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FCNL Leadership: Olive Wilson (Guest Post)

April 20, 2010

by Deborah Fink, a member of FCNL’s General Committee

Olive Wilson was Clerk of the FCNL General Committee, but I knew her better as an Iowa pacifist and an inspiration for many in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).  I lived in her Paullina community in 1982, and Olive, along with Mary and Horace Autenrieth, have been pillars for me since then.

In a politically conservative rural community, Olive was a brave dissenter.  I remember her standing straight and speaking out loudly at a Farm Bureau meeting, asking that body to endorse the Nuclear Freeze.  It didn’t, but Olive didn’t hold that against them.  She expected and accepted criticism, refusing to be cowed.  She counseled me to develop “broad shoulders” – meaning that I should be willing to take criticism and accept that not everyone will like me.  She, Mary and Horace would stand by me, and that was critical.  They taught me to use my voice.

The year I was in Paullina, Olive put me onto listening to the weekly FCNL Action message on the phone and writing to Congress about FCNL concerns.  She took me to my first constituent meeting with Senator Charles Grassley, and I have kept tabs on him ever since.

For years after I left that community, Olive mailed me “well done” notes whenever something I wrote or did made its way into the Iowa media.

I once called the Israeli Embassy from my home in Ames, only to be asked if I knew Olive Wilson.  What could I say?  Were there only two of us in the United States responding to that AFSC or FCNL plea?

Olive was born a pacifist, the daughter of a WWI conscientious objector, but her movement toward such social issues as feminism, choice, ethnic food, and acceptance of sexual diversity was gradual and principled.  She was not afraid to learn and bend.

Olive was painstakingly faithful.  The last time I saw her was when my husband A.M. and I stopped by on a trip to see relatives in South Dakota.  (Paullina is not on the way to anywhere but South Dakota.)  Olive’s house was easy to spot by the “War Is Not the Answer” sign in the yard.  We arrived a bit early and Olive was not there, but after a few minutes she rode up on her big tricycle, having been downtown to get her mail and do errands.  She was saving the planet and perhaps serving as inspiration to other rural grandmas who might someday do the same.  When we went inside, I saw a stack of FCNL cards laid out on her kitchen table, where she had been writing thank you notes to donors.

I think of Olive when I take on the job of writing FCNL thank you notes.  I think of Olive when I am tempted to be nice rather than brave.  I think of Olive when I’m afraid I’m too much of a nerd to go to Washington.  I think of Olive when I give to FCNL.

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