Special Olympics volunteer Helen Ziegler has dedicated her life to creating opportunities for others. On Tuesday, Baraboo’s mayor insisted she take a minute for herself.
Mayor Mike Palm presented Ziegler with the Gem Award, given to citizens who make Baraboo a more positive and prosperous place to live and work.
Several supporters attended a City Council meeting to see Ziegler accept her award plaque. The honoree kept her moment in the spotlight brief. “I just want to say thank you,” Ziegler said. “That’s enough for me.”
This wasn’t the first time Ziegler’s efforts were recognized. She won the Fram/Autolite Sparkplug Award for Wisconsin in 1980. In 1989 she received the Dr. Al Dippel Community Service Award from the Baraboo Kiwanis Club. In 2010 she received a dedicated portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose work led to the first national Special Olympics in 1968.
The lifelong area resident began her career as a teacher, going on to earn a master’s degree in special education. Ziegler saw that her special ed students needed outdoor activities to participate in, and established a program at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
She began working with the Special Olympics 46 years ago, creating a local competition. Youths participated in bowling, swimming and bocce ball, as well as track and field. Ziegler’s efforts allowed Baraboo students to advance to competitions at the state and national levels.
She later helped create a Junior Bowling program for the local schools. Meanwhile, Ziegler served as secretary of the Baraboo Education Association and its Sunshine Program. She also was a member of the Citizens Police Academy for many years.
“The city of Baraboo is affectionately known as ‘Gem City’ and be it known that Helen Ziegler is recognized as a true Baraboo gem,” Palm said in reading a resolution in Ziegler’s honor. “The city of Baraboo extends its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Helen for her commitment to our fair city.”