Richard Olsen, leader of Beard family businesses, dies at 85

Richard Olsen, who once led the Beard family's group of Modesto-area industrial companies for about 20 years, died Thursday. He was 85.

His daughter, Christine Ridenour, said her father was at his home surrounded by his family when he died, just a few days short of his 86th birthday.

At one point, Mr. Olsen was president of Beard Land Improvement Co., Modesto & Empire Traction Co. and Del Este Water Co., leaving an indelible mark on Modesto's business community, his daughter said.

The Beard family controls the 2,000-acre Beard Industrial District and owns the short-line railroad and several property and investment firms.

The industrial district is home to more than 100 businesses, including E.&J. Gallo Winery, Del Monte, Frito-Lay, Stanislaus Food Products, Sciabica olive oil, Nestlé Food and Central Valley Agricultural Grinding.

"He was instrumental in bringing a lot of companies to Modesto," Ridenour said. "A lot of the expansion took place under my father's leadership."

The companies were owned by the Beard family, Stanislaus County pioneers who established their Waterford homestead in the 1850s.

Mr. Olsen grew up in Southern California. He was attending Long Beach Junior College when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. He served from 1942 to 1946.

He moved to Stanislaus County after marrying Miriam Beard. They were married 64 years.

Mr. Olsen served in the Beard family organization since 1946, when he started on a construction crew digging ditches for the Del Este Water Co.

The water company continued to operate until 1995, serving homes in Modesto's airport and La Loma neighborhoods. The residential areas were developed by the Beard family.

Mr. Olsen, his wife and their four children lived on an almond ranch in Waterford. He worked as an almond farmer and served as chairman of the Waterford Elementary School District Board of Education.

In 1969, Mr. Olsen was elected president of the Greater Modesto Chamber of Commerce. In 1975, he was elected president of the Memorial Hospital Foundation of Stanislaus County.

"Just about every organization my father joined, he became the president," Ridenour said.

Mr. Olsen retired in 1987, but he remained on the Beard organization's board of directors until January 2002.

He is survived by his wife and their children, Ruth Ann Olsen, Christine Ridenour, Eric Olsen and John Olsen.

Remembrances can be made to The Salvation Army in Modesto. The family has scheduled a celebration of life ceremony for Mr. Olsen at 1 p.m. Friday at Vintage Gardens at 4342 Dale Road in Modesto.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.