Published Sunday, Aug. 27, 2000
Olive Brown: People are special to me
Happy childhood, death of her son defined her lifeBy Sherris Moreira-Byers
Herald Staff Writer
When Buhl Day 2000 Honoree Olive M. Ward Brown, or "Ollie," as she's known to her friends, family and co-workers, looks back at her life, two defining moments stand out.
The first is the warmth of her childhood playing with other children in the North Flats of Sharon and the second occurred as an adult -- the devastating death of one of her sons.
And from those moments came lessons that have served her well as she serves others in a myriad of ways.
"When I was growing up in the flats, which is around where Penn State Shenango Campus is today, we were all a family," said Ms. Brown. "We were a melting pot of people: Italians, Jewish folk, some African-American families, and others."
According to Ms. Brown, because everyone watched everyone else's kids, visited with each other and shared food from their tables and gardens, she didn't see a difference in skin color.
"People loved people. Everybody was close. I never knew racism growing up there," said Ms. Brown, who is credited with being primarily responsible for the North Flats reunion, which attracted more than 1,000 people.
Ms. Brown became aware of racism as she got older, because, she said, unfortunately there were several places she could not go to because she is African-American.
"There were some restaurants and businesses that we couldn't go to, but as people got more enlightened, that changed," she said.
But not until after some personal crises in her adult life, including her son's death in 1976, did she throw herself into her faith.
"When my son died, I was told by a friend to stretch out on the Lord," said Ms. Brown. "I had such a low self-esteem because I had been hurt so bad in my personal life as well."
After that traumatic period, she not only clung to her faith, but she also began to work with the Bereavement Support and Hospice Program.
"By helping others, I began to work through my own pain, got more involved with the community," Ms. Brown said. "There was always some way to reach out to people."
Ms. Brown's positive effect on Shenango Valley residents is outweighed only by her involvement in the community.
A member of six boards, including the Prince of Peace Center in Farrell and the American Heart Association, she founded Wheels to Work, which provides cars for the financially strapped. She also is involved with ERASE, an anti-drug coalition and Wheels for Kids, which provides bicycles for children.
"From the trials and tribulations I've gone through ... I learned you can't even begin to love people unitl you begin to love yourself and begin to grow through all your hurts," she said.
"My pastor always said that as long as you do what's right, things will come out right."
And that is what she is determined to do and keep doing.
"I don't look at color, because people are just people," said Ms. Brown. "People are just special to me."
And obviously, she is special to many people.
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