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Special Olympics Montana Distinguished Service Awards

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Special Olympics Montana recently honored recipients of the prestigious statewide Distinguished Service Awards during its annual Fall Leadership Conference September 23-25 in Great Falls. Individuals, organizations and businesses from across the state were recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Montana.

The recipients were nominated statewide by volunteers, coaches, sponsors, families and supporters of Special Olympics Montana and selected by a committee representing the organization’s various constituents such as athletes, coaches, Board of Directors, families, Area Directors and staff.

Special Olympics Montana 2011 ATHLETE OF THE YEAR –Merle “Buzz” Toliver, BILLINGS

The Special Olympics, often talks about the power of moments. The 2011 Athlete of the Year has produced many of those moments as he is that rare combination of tremendous talent and tender modesty. The level at which Buzz competes is well beyond what most anyone else could do. His training is focused and constant “Buzz is a coach’s dream – setting goals, unafraid to fail, trying as hard as it is possible to do, and outperforming his own accomplishments,” Coach Nicole Knight said.

Buzz can dead lift 419 pounds, and his strength of character is generously laced with true modesty so you will never hear him touting his own amazing successes. Special Olympics Montana is pleased to announce Merle “Buzz” Toliver as our 2011 Athlete of the year!

Special Olympics Montana HALL OF FAME –Jack and Bobbie Whelan Family, BUTTE

The Special Olympics Montana Hall of Fame Award notes lifetime achievement by a person or persons who give the highest service to the mission of Special Olympics. In 2011, the award was given to the Jack and Bobbie Whelan Family of Butte. A recipient of the Hall of Fame award demonstrates strength of character that inspires athletes, volunteers, parents and all other – an apt description of this selfless family.

For the Whelan Family the reason for all of this begins with brother and athlete John Whelan, or Johnny, as his family affectionately calls him. You would only need to meet Johnny once to know that he is very much a part of this family. That warm, twinkling smile that both Jack and Bobbie Whelan share so freely is apparent in Johnny. He makes everyone feel invited into his space, even into his life. Johnny is the point around which his family pivots when they decide to be involved in Special Olympics. They circle around him with love and affection. And because of him, Special Olympics Montana is gifted with the Whelan family.

Special Olympics Montana is most proud to present the 2011 Hall of Fame Award to the Jack and Bobbie Whelan Family of Butte.


Officer Jason Johnson of the Missoula County Sherriff’s Department, has been awarded the 2011 Spirit of Special Olympics Award by Special Olympics Montana. The award is reserved for an individual volunteer who, through his or her long term commitment to Special Olympics Montana, best exemplifies the dedication and unselfish efforts associated with the true spirit of Special Olympics.

Jason exemplifies what it means to be a Guardian of the Flame of Hope. His efforts reflect the true Spirit of Special Olympics and Special Olympics Montana is honored to recognize him as the 2011 Spirit Award recipient.

Outstanding FAMILY OF THE YEAR –Mike Robert, Laurie Roberts, Nick Roberts, Amber Roberts and Katrina Roberts, GREAT FALLS

The Roberts family of Great Falls makes unique and lasting contributions to the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities through Special Olympics Montana.

Every member of this family is intimately involved at all levels of the organization- Athlete, Coach, Chaperone, Unified Partner, Area Director, Sponsor, Donor …you name it, they’ve done it. For their commitment to excellence and endless energy and support, the Roberts Family of Great Falls are the 2011 Special Olympics Montana Family of the Year.

Outstanding COACH OF THE YEAR – Melanie Williams, CLANCY

Melanie Williams of Clancy was recently honored as the Special Olympics Montana Outstanding Coach of the Year for 2011. She is recognized as a volunteer and certified Special Olympics coach who demonstrates the technical skill, commitment and compassion needed to train athletes for competition and for life. One of her greatest attributes according to athletes and family members is that she is a firm believer that every child has a right to physical education, sports competition opportunities, and knowledge of proper nutrition. She takes the whole athlete into consideration.
For her dedication to excellence and athlete success, Special Olympics Montana is honored to recognize Melanie Williams as our 2011 Outstanding Coach.

