Carnegie Mellon University

John Olmsted and friends

January 08, 2019

January Volunteer - John Olmsted

By Susan Zelenak

Take advantage of other people’s mistakes…play bridge.

At the age of 10, John Olmsted learned to play bridge; it’s been a life-long passion. He has played duplicate bridge, but prefers the social atmosphere of a friendly party game. John, who has been a member of Osher for six years, president for two years, has taught several levels of bridge. He has also taught “Chemistry for Non-Chemists” and “Regreening Pittsburgh,” which are natural as he taught college-level chemistry in Southern California for 30 years and is an ardent environmentalist.

In addition to teaching at Osher, he has taken several courses including Bridges of Pennsylvania, ACLU in The Age of Trump, and Early Planning Choices for Pittsburgh. “One of the advantages of retirement is having the time to actively participate in Osher.”

Born and raised in Petaluma, California, he graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1959 with a B.S. in Chemistry. Reflecting on the changes at CMU, John commented that “Much of the campus is the same. But when I was an undergraduate, I was one of the few students from California. This year, more entering students come from California than any other state.”

He returned to Pittsburgh 11 years ago to spend time with his grandkids. He plays pinochle with his grandson and granddaughter. He lives in Point Breeze with his wife of 57 years, Eileen. The secret to a long, successful marriage: “be flexible.” When asked if Eileen also plays bridge, he replied in the affirmative. “The key here is to be competitive, but not to the point of divorce.”

An ardent environmental advocate, John has been a volunteer for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy at Mellon Park. He and his wife also support the Pittsburgh Botanical Gardens and Phipps Conservatory. “When we first got here, I was involved with tending the garden at the corner of Washington and Allegheny River Boulevards. The biggest challenge was not getting killed!”

They maintain a garden at home. “We started with some herbs, parsley and basil.” In the winter, they bring those to a window inside. As far as vegetables, “we look for tomatoes that will fruit early.”

A couple years ago, they had solar panels installed at their home. The process took a couple of days. It has had a positive effect on their electric bill. “Last summer, we actually made money as the surplus is pumped into the main grid. However, we realize it will take about ten years to amortize but we felt it was the right thing to do.”