenbruns’ generosity and dedication to students was apparent in her giving – she and her good friend and colleague Professor Jill Kreutzer established the Human Development and Family Studies Undergraduate Student Scholarship, endowed in 2003, for students whose volunteer efforts have made a difference in the educational experiences of fellow students. Oltjenbruns was a regular donor to CSU and a member of CSU’s 1870 Club, a giving club in honor of CSU’s founding date of 1870.

“Kevin gave back to the University over four and a half decades, enhancing the CSU experience for all of us,” said Kreutzer. “We started talking in the ‘70s about someday establishing a scholarship. It started small, and we were able to build it over time. We shared the deeply philosophical belief that the University undergraduate experience is important to the developmental process for students, and we believed in the role of other students in contributing to that process. The scholarship embodied Kevin’s core values.”

Students-first leader

Brad and Kevin sitting together
Brad Sheafor, left, with Kevin Oltjenbruns in the formative years of the new college.

Oltjenbruns was tapped for many leadership positions while she was at CSU. She became assistant dean of the College of Human Resource Sciences in 1984. She later became associate dean and helped steer the merging of Human Resource Sciences with the College of Professional Studies in 1986 to form the College of Applied Human Sciences (now Health and Human Sciences.)

Brad Sheafor, professor in the School of Social Work, was “in the trenches” with Oltjenbruns for the founding of the new college and interacted with her for more than 40 years as friends, colleagues, and when they both were associate deans.

“Kevin had a remarkable spirit,” said Sheafor. “She was a problem-solver who didn’t avoid difficult issues, but always displayed respect for persons holding differing views. As a CSU administrator, she kept the interests of students at the forefront of the decision-making process. When Kevin committed herself to a goal in both her personal and professional life, she was tenacious, but displayed thoughtfulness, openness, and kindness when involving others in moving toward those goals.”

Oltjenbruns held multiple interim administrative roles within the college and its units, including interim dean, interim head of the Department of Industrial Sciences (now Construction Management), and interim head of the Department of Design and Merchandising. She was even tapped to come out of retirement in 2011 to serve as the interim director of the School of Education.

Oltjenbruns also served in the role of interim vice provost for undergraduate studies, before accepting the position permanently. It was, in many ways, a culmination of her years-long dedication to student success, as she had the opportunity to support undergraduates across campus. She served from 2002 to 2005 before her retirement.

“As an administrator, Kevin consistently put students first and initiated programs to support their learning and develop their full potential,” said Cook. “Kevin was a true leader in all that she did, and her legacy will continue on our campus and in the lives of all the faculty, students, and staff who knew and loved her.”

Oltjenbruns was the recipient of several awards from CSU for her outstanding service, including the Oliver P. Pennock Distinguished Service Award, the Jack E. Cermak Advising Award, and the Distinguished Service Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2006, she received the Charles A. Lory Public Service Award from the CSU Alumni Association.

Dedication to diversity

Kevin Oltjenbruns, left, with former Dean Nancy Hartley.

One of Oltenbruns’ passions was supporting diversity and inclusiveness at the University. She helped facilitate a diversity-related curriculum infusion professional development program – the Multicultural Curriculum Infusion Project.

“One of the initiatives that Kevin was most proud of was the Multicultural Curriculum Infusion Project,” said Nancy Hartley, former dean of the College. “She cared deeply about building an inclusive community and was concerned that not all faculty really understood the need to integrate multicultural perspectives into their curricula. Her desire to create meaningful and caring relationships while solving problems and finding solutions to complex issues benefited students and faculty. She leaves a legacy rich in friendship, inclusiveness, and innovation. We are fortunate to have worked with her and learned from her.”

Commitment to lifelong learning

Oltjenbruns retired in 2005 after 31 years of service as a faculty member, but she did not stay retired for long. She was immediately asked to become involved with CSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers learning opportunities to adults over 50.

“Kevin was a mentor and very special friend of mine,” said Jean Morgenweck, director of the Institute. “We co-authored the proposal that brought Osher to CSU and then worked together as co-directors planning and building the program. Kevin’s immense network of friends, colleagues, and organizational contacts made ‘spreading the word’ about Osher easy, exciting, and so much fun. Kevin worked tirelessly and with an unstoppable passion for Osher. Without a doubt, she left her mark on Osher and on me. She will be missed!”

‘Class act’

Kevin with furniture piled up from the CSU flood
Kevin Oltjenbruns with the CSU flood damage in the Gibbons Building.

Oltjenbruns was not only known for her amazing dedication to students and to CSU, but she was also a fun-loving person whose positivity was always on display. She loved to wear purple and turquoise, her signature colors. She also had a love of travel, inspired by the nine months she spent living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe after she completed her degree. She and her husband, Ken, traveled often, and they enjoyed spending time at a shared property in the Colorado mountains.

Oltjenbruns’ positivity aided the staff when the Gibbons Building, where the dean’s office was located, became a casualty of the 1997 CSU flood, which devastated many parts of campus. Her training in the area of grief and loss served her well in helping people overcome the disaster, and for the dean’s office recovery.

“Overlaying all of her official-sounding activities was Kevin’s warmth and wonderful sense of humor, as well as her refusal to take herself too seriously,” said Sheafor. “One could always count on at least one good laugh when interacting with her. She was, indeed, a ‘class act.’”

For more information about Kevin Oltjenbruns, her career, and her remarkable CSU legacy, visit her College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project webpage for a video and bio. You can also read Oltjenbruns’ obituary on CSU’s SOURCE news page.

Celebration of life

Oltjenbruns is survived by her husband of more than 40 years, Ken, his parents, several siblings, as well as many nieces and nephews. A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, Dec. 1, at 10:30 a.m., in Colorado State University’s Lory Student Center Ballroom.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to one of the following:

Donations to a CSU program in memory of Kevin can be made to the Oltjenbruns’ Tuition Assistance for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at CSU (59023) or the Human Development and Family Studies Undergraduate Student Scholarship Endowment (18285) at Kevin’s online giving page, or by mailing a check to University Advancement, Colorado State University, 202 Administration Building, Fort Collins, CO 80523-7117.

Pathways Hospice at www.pathways-care.org or mail check to Pathways Memorial Donations, 305 Carpenter Road, Fort Collins, CO 80525.