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Dorothy Ekblad: In a class by herself

For the past six years, Dorothy Ekblad had the distinction of being the oldest participant in the Cornhusker State Games.

The 91-year-old fitness ambassador was in a class by herself … in more ways than one.

“Dorothy was an amazing lady,” Nebraska Sports Council Executive Director Dave Mlnarik said of the 91-year-old dynamo who died unexpectedly. “She was a multi-gold medalist every year that she competed in the Cornhusker State Games,” including this year’s competition in late July, said Mlnarik.

A career nurse at Bryan Health and Veterans Hospital, Dorothy died Nov. 14.

As someone who’s followed the State Games for a quarter-century, I viewed Dorothy as someone who was always synonymous with the State Games, a face of the statewide competition. She was a steady fixture every year except when the dates conflicted with the National Senior Games or some other big event in her life. The indefatigable athlete competed in track & field, horseshoe pitching, the 5K run and the 10K walk.

Just watching the woman compete made me take a look at my own workout regimen.

More impactful than her athletic achievements was her persona: “she was always, ALWAYS smiling,” Mlnarik recalled of his avid volunteer, whose pleasant personality led to friendships with State Games staff, interns and the other volunteers.

At the Sports Council’s annual banquet in late October, Ekblad owned her table, telling stories of her travels for sports and adventure.

“I’m happy to have known her and proud of our friendship,” Mlnarik reflected.

Dorothy was a familiar face at a number of functions I covered over the years and a friendly voice on the phone as she called in meeting notices for her American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) chapter. She was immensely proud – and deservedly so - of her State Games and Nebraska Senior Games efforts, and beamed when she was inducted into the Lincoln High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Proud of her heritage

Having known Dorothy’s active affiliation with Norden Club and the avid promotion of Scandinavian heritage, I contacted Phyllis Ericson, a past-president of the club, for her memories.

Here’s what she and fellow Norden Club members had to say about one of their proudest members:

"Dorothy was the face of Norden Club (originally, a men’s club) and held the longest membership in the club of anyone,” said Ericson. When the club allowed women to join in the 1960s, Dorothy became one of the club’s first female members.

Del Stites, current Norden Club president, called Dorothy “an anchor and compass” for all club members. “I am so glad that she was able to cut the 70th anniversary cake at her most beloved Norden Club,” he added. The club plans to remember her at its Smorgasbord Dinner program.

Ingrid Hansen, longtime friend and Norden Club member, added: "Dorothy was a longtime member of the Danish Sisterhood, Lodge #90 even though she was of Swedish descent. She was interested in all the Scandinavian countries and their customs. She will be sorely missed by all her friends."

And fellow Norden Club member Stan Peterson had this to add: "Dorothy was an inspiration for us all. When my brother from Sweden visited us a couple of years ago, I brought him to a Norden Club dinner… I introduced him to Dorothy as ‘The Norden Club Angel.’ She was indeed!"

As a strong advocate of women in sports participation, Dorothy was a perfect fit for the local Girls & Women in Sports & Fitness committee, working behind the scenes to make sure records were properly preserved, of course, and making sure things ran smoothly at GWSF’s annual recognition banquet. She also received the Anne Campbell Pioneer Award in 2001 from the GWSF selection committee in 2001.

"She had a big heart for Girls and Women in Sports and Fitness and became our unofficial historian," said GWSF committee member John Mabry

"The word that keeps coming up in our group when it comes to Dorothy is 'inspiration.' That's what she was. We will sure miss her," Mabry added.

Family touched

As word of her passing spread, family members were touched by the cards and notes from those whose lives were touched by their loved one.

“She stayed involved in so many different activities – sports, Norden Club, a Bible study group, Danish Sisterhood – throughout her life,” said Patsy Martin, communications/resource development coordinator for Voices of Hope and one of Dorothy’s nieces.

“We’ve received so many nice cards with notes on them about how Dorothy was so sweet and always had a smile on her face. It’s obvious she was like by so many people.”

Funeral services were Nov. 21 at First Lutheran Church, 1551 S. 70th St.