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HIGH PROFILE: Michelle Karin Oglesby the first Black president of Sherwood’s Rotary Club

Michelle Oglesby is a pet lover, adoption advocate and the first Black president of Sherwood’s Rotary Club by Renarda Williams | June 27, 2021 at 2:12 a.m.
“Since I’ve come out with my story, my gosh, [I’ve found that] there’s so many women that have had abortions. … I did the March for Life, and so many came and said, ‘Thank you for sharing that. I’ve never told anybody that I had an abortion.’ I say, ‘Well, it’s freeing … because one thing you know is, God has forgiven you. What man says, I don’t care.’” - Michelle Oglesby (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

Michelle Oglesby doesn't believe in playing the victim, giving up when hearing the words "no" or "it's not possible" or even letting a global pandemic stand in the way of setting, and meeting, her goals.

At the beginning of summer 2020, the founder of An Angel's Choice Adoption Agency Inc. became the first Black president of the Rotary Club of Sherwood ... and while some Rotary clubs shut down their operations because of covid-19, she increased her club's membership substantially and increased its service-project output.

Not bad for someone who became involved in Rotary only four short years ago when she and her husband were invited to attend an informational meeting.

"It has been a blessing, even though it was a pandemic," says Oglesby, 61. "I had [club members] think outside the box on a lot of things; we accomplished a lot of things."

Instead of losing people, as she at first feared she would, Oglesby welcomed 21 new members. She even started a new Rotarian pet lover's satellite club. Meanwhile, the Rotary Club of Sherwood won seven district Rotary awards for the first time including Club of the Year. Oglesby received two personal awards: President of the Year and the Rotary Opens Opportunities award for starting the pet lover's club. That club made its public debut with an early-June pet parade that included about 24 dogs, including Oglesby's 7-year-old rat terrier, Electra -- "She had her little dress on."

The club members usually do a fundraiser at Outback Steakhouse, serving customers at the restaurant and keeping a portion of ticket sales to raise scholarship money for Sherwood high-school seniors. This year they switched to a takeout format and brought their proceeds to an all-time high. They also made more money than ever before with their 5K, another Rotary fundraiser that went all-virtual. They increased their collection of gift cards for the needy.

Then they sent about $350 to Rotary International to provide wheelchairs in India to those in need. They took books to the schools. They did Healthy Smiles, introducing in the schools a video about dental care by a local dentist, delivering dental-care packets to students and reaching more schools than in the past.

"So, this was a very, very good year," Oglesby says. "We will adapt a lot of those things that we did during the pandemic for the future, because it worked."

Oglesby hands over the gavel on Wednesday but won't have time to rest on her laurels. She is preparing to assume the role of assistant governor in her district, a role she takes on Thursday. She will be a liaison to the district governor to help the five clubs of which she's in charge.

'EXUDES CONFIDENCE'

Oglesby "exudes confidence and is very driven," says Beverly Williams, Sherwood City Council member and fellow Rotarian. "As president of a Rotary club, you take your passion and lead your team of fellow Rotarians on projects of service. Well, one or two projects was not enough. Everywhere Michelle looked, she found another service idea that she thought we must do. She was not afraid of wearing us out."

Veronica Neal, Oglesby's friend of about a decade, finds herself impressed with "Michelle's ability to break down barriers as an African-American woman and do it with such boldness and confidence. I love that she always takes the initiative and achieves things that some only dream of and do with such grace."

A major reason Oglesby had all the time and energy she did for her club: An Angel's Choice was put on hold. Covid-19 halted adoptions, just as it halted nearly everything else. The last baby whose adoption she arranged was born in September 2020.

"I have to think that God put a pause on the adoption [agency] for me to focus on Rotary," she says. "I spent a lot of time, a lot of hours, learning, researching, encouraging to get our criteria done because it was more of a challenge."

PAYING LIFE FORWARD

An Angel's Choice -- which offers private adoptions, including semi-open, closed and open adoptions -- has its origin in Oglesby's personal story.

She and her twin brother spent their first 13 months of life in St. Vincent's Hospital and Infant Asylum, known to Chicagoans as St. Vincent's Orphanage. They were adopted by a couple who raised them on Chicago's South Side. "Although it was indeed a good home, we lived in a very strict home, where children [were] to be seen and not heard," she recalls. "There wasn't a lot of conversation about life -- things that I believe should have been revealed."

