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Q&A: Summer Games Grand Marshal Don Stabenow reflects on four decades of volunteering

Courtesy Photo | Don Stabenow Don Stabenow poses with a Special Olympics Michigan athlete. Stabenow will be the Grand Marshal at the SOMI State Summer Games this year.

Don Stabenow served as a Central Michigan University faculty member for 33 years and a Special Olympics volunteer for 46 years. In recognition of over four decades of service, Stabenow will serve as the Grand Marshal for the Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games for the second time. He will lead a parade to the opening ceremony at 6:15 Thursday, May 30 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

He originally became involved with Special Olympics while working at CMU as a coach for intramural sports. He was asked to lead the Special Olympics track program because of his background in planning track meets.

Stabenow spoke with Central Michigan Life to reflect on his experience volunteering with Special Olympics and other organizations. 

What is your responsibility as Grand Marshal?

My responsibility is to lead the opening ceremony parade into the stadium. It's a nice honor and a way for Special Olympics to express their appreciation for years of volunteering.

What is your favorite part about volunteering for Special Olympics?

My favorite part of Special Olympics is that my daughters, grandson, and wife have also volunteered with me for the track meet. I know the core group of volunteers will be there on Friday morning to assist in making a great experience for the athletes.

Why is Special Olympics so important to you?

It’s the passion (the athletes) show. The biggest thing is the smiles. They have a real sincere effort, and the sportsmanship is always there. I’ve seen a little trash talking once in a while, but not too often. 

This may be the only time (the athletes) really get out once a year – maybe if they go to the Winter Games, twice a year – to an event like this where they’re the key focus.

What are you most looking forward to in the Summer Games?

Watching the joy on each athlete's face as they cross the finish line.

You and your wife recently participated in a charity dance competition at Alma College, what was that like?

This was the first and probably only year we’ve done that. We went to it last year because we had some friends dancing. The director of the program asked us if we would dance so we did, and it was very enjoyable. 

It was a lot of work, and we ended up raising the most money and winning the competition. It’s about how much money you raise, not on how well you dance. It was fun, we enjoyed it and we raised around $10,000 for United Way of Gratiot County. Overall, everybody raised over $38,000.

Do you do any other volunteer work?

I’m a Kid’s Hope Mentor (at my church). Kid’s Hope is a program across the country where they team up mentors with high-risk children. It's a program that’s in conjunction with elementary schools in Mount Pleasant that our church is involved with.

Right now it’s my fifth year doing that, so one boy has gone on to high school now. I recently got a little first grader that I’m mentoring.  

We have about a 110 mentors that help work with these children that are basically recommended by teachers and staff of these various schools that they need someone else in their life to give them some attention.