Teresa Oelke: Making an Impact

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 12:00 am  

Teresa Oelke (Photo by Ryan Miller)

Naturally, Oelke is a magnet for more than praise and like-minded volunteers. The Kansas native receives her share of criticism, a byproduct of being the very public face of an organization.

Oelke, who moved to Arkansas in 1998, has been a frequent target of letters to the editor, columns and opinion pieces in local publications. One writer dubbed Oelke as “hypocrite of the day” because the federal stimulus programs she’s fought helped fund a project for Crossland Construction, the business founded by her family.

While she doesn’t enjoy the backlash, Oelke said she has learned to deal with it. Not responding to negativity with negativity is critical because she and her husband, Tim, have three teenage sons at home.

“It is not my favorite part of the job, but, I mean, it’s part of the job,” she said. “I think it initially did [hurt]. I hate to say, but you just kind of grow used to it.”

Thick skin is something Oelke developed as the ninth of 10 children in a competitive and work-oriented family.

By watching her father, who grew up in a welfare household, build Crossland Construction, Oelke said she learned many of the philosophies that drive her today. She tells a story from childhood of two of her brothers coming home after failing to complete a job. They cited cold weather as a deterrent, prompting Ivan Crossland to tell them, “Freeze to death or starve to death. It’s your choice.”

Her brothers figured out how to finish the job, and Oelke absorbed a lesson that has helped her grow AFP-Arkansas.

“The idea that you don’t accept defeat and figure out how to get the job done are absolutely fundamental to who I am and how we were brought up,” Oelke said. “That attitude is helpful when you have some impossible battles to fight.”

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