By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Olson leaves legacy of Hands & Words

##Gretchen Olson
##Gretchen Olson

She leaves behind a legacy of people who know and take to heart the Hands & Words anti-violence pledge, “I will not use my hands or my words for hurting myself or others.”

Ann Kelly of Salem started the international program in 1997. Olson quickly embraced the idea and began spreading the Hands & Words pledge to schools, the Yamhill County Jail and many other organizations and groups.

Olson served as co-chair on the board of directors for the nonprofit education organization for 21 years.

“Gretchen has given generously from her heart, never seeking personal praise,” Kelly said, recalling her friend’s support of the Hands & Words project. “No one is more deserving than Gretchen to receive special recognition and appreciation for her compassionate leadership and service working for human rights and human dignity.”

A member of Soroptimist International of McMinnville, Olson encouraged her fellow Soroptimist members to promote the program, as well. The organization helped her bring Hands & Words to local nonprofits and state agencies, particularly those that work with children and parents.

Olson, mother of two daughters, was a former TWA flight attendant who flew on the 747. She earned a degree in journalism from Oregon State University and wrote for many publications in addition to penning two young adult novels.

She also worked with her husband, Phil Olson, on their farm near Amity. She was active with the Bluebird and Campfire organizations, as well as tirelessly promoting Hands & Words are Not for Hurting.

Because of her efforts, students in schools in McMinnville and other cities made the pledge part of their daily routine. They traced their own hands and colored them purple, like the program’s symbol, a purple hand with a red heart on the palm.

Some local teachers still use the Hands & Words pledge in their classrooms, said Hermie Kann, co-president of the Soroptimist service organization. But many teachers have not made it a daily pledge, largely because they have started since the pandemic, when Hands & Words and other programs fell out of use because of remote learning.

This fall, Kann said, her organization is restarting the Hands & Words program locally. Soroptimists have been visiting school boards and city councils to promote the pledge. They hung a banner downtown proclaiming “Hands & Words are Not for Hurting” week in October.

“If there was ever a time we need this, it’s now,” Kann said. “The awful rhetoric that’s being thrown around has to go. We need to get the little ones to understand the pledge.”

Kann said she also is interested in promoting a related pledge that the Hands & Words project wrote specifically for new parents. It adds the words, “I promise to raise my child in a safe home.”

Soroptimists plan to attend a training on the Hands & Words project on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Kelly, the founder, will come to McMinnville for the session.

“I’m so grateful Soroptimists are continuing Gretchen’s work,” she said.

Kann said she, too, is sure Olson would be pleased that Soroptimist is taking up the mantle of Hands & Words. And members of the organization, many of whom knew Olson, are excited about promoting a worthwhile cause, she said.

As for herself, Kann said she met Olson only once, this fall when she picked up a costume that’s also symbolic of the Hands & Words program: A purple bear with a red heart on its chest.

The suit was in immaculate condition, just like the records Olson had kept about the program over the years, Kann said.

Kann said she thinks of Olson when she wears the costume at events and presentations.

“Children love it, and so do adults,” she said. At a recent Chamber Greeters’ program, for instance, “everyone wanted their picture taken with Purple Hands Bear.”


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