Marie Reitmeier is a mom and a grandma and she's also being honored as a hero.
ST. JOSEPH — Marie Reitmeier is a mom and a grandma, and for helping countless Special Olympians reach their potential as athletes over the past three decades, she's also being honored as a hero.
Reitmeier, 66, of St. Joseph, was one of eight central Illinois area volunteers, along with four organizations, given Hero Awards by Special Olympics Illinois on Friday night at a ceremony in Normal.
The awards are given to recognize those who have strengthened their communities and improved the lives of Special Olympics athletes.
Reitmeier, who was also chosen Special Olympics Illinois' outstanding volunteer of the year in 2006, says her involvement as a volunteer began through one of her adopted children, then a foster son, who was in a special education program. A local teacher had started Special Olympics program for St. Joseph students, but couldn't continue it after a year, so Reitmeier and other parents took over the coaching.
They added students from Flatville, Royal, Ogden and Gifford, calling their team the FROGS, and after about five years, they consolidated with a team at Champaign Centennial High School, where Reitmeier also coached.
A Special Olympics volunteer since 1983, Reitmeier has also been a full-time committee member and office volunteer and key volunteer at state events, the organization says.
"Marie is the true definition of a volunteer," says a statement from the organization. "She helps with everything from set-up and registration to recruitment and troubleshooting to baking."
She helps get medals and ribbons ready for events, helps with set-up and tear-down for events, and lends a hand with paperwork. She goes to Galena, Decatur, Peoria and Bloomington-Normal to help with state events.
Special Olympic Illinois serves 21,482 child and adult athletes with disabilities and 18,549 athletes ages 2-7 with or without intellectual disabilities, offering 19 Olympic-type sports and 180 annual competitions.
Reitmeier stays active with more than Special Olympics.
She and her husband of more than 46 years, Melvin, are the parents of nine — two by birth, six former foster kids they adopted and one under legal guardianship — and they have 16 grandchildren, "with one on the way," Reitmeier says. She does a lot of babysitting.
She also is active in her church, Immanuel Lutheran Church of Flatville, as a Sunday School and confirmation teacher, and just recently stopped being a Girl Scout troop leader.
The Reitmeier home also includes six cats (two inside, four outside) and one dog, Nike, a black lab. Yes, Reitmeier says, named after the shoe.