MIAMI— Activist Fern L. Holland of Bluejacket touched hundreds of people's hearts and minds in her 33 years of life before it was cut short after being assassinated in Iraq.
Fern L. Holland Memorial Week will be celebrated on Aug. 15-20 to pay tribute to the local hero.
“August was Fern’s birthday, so we try to have the week in August to help celebrate her life,” said Kelsey Prather, Community Crisis Center (CCC) assistant director. “Her sister Vi Holland said, ‘Fern would not want to be remembered because of her death, or the way she died. She would want to be remembered because of her life and the way she lived.’
“It was partially Vi’s idea, too, to have it in August.”
Holland was killed while working for the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to promote human rights and include women's rights into the new Iraqi constitution.
She was sent to Iraq during the 2003 conflict to help establish women’s rights and the first women clinics. With Holland’s dedication, she helped form the Iraqi constitution.
“People on the other side of the world know about Miami, Oklahoma, because of Fern,” said Deedee Cox, Crisis Center executive director. “People care about Miami because of her and because she changed their lives.”
Her main mission there was to open a women’s clinic in every province of Iraq. The Saddam Hussein regime opposed her work and sent a group of insurgents posing as Iraqi police after her.
On March 9, 2004, Holland, American press officer Robert J. Zangas and their Iraqi translator Salwa Ourmashi were traveling from a women’s clinic when they were shot and killed by the rebels.
According to reports, she and Zangas were the first American civilians working for the CPA to be killed in Iraq.
In honor of her memory and with permission from the family, the Crisis Center — located at 118 A Street SE in Miami — named its location The Fern L. Holland Advocacy Center in 2012.
The advocacy center and crisis center are a non-profit organization that continues Holland's life work to empower women and end violence.
“We were absolutely delighted to name the center after her,” Cox said. “I had quite the privilege to visit her sister's house and see all of the memorabilia that she has. Vi created these poster boards of Fern's writing and life work. It really was a window into Fern's life and the kind of person that she was. It was incredible.”
The week-long activities kick off Monday with “Fly Flags for Fern” Day.
American flags will be posted along Main Street. American Legion Post 147 will coordinate the project.
“We’re also asking any residents and businesses, if they have an American flag, to hang it up in her honor,” Prather said.
A luncheon, featuring a guest speaker, will be Tuesday at First Christian Church of Miami. The buffet, prepared by Sodexo, will open at 11:30 a.m. with the program beginning at 12:15 p.m.
Cost is $10 per person.
“It’s going to be a memorial luncheon, so we’ll have lots of literature, posters and things to commemorate her memory,” Prather said. “There will be someone speaking who knew her and about her life and legacy.”
A poster display will be set up in the lobby of Miami High School on Thursday and Friday.
Poster boards telling Fern’s life story, milestones and accomplishments will be available for student and public view.
Holland was salutatorian of the MHS Class of 1986.
“We’re hoping that if we display them in the high school, the students will see them and not only learn local history, but be inspired that she came from here and really made a difference in the world,” Prather said.
The week wrap up with the annual “Fearless Fern 5k Run/Walk” Saturday morning. Runner registration and check-in will be from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. The race will begin at 7:30 a.m. with water available for participants mid-race and at the finish line.
Entry fee for runners will be $20 if received by Friday. The day of the race, the entry fee will be $25.
There is no entry fee for children ages 12 and under.
Top finishers will receive medals and all runners will receive a t-shirt, dog tag and a goodie bag.
Fairland Elementary principal Angela Wade had known Fern since she was 10-years-old and they grew up to be close friends.
Wade said her and Fern kept in contact up until she was killed in Iraq.
“She was even emailing me the entire time she was over in Iraq,” Wade said. “She was very easy to get along with, quiet and listened. She would listen more than the average person. I was always the talkative one and she listened. She was one of those rare people who had it all — she had the looks, personality and everything going for her.”
Wade said she attends the Fern Run every year and believes it is very fitting since she loved to run.
“Fern really deserved the annual run,” Wade said. “She was always running. I remember calling her when she was running down at the Washington Mall in Washington when she was there. She would email me that she just got back from a run in Africa. She was very involved and very athletic. I think the 5k is very fitting. It’s something she enjoyed her whole life.
“The run is called ‘Fearless Fern’ because she really was fearless in everything that she did,” Wade added. “She was super intelligent and kind to the ‘nth’ degree. She would give you the shirt off her back if someone needed it. She did everything 110 percent, like if you were in a project with her or a sporting competition. You knew she was going to give it her all and she was very focused.”
When she thinks of Fern, Wade said she always remembers their deep conversations.
“She was on a different playing field than everyone else,” Wade said. “It was more about deep thought with her. She would constantly contemplate the world and language. She was very inquisitive and we spent a lot of time driving around and talking about things why they are the way they are. We didn’t have your typical high school conversations.”
Wade said the best word to describe Fern was passionate.
“Everything she did, she was very passionate about it, especially women’s rights,” Wade said.
For luncheon tickets, race information or questions, visit www.getmeout.org or call the CCC at 918-540-2275.
Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.