Outstanding ADULT VOLUNTEER – Heather Fust, Bozeman

Heather Fust from Bozeman was recognized as Outstanding Adult Volunteer in 2011 whose work serves to further the quality of Special Olympics program at the local, area and state level.

As Director of Support Services for the State Summer Games 2009-2010, she was responsible for transportation coordination, lunch acquisition, assembly and delivery, Team BBQ, Team Dine Out and a million other details. She revamped lunch, lunch assembly and lunch delivery to deal with the realities of a stressed economy and enlisted the help of major churches and service clubs. No one went hungry and everyone was happy!

Heather continues to stay deeply engaged and involved with the mission of Special Olympics and truly exemplifies the character and quality of an Outstanding Volunteer. She has made a difference locally, regionally and her influence extends statewide as a Special Olympics volunteer.

Outstanding YOUTH VOLUNTEER – Emma Earl, CHESTER

The award is given to the youth volunteer who is the best example of volunteerism by a youth that improves a Special Olympics program during 2011. According to Special Olympics athlete Stacey Johnston who nominated Emma, “she is a great role model in her school and community, getting almost everyone to stop using the r- word. She volunteers to sell raffle tickets for our team and she even jumps in freezing water at the polar plunge to help us raise money. She’s everywhere! Now she’s getting every athlete in her school to wear Special Olympics shoe laces with their uniforms and trying to make it part of their official team gear.”

Because of her efforts, her small Montana community will have its first ever Unified Sports Team this fall for basketball. She even convinced the boy’s varsity basketball coach to be the coach of the Special Olympics Unified Basketball Team. It’s her dad, but it still counts!

This past summer, Emma once again volunteered, using her own funds to travel to Athens, Greece for the World Summer Games. While there she participated with Tanealya Hueth of Great Falls at the Global Youth Summit. Staff and students from around the world were quickly drawn to Emma for her genuine spirit of inclusion…always insisting as she does, that she learns more about life from athletes than they could ever gain from her.


The Tri-County Twisters were recently named the Outstanding Special Olympics Montana local program. As the program that best exemplifies the Special Olympics spirit and that provides a well-developed program for athletes, coaches, volunteers and families, the Twisters program received the award for 2011.According to family members – the 11 athletes of the Twisters are changing people’s lives – big time!

Shannon Koenig, Zach’s mom writes, “Sometimes it is too easy to focus on the failures and difficulties but since Zach has joined the Twisters, our entire family has reason to celebrate with Zach. Zach’s Twister’s teammates are some of the most terrific children I have ever met. They support each other 100% of the time. Zach’s mom also writes that joining the Twisters is one of the most positive things their family has ever done.

“CJ Nueman wrote that “When Jacob won 3 gold medals at Winter Games, they posted his picture at the entrance to Smith School on the bulletin board. Every day when going into school he would head straight for the bulletin board and point to his picture saying, “that’s me…I won!” Special Olympics and the Twisters have done more for his self esteem than any other activity could ever have done.”

Outstanding ORGANIZATION – RightNow Technologies, Bozeman
RightNow Technologies of Bozeman was recently honored as the Outstanding Organization that has made significant contributions to Special Olympics Montana in 2011.

In addition to hundreds of hours of volunteer service given generously and with great enthusiasm by RightNow employees, the company also donated an unprecedented Gift In Kind while the State Summer Games were in Bozeman 2009-2011. RightNow Technologies donated software and staffs time to revamp the volunteer registration process for the games, using their expertise to design a super efficient and user friendly product. Now, as the games move to Billings 2012-2014, RightNow Technologies is assisting with the transfer of the data base system. In addition, they have offered to provide this technology to the 12 Special Olympics Montana Areas to use in generating newsletters and contact lists.

For their generosity of time, talent and technology, Special Olympics Montana is proud to announce RightNow Technologies of Bozeman as our 2011 Outstanding Organization.

Outstanding MEDIA SUPPORT – Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Bozeman
The award is given to the print media outlet or individual who, through media support, has made significant contributions to Special Olympics Montana.
During the past three years, the Chronicle brought the State Summer Games to life for thousands and thousands of readers – in print and on the web.
They created a special Games insert filled with heartwarming accounts, great photos, schedules, maps – an important guide and souvenir for everyone at the Games – sixteen pages of Special Olympics memories circulated to the entire Bozeman area.

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