Oglesby was 12 when she found out she'd been adopted. She and another child were on the playground seesaw, and another girl wanted to get on. "I said, 'Well, it's not your turn yet,' or something." The other girl became angry and lashed out: "'That's why nobody likes you, because you was adopted.'

"And I remember running home, and [saying], 'Mom! Mom! Somebody said I was adopted,'" Oglesby says.

Her parents sat her and her brother down and told them the truth, that their birth mom was unable to take care of them ... "but you know you're ours; we love you," they emphasized.

At age 17, Oglesby found herself pregnant by a young man who was in the military and didn't want the pregnancy to endanger his career.

"He said 'get an abortion,' and it was more like ... threatening." She felt she couldn't go to her parents, who had not discussed the birds and the bees with her. So she had the abortion and kept silent about it for years. "It's that shame factor ... You've already [done] something against the Ten Commandments," and Oglesby didn't want to be judged.

The now anti-abortion Oglesby speaks openly about her experience, certain that God has forgiven her for what she did in her past.

"Since I've come out with my story, my gosh, [I've found that] there's so many women that have had abortions. ... I did the March for Life, and so many came and said, 'Thank you for sharing that. I've never told anybody that I had an abortion.' I say, 'Well, it's freeing ... because one thing you know is, God has forgiven you. What man says, I don't care.'"

Oglesby graduated in 1977 from the former Unity High School in Chicago. She had aspirations to be an obstetrician- gynecologist, "because I love babies," she says. She attended college for one year but wasn't feeling it, so she moved to Memphis to pursue a modeling career instead. She did runway as well as print modeling but eventually decided not to take that career any further due to industry demands. It was also in Memphis, meanwhile, that she her met and married her former husband and father of her son.

Ultimately, Oglesby decided to switch gears and go to business management school and, as a backup, cosmetology school. She didn't finish her business management degree. "Life happens -- you get married, you have a child. And I just went to work." She limited her cosmetology work to pedicures.

ONWARD TO ARKANSAS

Oglesby also taught modeling in Memphis as well as Mobile, Ala., and in Arkansas. That's not what brought her to the Natural State, however -- AutoZone, the car-parts retailer, did. She'd become a regional loss prevention manager for the company, and was tapped to oversee 62 stores in Arkansas. Oglesby moved to Malvern in 1999.

"[When] we were driving to Malvern, we passed by Sherwood. I said, 'Oh, Sherwood -- that sounds like a nice town.'" Oglesby told herself that she was going to live there one day.

Sure enough, in 2000, she made Sherwood her home.

Meanwhile, she'd gotten to know her now-husband, Mason Oglesby, in 1999; he, too, was working for AutoZone. Both had marriages that were troubled; both went through divorces in 2000. Mason Oglesby was also in the military, serving nearly 30 years in the Army as a sergeant and drill instructor. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he was sent to help train soldiers who were about to be deployed. He spent a year at Fort Sill, Okla., doing so, and the couple married there. (They will celebrate their 20-year anniversary in December.)

When AutoZone downsized, Oglesby went to work for Home Depot. Later, her widowed adoptive father became ill in Mobile, where he lived at the time. She brought him to Arkansas to care for him. Leaving Home Depot to lighten her load a bit, she went on to spend three years working for a family medical center.

Then came an opportunity to work with another adoption agency, which she did until it closed in 2013. A friend in North Carolina, who also works with people wishing to adopt, encouraged Oglesby to open up her own adoption agency.

Oglesby and her husband "prayed about [An Angel's Choice] in May of 2013," and began the process, she remembers, adding that they raised money for the agency by cooking chicken dinners. They received their license in August and handled their first adoption case in September of that year. To date, An Angel's Choice has placed 49 babies in 47 homes. "That's not a lot, but ... I want to be hands-on," Oglesby says. "I want quality, not quantity. I go to every birth," even providing limited assistance in a couple of cases.

