The Generous Heart Award is just the latest community recognition the publisher has received in the past two months. She has been honored by the Past Potentates Council of Mecca's Temple No. 10; by the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education (SHIRE); and by the D.C. Laymen of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC).
Ms. Rolark Barnes said she was deeply honored by all of the awards, but added that Olender's recognition struck a chord because of its connection to her father.
"Attorney Olender was an institution himself in Washington. I think he is very careful about the individuals he selects for these awards," she said. "He doesn't just come up with folks who are popular. It's people who are popular, but also everyday people. It's just very special to be considered, to be thought about, and to be among the caliber of people he has honored over the years."
"He is a man who has made significant contributions not only in the community, but professionally ... I think it's just an honor and a privilege and we really owe him – those of us who have been recipients of this award – for the way he gives back and acknowledges what makes a great city."
Ms. Rolark Barnes, who is also president of Washington Informer Charities, said the award brings back some good memories of her father and the relationship he and Olender shared.
"I remember my father talking about 'Jack'— they were really good friends," she said. "My dad had a lot of friends, but Jack Olender was truly a heart-felt friend. He was not only someone who was supportive of (my father), but (he was) someone he supported as well. To have my father's theme song "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," played to introduce the award, to have Jacquie Gales Webb, who cut her teeth in the radio broadcast industry across microphones from my dad there, and to have the stories told, made this even more special."
"I know he [Dr. Rolark] was (there that night) because that's why it (was) raining outside. They say when it's raining, the spirits are happy. Every year when we go to Attorney Olender's office to give out those checks to the top four finalists of the Washington Informer Citywide Spelling Bee, I think about my dad. So when he called and said 'I want to give you this award' I thought about my dad. It's very special."
Olender, a noted malpractice lawyer, reflected on the arc of growth from the first Olender Award ceremony 30 years ago to the most recent ones which routinely bring together throngs of people.
"My mentor Earl Davis died and I wanted to commemorate his name so I gave an award to one law student," he said. "Twenty-six years ago, I made it into a formal Olender Foundation event."
"It grew from a small memorial party in my office to a large event involving hundreds of people," Olender said with a laugh. "Larry King MC'd the first one and did it for about a dozen years at the Willard Hotel Ballroom. One of the two awardees was Dr. Calvin Rolark."
The Olender Foundation's mission is to counter poverty and violence and to promote education and equal justice. The foundation awards student scholarships and supports an array of organizations that serve the public, especially the citizens of the District of Columbia. Each year, the Foundation honors public figures and ordinary citizens for their contributions to society.
This year's honorees were Ms. Rolark Barnes; Janette Hoston Harris, Ph.D., a Civil Rights pioneer and activist, founder of the D.C. Hall of Fame and D.C. city historian; and the Hon. Thomas Buergenthal, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, retired judge to the United Nations' International Court of Justice and an international human rights advocate. Harris received the Peacemaker Award and Buergenthal was awarded the foundation's Advocate for Justice 2012 Award.
In honor of the award recipients, the foundation gave grants to the D.C. Hook-Up of Black Women; Howard University Law School; Ivy Foundation; John Wesley AME Scholarship Fund; the Mulambda Foundation; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; the Thomas Buergenthal Scholarship at George Washington University Law School; United Black Fund; University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law Foundation; Washington D.C. Hall of Fame Society, Inc., and Washington Informer Charities. In addition, scholarships will go to outstanding students attending Howard University Law School and the David A. Clarke School of Law.
Olender, a Pennsylvania native, was born in McKeesport, Penn., a once-booming steel town. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a law degree in 1960 and came to the District to study Forensic Medicine at George Washington University's law and medical schools. While there, he earned a Master of Laws degree in legal medicine.
"I have been practicing law more or less since 1961 and the first few years really was practice, learning. Fortunately, I didn't do anyone any harm," Olender said with a chuckle. "I can't say particularly that (studying law) was to help the underdog. In law school I clerked and they had all kinds of cases. I wanted to help people. I liked injury cases and I didn't like the business end of law. I knew this was what I wanted to do."
Olender has received widespread recognition and countless awards for his legal achievements and service to the community and is a much-sought after legal commentator. Recently, he was named medical malpractice Lawyer of the Year 2012 by Best Lawyers, the oldest peer-review publication in the legal profession.
Olender counts a number of lawyers and others as mentors but attributed much of who he has become as a person to his parents.
"My parents influenced me totally as a person," he said. "My father taught me the work ethic. He came to this country in the last century, with nothing, from a place considered a part of Russia and Poland. He worked his way up to produce fruits and vegetables. I worked there as a child and while growing up, and I also learned charity. He had me write checks for various charities in the form of solicitations and checks. He did this so I could learn what it means to give."
"Mom was so kind-hearted, always helping people."
Olender has become closely identified with the black community over the years and has amassed a formidable body of work in his profession and his charitable giving that has directly and indirectly affected and benefited African Americans.
"I attribute it to my upbringing. I tried to do things with and for people," he said. "I have seen a lot of discrimination. My law firm is probably one-of-a-kind in terms of diversity. I have African American lawyers (on staff) and they used to be the majority."
Olender, who has been married to wife Lovell, for almost 50 years, said he continues to give back and envisions staying involved in his work and other endeavors for the foreseeable future.
"I'm putting in longer days at this than most people do and there's much more to do," he said.