Longtime Special Olympics Kentucky volunteer Ervin Vanover of Danville was named the SOKY Volunteer of the Year during a brief – and delayed – ceremony at the 2019 SOKY State Summer Games. The presentation was scheduled for the Games’ Opening Ceremonies on Friday night, but ended up being made near the start of competition at the softball throw venue on Saturday. Vanover has run that venue at the State Summer Games for many years.
Vanover first got involved in Special Olympics with his wife, Paula, in 1977 when Paula was a special education teacher. The pair became area directors in the program. Since then, he has volunteered at every possible level of Special Olympics from local and state to USA and World Games. Vanover was part of the Team Kentucky delegations that competed in the Special Olympics World Games in 1987 in South Bend and in 1991 in Minneapolis. He served as the head track and field coach for Team Kentucky for the first ever USA Games in 2006 in Ames, Iowa, and again at the 2010 USA Games in Lincoln, Neb. At the 2006 Games, track and field athlete Matt Minning claimed the first gold medal in USA Games history, winning his heat of the 10,000-meter run on the opening day of competition.
Vanover played a key role in the move of the State Summer Games to Eastern Kentucky University, which hosted the Games for the 25th consecutive year this year. Now retired from e.on US (now LG&E/KU), Vanover has filled an incredible number of roles at the Summer Games, including an unexpected one in 2006 when he helped restore power to the EKU campus following a transformer issue that caused a blackout.
“Erv Vanover is the epitome of what any organization hopes to find in a volunteer,” said Special Olympics Kentucky President and CEO Trish Mazzoni. “Whenever we have asked Erv to take on a new challenge or help in any way, he has been there to serve our athletes. It has been a joy to work with him in so many capacities since he’s been with the program. He has done so much and is so committed to our athletes, and he knows how we want our events to run, that when he’s at events like the Summer Games – or even the USA and World Games in the past – it’s like having another staff person there. We know whatever he’s doing is done well and with the best experience for our athletes as the primary concern.”
Vanover told the Richmond Register before this year’s Summer Games how Special Olympics continues to affect him.
“It’s important for me to do it,” Vanover told the Register’s Taylor Six. “It keeps me young and I am working with all ages of athletes. To me, the purest kind of sport is working with Special Olympics. These people, their name is not going to get in the paper much, but they work so hard to win and get that ribbon. Just seeing them work so hard to win these things, that is what keeps me coming back.”