Bio: Olson Family - Portrait of Remembrance (2016)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Olson, Kitchen, Schmitz, Yawor, Kahr, Larson, Lucht, Hadler

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 8/31/2016

Portrait of Remembrance (Olson Family - 2016)

By Dean Lesar, TRG

Jim Kitchen understands what it’s like for a Gold Star family’s loss of a son or daughter to go unnoticed. When he learned a while ago while passing through Loyal that two families had made such a sacrifice, he took it upon himself to make sure they would be remembered.

Kitchen and fellow members of American Legion Post 65 of Rome, in Adams County, finished their task of remembrance recently by presenting a portrait of the late Todd Olson to his family. The portrait, painted by a World War II veteran from Pennsylvania, was similar to one presented earlier this year to the family of Joshua Schmitz, Loyal’s other recent killed-in-action serviceman.

Post 65’s commander, Kitchen is a truck driver who makes deliveries to Grassland Dairy Products west of Loyal. While stopping at Loyal Kwik Trip on his way through town, he saw signs honoring Olson, killed in Iraq Dec. 26, 2004, and Schmitz, who died two years later, also in Iraq. With a personal experience of trying to get recognition for a soldier from his own town, which was also lost in recent Middle East conflicts, he set out to make sure the Olson and Schmitz families would not be forgotten.

The recognition came in the form of personalized portraits painted by 93-year-old Alexander Yawor of Hopewell, PA, a former Marine who served on Iwo Jima and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater of World War II. After he returned home, Yawor took up painting, and in the late 2000s was inspired to create portraits of young men and women who were dying overseas.

From photos provided to him, he paints the portraits and gives them to families across the country. Olson’s was the 110th one he has done to date and the sixth secured by Post 65.

Yawor’s connection to Post 65 is Paul Kahr, a Post member who once lived in Pennsylvania. He met Yawor in a wood carver’s club, he said in Loyal recently, and struck up a friendship. After moving to Wisconsin, he later learned of Yawor’s efforts to commemorate the sacrifices of Gold Star families and contacted him to see if he would do some from Wisconsin.

Kitchen is familiar with drawing recognition to the fallen young men and women of the Persian Gulf conflicts. One of them was a friend of his son’s, and Kitchen said he tried to get his Legion Post to do something special for the lost soldier.

When it wouldn’t, Kitchen started his own Post. It is named after Ryan Larson, his son’s friend. Yawor has painted his portrait, too.

Kitchen said his experience revealed to him that not enough is being done to appreciate the sacrifices of those who are lost and their families.

“It seems to me that the only people that remember after the fact are the families, and that’s not right,” Kitchen said. “There are other people and Legionnaires that think like I do. This (portrait) is our way to repay the respect and honor that is due to you and anybody that is in this position anywhere in the United States of America. This is our way of saying ‘Thank you’ to all.”

Kitchen said, “It really hit me hard” to see that families are so quickly forgotten after their loved one is laid to rest. When he saw the signs at Kwik Trip for Olson and Schmitz, he started asking questions. That led him to contact Loyal Legion Post 187 member Dave Lucht, who sent him up the street to talk to Loyal Post Commander Bruce Hadler.

It was Hadler’s task to secure photos for Yawor to use to paint the portraits. He admits he had to tell a few white lies and say the photos were for the Legion Hall wall, as Kitchen and Kahr prefer to keep the presentations a surprise.

The Olson family - including Todd’s parents, Donald and Shirley Olson, and his widow, Nancy - received theirs Aug. 9 at the Loyal Legion. Mark and Kelly Schmitz and their family accepted their portrait a few months ago.

Hadler said the Post hopes not to need any more such portraits.

“This is the second one of these that we’ve had. That’s two too many,” he said.

(Photo of presentation of Todd Olson portrait)

Jim Kitchen, commander of American Legion Post 65 in Rome, WI, and Nancy Olson, Widow of Todd Olson, hold a personalized portrait of Todd Olson as his parents, Donald and Shirley Olson look on. The portrait, painted by Alexander Yawor of Hopewell, PA, was presented to the family during a special program Aug. 9 at Loyal Legion Post 187. (Dean Lesar/TRG)



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