PROVIDING SHELTER

The adoption agency wasn't Oglesby's only vision. So many of the young women she worked with were homeless. She wanted to provide a place where they could come and live while going through the adoption process. In 2018, the Oglesbys came up with Angel's Choice Haven. They rented a house and began temporarily housing expectant mothers, starting with a woman and her two children.

Maintaining the home proved difficult. "We moved four different times because of different situations. And we just moved again this past April." The Oglesbys are now looking to get a duplex to house more than one mother at a time. And Oglesby plans to teach life skills to future Haven residents.

Jason Bogardus, pastor of Cornerstone Bible Fellowship and Oglesby's pastor, remembers that one of his first conversations with Oglesby "concerned her desire to start a place to help young, pregnant girls get established.

"Her faith drives her to action," he says. "Getting Angel's Choice Haven ... off the ground was a very difficult task. Despite numerous setbacks, she continued to pursue her goal of providing this safe space."

Neal has witnessed firsthand Oglesby's care for a pregnant, homeless woman.

"She provided food, clothes and shelter for her to get her where she needed to be. Daily she checked on this young woman and ultimately gave her another option for her soon-to-be-born child to be placed in a loving home."

Also on Oglesby's to-do list: carrying on with An Angel's Choice and its mission not just to shepherd adoptions but to educate people about adoption.

"When I speak about adoption, the first thing that people [think about] is foster care or DHS," the state Department of Human Services. "That's the misconception," Oglesby says. "There's private adoption, which is totally different from foster-care adoption."

Needless to say, Oglesby has, on more than one occasion, talked an expectant mother out of having an abortion when called in by a pregnancy counselor to explain the adoption option.

"I tell them my story. I tell them the difference between the adoptions and then a lot of times they'll go for it."

HOME LIFE

At home, Oglesby enjoys rock painting -- a visit to her home and a view of the front and backyards makes this evident -- and canvas painting. She's hosted paint-and-sip parties and, with pandemic conditions improving, hopes to start those back up.

Empty nesters with five grown children between them, Oglesby and her husband serve on the praise team at Cornerstone Church. They're big cruisers and plan to resume that soon.

And she's getting the agency back up and running, doing some speaking, doing several radio spots that are running right now, making herself visible on social media and seeking (and getting) donations for the Haven duplex.

"I just feel something big is going to happen," Oglesby says. "And I think maybe [God] was waiting for me to get this Rotary [duty fulfilled]" -- wanting to see how well she could occupy her time while not getting paid.

"It's a reason that it's happened. God knows what it is and [I] just have to keep in prayer. And he'll send me the person or persons that really need that help."

SELF PORTRAIT

Michelle Oglesby

• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Oct. 3, 1959, Chicago

• THE ONE THING I WISH EVERYONE UNDERSTOOD ABOUT ADOPTION: There is a difference between foster care adoption and private adoption. Private adoption is a mother's choice.

• MY ELEVATOR PITCH TO SOMEONE I WANT TO INVITE TO JOIN ROTARY: Rotary is a humanitarian club that believes in serving others before self.

• BEST ADVICE I WAS EVER GIVEN: Work smarter, not harder.

• THE (HUMAN) BIBLICAL CHARACTER THAT MOST INSPIRES ME: James.

• THE VACATION DESTINATION STILL ON MY BUCKET LIST: Hawaii.

• HABITS THAT HAVE CARRIED OVER FROM MY MODELING YEARS: Sitting up straight. Keeping my feet looking good and smelling fresh.

• FANTASY DINNER GUESTS: My biological mom and dad.

• THE FUNNIEST THING ABOUT MY FUR BABY, ELECTRA: She thinks she is a big dog that can scare people.

• ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Blessed

“Her faith drives her to action. Getting Angel’s Choice Haven … off the ground was a very difficult task. Despite numerous setbacks, she continued to pursue her goal of providing this safe space.” — Jason Bogardus, pastor of Cornerstone Bible Fellowship about Michelle Oglesby
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)
“Her faith drives her to action. Getting Angel’s Choice Haven … off the ground was a very difficult task. Despite numerous setbacks, she continued to pursue her goal of providing this safe space.” — Jason Bogardus, pastor of Cornerstone Bible Fellowship about Michelle Oglesby (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

Print Headline: Michelle Karin Oglesby

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