Up on Her Soapbox

She may be a founding member of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild, but Rockford native Lynnel Olson got into soap making for entirely practical reasons.

Thirty years ago, when she was married to her first husband, Gary, Lynnel was a farm wife looking to save money. She decided to make soap.

“It didn’t turn out,” Olson says. She asked older farm women for tips, then began researching the old-fashioned way: encyclopedias. Olson turned to her background in science and nursing, including time she’d spent in a burn unit, to study how various oils affect skin. She even took a correspondence course on essential oils, which weren’t then widely understood.

Through trial and error, Olson tweaked her formula, and thus was born Oregon Soap Shoppe & Green Art, etc., an Oregon, Ill., store she owns with her second husband, Michael Olson. All 500-plus soaps in her current repertoire can be used for showering, shampooing and shaving, and she promises they leave the skin feeling healthier and softer than before. Several doctors have sent patients her way because of Olson’s unique blends.

Until her brother got involved, Olson made soap in her basement for family and friends.

“My brother came over one day and said, ‘I signed you up for Alley Walk. It’s tomorrow. I paid for your booth.’ He even made a sign,” she recalls. “I asked how we were going to package it and he said, ‘That’s your problem. I’ll be here to pick you up in the morning.’” She made $300 that day.

Her brother encouraged her to invest her profits into more supplies. He and their father made wooden soap molds, and before long, Olson was selling soap at craft fairs. “We did craft shows all over the place until the year 2000,” she says.

After Gary died, soap became the family’s main source of income. Evenutally, she met Michael, who encouraged her to open the store that’s still located at 91C Daysville Road. He hauls oils for her, oversees the shop when she’s making soap and lip balm, and focuses on the “Green Arts, etc.” side of the business.

Each batch of 60 saleable bars takes 90 minutes to make and 30 days to cure. It’s hard work, but Olson’s faith in God keeps her going. She shares her testimony in “Lynnel’s Soapbox,” a flyer included with each purchase. “Over the years only two people have been offended, but I don’t take it personally,” she says. “I’m just doing what I feel I’m called to do.”

Her kids have their own careers and interests, so Olson doesn’t expect them to take over the business when she someday retires. “Perhaps someone will purchase the shop from me,” she says. “Of course, I’d train them. They’d learn everything and have my formula.