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Public Service Award: Olsen bringing a community together for over a decade

It’s a large undertaking to schedule vendors and live entertainment, plan the parade route and deal with unruly weather each year for the city’s annual four-day Strawberry Festival, but longtime organizer Lori Olsen has been cool under pressure.

For the last 12 years, Olsen has planned and executed the festival and has served as both a volunteer and, for the last five years, as president of the festival committee. Her deep-rooted involvement with Strawberry Fest and various other city functions led to her earning the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Public Service Award.

“Whenever a community event needed volunteers, Lori was there,” the nomination letter said. “Lori is truly an asset to our community.”

Olsen started out volunteering for the annual festival, she said, because planning and organizing a large-scale event appealed to her. All of the work that goes into creating the event is worth it, she added, when it comes to fruition in the summer.

“(Being involved gives me) a couple of things,” she said. “It gives me a chance to give back to the community, and also Strawberry Fest is a great event that brings the community together.”

While heavily involved in the festival, Olsen is also chair of the Strawberry Fest Ambassador Scholarship program and has spent countless hours chaperoning and mentoring the young women who vie for a crown each year. She encourages the ambassadors to remain active role models in the community and engages them in service outings to senior living facilities and the Chamber’s Business Showcase, as well as keeping them busy with Holiday Train events.

As the leader of the all-volunteer festival committee, she has also taken on the responsibility of planning and executing the Halloween Monster Bash and fall parade.

Olsen, along with several other volunteers and businesses, was honored last month at the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet.

“This was a complete surprise,” she said of the award, adding that she hopes to continue her volunteer work in the community for “years to come.”

While the recognition was a humbling experience, she said her dedicated group of volunteers allows her to provide quality public service to her community.

“I’m honored,” she said. “But I truly cannot forget about the Strawberry Fest Committee, who are a group of dedicated volunteers. This award is for them.”