Olson, Hodder honored for Special Olympics work

The Minnesota Social Service Association (MSSA) has named Helen Olson and Stephen Hodder of Princeton as its outstanding volunteer of the year in recognition of their work in the local Special Olympics program.

Olson has headed the local Special Olympics for all but a few years since 1982 and Stephen Hodder has assisted her in that work in the past few years.

Special Olympics is an international organization, started in 1968, that offers athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-style sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Deb Most, director of MSSA’s member services,

says that in her nine years of working in her job, she has not recalled two people getting the MSSA outstanding volunteer award for civic service work during any one particular year.

Hodder’s wife Connie Hodder had nominated Stephen and Olson for the honor at the regional level, and the two won the volunteer award there. Then their names were sent to the state MSSA level competition and another committee chose the two out of all the state nominees, Most explained. The ceremony for giving the award to Olson and Hodder will be at the MSSA’s annual conference on March 13 at the Minneapolis downtown Hilton.

Olson, said that she started the local Special Olympics program in 1982 and had headed what is called the local delegation and did coaching for it up until about 2005 and then let someone else take over. Stephen Hodder asked Olson in about 2007 if she would consider coming back into heading the delegation again, with him taking over the coaching part.

The Hodder couple has a son, now nearly 26, with special needs, who had participated in Special Olympics for many years. Stephen said last week that he asked Olson to return to heading the local Special Olympics delegation to help get local special needs persons back into athletic competitions that he saw wasn’t happening as before. He realized, he said, that he couldn’t both head the delegation and do the coaching and so needed Olson’s help.

Both Olson and Hodder have now moved out of the Special Olympics leadership, with Roberta Hewitt taking over as the new delegation head and coach.

Special Olympics has grown considerably in terms of participation since Olson started the local program, Olson recalling there were six local participants in it then, all school age.

Olson was a special education instructor at North Elementary at the time. Now there are more than 40 local persons, with special needs, participating in bowling, basketball, softball and track and field at local, regional and state competitions, and most of them are of adult age.

Olson opened the participation to adult-age persons in about 1990 and she retired from teaching in 2000.

Olson started the local Special Olympics program, she said, because she “felt there was a need for young people with special needs to get involved in sports-related activities.” Without being in Special Olympics, they wouldn’t have those experiences, she explained. Approximately a half dozen or more local Special Olympics participants have advanced into International Special Olympics events over the years, she notes. One of Olson’s accomplishments was to start a bowling league that mixes special needs persons with non special needs bowlers.

Hodder, who called the MSSA outstanding volunteer award a “real honor,” gave the most credit to Olson for work in the local Special Olympics.

He compared his work to hers this way: “If I had dug a shovel of dirt, she built a building.”

Olson, who has finally reached her last finish line in Special Olympics leadership, said this about what she got from those years of work in it:

“I think the biggest thing (about Special Olympics) volunteering are the friendships I developed through the years. I have (past Special Olympics) athletes calling me. I have learned so much from them, their willingness to try, so eager to do what you ask them to do. They’re so positive. They get so excited about accomplishing something. There is so much we can learn from them.

“It’s so inspiring to be around them. They are so appreciative. Some have that real competitiveness. (But for many), just knowing they can do it (is enough).”