Committee, Ski Partners Drive SOKY’s First State Competition of the Year
When the 2017 State Winter Games commence on Sunday, Jan. 29, at Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg, Ind., it will once again in large part be thanks to a unique group of Special Olympics Kentucky volunteers. The event is largely directed and organized by the Winter Games Committee. It consists of 12-15 members in any given year and it averages more than 26 years of service to the organization.
The committee is made up primarily of Dow Corning retirees, employees and their families, dating back to when the Winter Games were held at Ski Butler at General Butler State Park near the Dow Corning Carrollton plant.
Chairs Joe and Ann Weber have been with the Winter Games from the beginning. Joe retired from Dow Corning and Ann was a teacher. They have missed the Winter Games only once in 37 years. That year they had been involved with the preparations for the Games throughout the off-season, and only missed the Games because Joe suffered a heart attack.
“I started as a ski partner at Ski Butler,” Joe Weber recalled. “I come back every year because I love watching the athletes compete and the joy they have.”
Barry and Becky Smith are another husband and wife team on the committee. Barry also got involved through Dow Corning. Becky knew of the Games when they were at Ski Butler, but got involved in 2004. She is one of the committee’s “new” members. Both serve as course officials, and Becky also helps with volunteer registration for the Games.
Ski Partners Play Vital Role
“I love working with the volunteers,” Becky says. “Their dedication and the atmosphere at the Games are contagious.”
The Games are a family affair for other committee members as well. Rick Eberenz, who serves as the assistant venue director on the Advanced Plus (hardest) course, got involved with the Winter Games for the most basic reasons, but it became more than that.
“There was a need and a task to be shared,” said Eberenz, who also joined the committee through Dow Corning. “But it also made time to share with my brother.”
Rick’s brother Doc, who also worked the Advanced Plus course for more than 20 years passed away between the 2015 and 2016 Winter Games. Rick’s slope is still filled with family, however, as his son Jeff and daughter-in-law Heather also volunteer at the Games.
Brothers Rob and Michael Spenneberg, who both work for Kentucky Utilites in conjunction with the Dow Corning plant, have also been with the committee for more than 20 years. Rob joined the committee first and Michael joined through him.
“I love seeing how much each athlete grows from year to year,” said Michael, who runs the Beginner ski course, “not just physically, but emotionally. They become like long lost family.”
Jimmie Johnson, also with Dow Corning, has served on the committee and as the official course setter since 1984. For him, the Winter Games were an easy choice.
“It involves skiing, which I love,” Johnson said. “And I get to visit with athletes who I have skied with for years.”
Now Jimmie’s daughter Emily helps him set the courses. This year will mark her fourth year volunteering at the Winter Games. Emily is also on the Board of Directors for the Special Olympics Indiana State Winter Games.
This March, Jimmie will serve as the head alpine ski coach for Special Olympics USA at the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria. Johnson and Joe Weber have both been part of the World Winter Games experience after getting started with Special Olympics Kentucky.
Like Johnson and Mike Spenneberg, seeing familiar faces is part of the draw of the Winter Games for Brenda Montgomery, who has been with the Games for 32 years and is now the director of the snowshoeing venue.
“I started as ski partner,” Montgomery said, “and my athlete would remember me from one year to the next and come give me a big hug.”
Greg Montgomery, who also came to the Winter Games through Dow Corning, has been with the committee for 23 years. He says his favorite memories are “being a ski instructor for the beginner athletes.” Montgomery is still on the crew at beginner slope in addition to being the sound person for the opening ceremonies every year.
The Winter Games Committee is the longest serving and most consistent volunteer committee that Special Olympics Kentucky works with. And whether they’ve been with us for 13 or 30 (or more) years, each member has a different reason they keep coming back.
“I get to see how much these athletes mature and become completely confident in the world around them,” Michael Spenneberg said.
For Becky Smith it is “getting to know the athletes year after year. I love the awards ceremony and seeing their reactions to victory.”
“I love to watch the athletes compete and get so excited when they win,” Brenda Montgomery said.
“I get a feeling of satisfaction as a contributor to making a good event for the athletes and helping with their progress,” Barry Smith said.
Johnson and 17-year ski partner Dave Warren credit the committee and the athletes for coming back every year.
“Our committee is a great, great bunch of people to work with,” Warren said.
“Or committee is one of the best,” Johnson
Joe Webber summed up the experience.
“I come for the love of the Games,” he said. “It’s our special group!”
For information on how you can volunteer at the State Winter Games, contact Kim Satterwhite at 502-695-8222 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.