Dayton-area doctor recognized for philanthropy at Indiana University

Dr. Thomas Olsen and his wife, Mary Boosalis, provided support for biology research.

Dr. Thomas G. Olsen, a dermatologist and dermatopathologist in the Dayton region, recently received the Old Crescent Award from Indiana University’s College of the Arts and Sciences for his philanthropic efforts.

Olsen, and his wife, Mary Boosalis, the former CEO and president of Premier Health, created a new endowed chair in the College: the Olsen Chair in Evolutionary Biology, which provides financial support for fundamental research in biology.

“It’s our hope that this chair might serve as a springboard — an impetus — for others to emulate and go beyond,” said Olsen. “That’s one of the themes of the Old Crescent Award: To give visibility to those who donate and their donations so that others will continue to do the same.”

Olsen graduated from Indiana University in 1968 with his undergraduate degree in zoology before going to medical school. He completed an internal medicine residency at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis before studying at the University of Cincinnati, where he started in dermatology. During his final year at the University of Cincinnati, he received a position at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., where he participated in research regarding retinoids.

“That’s where the drug Accutane came out of some of the research efforts, which has been a blockbuster drug in acne,” Olsen said. Olsen then did his skin pathology fellowship at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology before going into academic medicine.

Olsen’s first job was in New Haven, Conn. at the Yale University School of Medicine, where he said he had the opportunity to work with some of the “most brightest and energetic scientists” who were doing research.

“The problem was they were always beset by grant writings and acceptance of grants to fund themselves,” Olsen said. “I thought, if some day I might be in a position to help basic researchers out, it would be great.”

Olsen left New Haven in 1984 and came to the Dayton area to found the Dermatopathology Laboratory of Central States, a regional and national skin pathology laboratory.

“Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate, and we did some very innovative work in about 2010 trying to establish a digital platform in skin pathology,” Olsen said. That work on the digital platform has been ongoing, but they have also seen success on the practice and lab side. This allowed Olsen and Boosalis to be in a position to give back to education and the scientific community.

In thinking about where to give back, Olsen reflected on his time in the 1980s, when he worked with researchers. Olsen wanted to be able to help fund research in a way where those doing research would not have to be applying and searching for funding continually. This brought him back to his alma mater, Indiana University, where he and Boosalis endowed the Chair of Evolutionary Biology in July 2019. The cost of endowing a chair is typically between $1.5-2 million, he said.

Olsen later found out he was chosen as the recipient of the Old Crescent Award during the 2022 College Alumni Awards at Indiana University. He said he typically shies away from awards, not wanting to draw too much attention to himself, but he hoped this award and his endowment would inspire others to give back and be philanthropic.

The individual has not yet been selected for the Chair of Evolutionary Biology at Indiana University’s College of the Arts and Sciences, but this position will allow them to have funding and free rein on their efforts in the field of evolutionary biology. He hopes the research that comes from this position will lead to a scientific discovery that will then lead to a therapy or treatment of some sort.

“They’re such a creative and energetic and applied group,” Olsen said about medical researchers. “It was one of the thrills of my life to be associated with them, and now to be able to come forward with this chair, we’re hopeful that it will be a great individual.”

Olsen and Boosalis also funded a chair in dermatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in partnership with the Dermatology Foundation, honoring a former mentor to Olsen.

“We’re very interested in giving, and we would encourage others to give,” Olsen said. He said it’s not always about donating money, but individuals can also donate their time, as well. He also recalled how he got similar encouragement to donate and give back when a friend once told him, “If you’re hesitant about giving, don’t hesitate, give. Give more, and more often.”

That advice has continued to stick with Olsen.

“If I hesitate, I just give, and I like the concept of giving more and then more often,” Olsen said.

Boosalis also commended her husband for his philanthropic efforts, saying that she believes this will inspire others to give. They also are particularly connected to education, feeling it is important in addressing the issues that come up in the world.

“We think education is critical,” Boosalis said.

Olsen and Boosalis were hopeful this endowment would support researchers for years to come.

“It really aligns with what Tom has done in his own life,” Boosalis said.

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