As an adult, Kristi Olmanson marched on picket lines with farmworkers, risked arrest in neighborhood demonstrations and tirelessly advocated for women’s rights.
Olmanson, who died May 22 at age 73, pushed buttons as a health clinic and nursing home administrator and women’s shelter volunteer while extending a hand to people in need — going as far as to bring home abused women and children who needed a place to stay.
For those who knew her as a kid growing up in St. Peter, Minn., in the 1950s, Olmanson’s grown-up life as an outspoken activist for social issues was no surprise. The daughter of a well-known town doctor and a mother who was bedridden through much of her daughter’s life, Olmanson always had an independent streak. Childhood friend Carolyn Dry, of Winona, Minn., said Olmanson once protested having to take Latin by sitting backward in her chair in the classroom — for the entire year. She wore pants and loved cowboy gear in a time when girls were expected to be in skirts and was well-liked by classmates, who elected her homecoming queen.
“When we talked about childhood friends, she always remembered the outsiders, and any injustices,” Dry said.
After high school, Olmanson headed to the East Coast to attend Mount Holyoke College and later serve as a social worker in New York City’s East Village. She helped publish “One Hundred Flowers,” a radical newspaper, with a pair of friends — one of whom who later joined the Symbionese Liberation Army and was one of the kidnappers of publishing heiress Patty Hearst.
Olmanson’s own path through activism was more peaceful, influenced by the Quaker community she befriended as a college student and her deep-rooted interests in peace and justice. In 1969, she married Frederick Appell, an activist she’d met on the picket lines of a grape farmworkers’ strike in California and later moved to Minneapolis to attend graduate school.
Appell said Olmanson dug in on social issues in her new city, including protests in the Dinkytown neighborhood over plans to demolish several buildings to build a Red Barn fast-food restaurant. The couple took part in a 40-day long occupation of the businesses slated to be torn down. As crews moved in with demolition equipment, Appell said Olmanson locked herself in her car and laid on the horn to alert others — and was later pulled from her car and arrested.
Olmanson’s daughter, Kirsten Griffith Appell Mair, said her mother passed along her values, allowing her daughter to make signs and hold a sit-in when she was sent to her room.
“I grew up with bumper stickers on my bedroom door that said things like: ‘Women are not chicks,’ ” she said.
Olmanson and Appell divorced a few years after they were married. In the early 1980s, she met Barbara Bell, the woman who would remain her partner until Olmanson’s death.
The couple built a life in Minneapolis as Olmanson built a career caring for others, at State Services for the Blind and later as a health clinic and nursing home administrator. In her later years, as she suffered the effects of dementia, she continued to take comfort in caring for others, visiting with friends, family, and hauling bags of corn to a nearby park to ensure the birds were fed.
In addition to her daughter, Olmanson is survived by her longtime partner, Barbara Bell; siblings Joanne Pedersen, Vern Olmanson and Don Olmanson; and two grandsons.
Services will be held on June 25, which would have been Olmanson’s 74th birthday.