Oldfather honored for ‘lifetime of giving’

Hortense “Tensie” Oldfather said she could once walk down the street and identify most of the people she passed by blood type. She spent more than 25 years assisting the American Red Cross with blood drives and donated 88 pints of her own blood.

After decades of giving herself to the Lawrence community, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce bestowed one of its highest honors to Oldfather Friday — the Citizen of the Years Award.

“It takes a lifetime of giving,” said Jessie Branson, a longtime friend of Oldfather’s and recipient of the same award in 1997. “It means giving time and all the resources you can. Citizen of the Years takes years of working for the community.”

Branson said Oldfather met and exceeded those expectations. She said Oldfather had insight into how to best serve individuals and the community at large.

Tensie Oldfather has been named the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Years Award winner. She spent more than 25 years assisting the American Red Cross with blood drives.

For more than 20 years, Oldfather and her family helped with the Volunteers in Court program, providing a temporary home for five or six teenagers in the juvenile justice system each year.

She also volunteered with Head Start programs. She and her husband, Charley, were co-founders of the Children’s Hour, an early day-care center. Oldfather also served on the board of directors for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and helped organize Break Through, which offered weekly meetings for people recently dismissed from state hospitals to help them adjust to their new community and make friends.

She kept a family tradition of ensuring women’s rights by serving in several offices, including president, of the League of Women Voters of Douglas County. Oldfather’s grandmother had been a suffragist and in 1920 was an elector in the first presidential race in which women could vote.

Promotion of the arts was also important to Oldfather and her husband, who was active in music and theater. Their contributions to Lawrence arts include preservation and restoration of Liberty Hall; establishment of Oldfather Studios, the Kansas University film-making center; a scholarship program for music students at the KU School of Fine Arts; help in establishing the Haskell Museum and Cultural Center at Haskell Indian Nations University; and funding for the new Kansas Public Radio building on the KU campus.

Oldfather said she enjoyed helping the community in these ways, and others too numerous to name.

“One of the nice things about doing things like that is how many people you meet that you’d never meet otherwise,” she said. “I like that feeling. It makes you part of a community, not an outsider looking in. It gives you a sense of home.”