MONMOUTH — It takes a village, or so the saying goes. In the Monmouth-Independence community, one of the driving forces behind the success of the “village” is Stacy and Neal Olson.
They’re credited with saving marriages, literally putting shoes on people’s feet, keeping youth sports programs going when money was scarce, feeding young athletes, and positively influencing the lives of those around them.
The Olsons have blessed the Monmouth and Independence communities for nearly 20 years, though they would tell you they don’t do anything spectacular or out of the ordinary.
“They’re great role models,” Central High School Athletic Director Shane Hedrick said. “They’re very unselfish. And you hear about people giving — they just take it to a whole new level.”
Hedrick said he first noticed the Olsons about eight years ago when Central School District had to cut middle school sports.
“The one name that would come up in any conversation was Stacy Olson,” he said. “Because she basically kept that middle school program up and running. She was the organizer in getting parents together to make that happen. She just kept it together. Absolutely huge for us, and she got nothing for it.”
Neal said he and Stacy were passionate about keeping the program, not just for their kids, but for the community. Without sports, what would the youths do in the afternoons?
“That’s the most impressionable time of their lives,” Neal said. “It’s where you kind of make or break kids, in middle school. So we figured we better put our action where our mouth was — a little more action, a little less talk.”
Like so many things, Stacy said they didn’t do it alone.
“This community stepped up just like they always do,” she said.
Stacy coached track — something she’d never done — and Neal picked up football.
“Idle time is dangerous for adolescents,” she said. “That is a really critical time for kids to get connected to something. As they go into high school, if they’re connected to something or they have something to belong to that’s important, then they connect in the right places. Some kind of positive activity.”
Stacy works with the county’s juvenile diversion program and has worked with youth in the court system for a long time. Neal is a deputy chief for Polk County Fire District No. 1. Both know the importance of volunteers to make things run smoothly, and say that may be one reason they are both so ready to pitch in themselves.
“In my job — this is my 32nd year in teaching and coaching — you see so many people that say they’re committed, but any small reason, they can break away from that commitment,” Hedrick said. “But you see those two, who, no matter what it is, they’ll make a bad thing good. I can’t even imagine the number of youth (they affected) that we don’t even see.”
The Olsons opened their homes to foster troubled boys who had been in and out of homes and at risk of being on the streets, Kimber Townsend said.
“They took in kids no one else would and turned them around,” she said.
Altogether, the Olsons fostered 13 boys.
“She had all these kids she was trying to manage and really able to make a small difference in a lot of kids’ lives, but our kids were little, so she wanted to be home with them, and we wanted to have a larger impact,” Neal said of their foster parent years. “It might have been in fewer kids’ lives, but we wanted to have a larger impact.”
In truth, the impact left by the Olsons can be felt throughout the community.
“There’s not enough time in the day to talk about what they’ve done for me and my family,” said Matt Connery, president of Polk Fire’s Volunteer Firefighters Association. “I can’t tell you the numerous times they’ve helped me.”
In addition to bending an ear after a tough call at the fire district, Neal and Stacy saved Matt’s marriage.
“With having as much life experience as they do, they’re able to relate really well and help a lot of other couples with issues they might be having,” he said. “My wife and I were having some problems, and (Neal) invited us over. We all had some real powerful conversations that helped us have a turning point in our own marriage. And they have helped so many people other than just me and my family.”
Stacy said there’s a lot of things to do if you just want to do it. Neal and Stacy find adventure while doing just that.
“It’s divine appointments,” Neal said. “I think God just gives you little things to do, and if you listen and do what he says, he’ll put it all together for you.”
The Olsons don’t seek recognition for what they do.
“They put other people in the community ahead of themselves,” Connery said. “In my mind, there’s no greater hero than that. To say I look up to Neal is an understatement.”
In truth, the biggest reward for the Olsons is seeing others succeed.
“Whatever you’re winning at, just win,” Stacy said.
“To see other people happy and succeed, that fills my cup back up,” Neal said.