Eunice Kennedy Shriver giving a speech at the first Special Olympics

March 27, 2018

Touch of Nature to celebrate Special Olympics 50th anniversary

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, IL — Special Olympics is coming full circle by celebrating its 50th anniversary with a kickoff event at the place where the idea originated. The festivities start April 6 at SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

“The chance to share in the history of Special Olympics is very exciting to me. I have lived in Southern Illinois for 12 years but until I started working for Special Olympics I didn’t know the story of how it all began,” Shane Bennett, assistant director for Region K of Special Olympics Illinois, said. “For me, this is about celebrating the past and bringing it to the present.”

Everyone is invited to the kickoff celebration

Opening ceremonies are set for 10 a.m. on April 6 at Touch of Nature, located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road.

Longtime Illinois Supreme Court justice Anne M. Burke, Special Olympics athletes and officials will participate in the opening ceremony, during which Sledgefoot Lounge will be renamed Burke Lounge. Refreshments will be served at 10:30 a.m.

The celebration will continue with Change the Game Day and the Gala in the Woods.

Change the Game Day

This inclusive Change the Game Day event features a wide variety of Special Olympics-style games and Touch of Nature activities from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Participants can enjoy various sports, crafts, backyard games, exercises, camp songs and dance, musical entertainment and much more.

Ethan Blumhorst, who is pursuing his master’s degree, and other students in the Department of Public Health and Recreation Professions have been heavily involved in planning and coordinating activities for the day.

Planned activities include:

  • Free hot dogs and chips;
  • mini-javelin throw;
  • climbing wall;
  • flag football, 3-on-3 basketball, volleyball, and bocce tournaments;
  • arts and crafts including painting, drawing, fossils, bracelets and face painting;
  • Swing ball, bags, Aboriginal winning marbles and other backyard games;
  • nature hikes;
  • team-building fun including the parachute, grasshopper in a blanket, the balloon bucket, egg race and hot potato;
  • 2K Respect Run/Walk;
  • group exercise sessions;
  • campfire games and songs including “This is My Friend” and “Thread the Needle;”
  • The R-Word Campaign; and additional activities.

It’s all free and open to the public. School groups and other organizations are welcome, too. Groups are encouraged to pre-register at

Gala in the Woods

The day is capped with the Gala in the Woods from 6 to 9 p.m.  The first hour will be a reception featuring light appetizers accompanied by local wines, beers and spirits.

Dinner is at 7 p.m. followed by a live auction and the Alongi’s Wine Pull (buy a ticket for $10 and if your ticket is drawn, pick a wrapped bottle of wine to take home and enjoy) at 8 p.m.

Gala tickets are $150 per person or $1,000 for a table of eight. All funds raised will go to Touch of Nature and Special Olympics programs and services.

Seating is limited and attire is casual.

To reserve a seat, RSVP by calling 618/457-2969 by March 30. Or, contact Shane Bennett, 1740 Innovation Drive, Box 203, Carbondale, IL 62903.