Zamboni sisters honored

Jean and Edith Zamboni pose for a photo after receiving the Spirit of the Community Award from the Owatonna Foundation at its annual luncheon during Foundation Week. Because of the size of the crowd this year — attributed to the fact that the Zamboni sisters were receiving the award — the luncheon was moved to the Owatonna Country Club. (Photo courtesy of Mike Jensen)

OWATONNA — The annual Owatonna Foundation Legacy Luncheon drew a record crowd Oct. 9, bringing nearly 150 residents together to celebrate donors and to honor Edith and Jean Zamboni with the Spirit of the Community Award.

Part of Owatonna Foundation Week, the event sought to recognize contributors and to raise awareness of the nonprofit’s work within the community, according to Executive Director Laura Resler. Founded in 1958, the philanthropic organization has helped fund major building projects for the Owatonna Arts Center, the Steele County Historical Society, the Owatonna Soccer Association and more.

“It’s our time to say thank you, and also to create awareness and hopefully encourage donations into the future,” said Resler of the yearly, event-filled week. Additionally, she added that it’s often a time when regular donors make their yearly contributions to the nonprofit.

“If we didn’t have [their funding], we wouldn’t have the educational facilities that we have today,” Jerry Ganfield, Steele County Historical Society board member, told the crowd on Wednesday. Foundation contributions to the society have included donations to help restore and preserve historic buildings, as well as a $500,000 grant toward the construction of the group’s history center in 2012.

While most foundation money goes to assist with brick-and-mortar projects, Ganfield noted that the effects of those construction efforts ripple out.

“In addition to our work preserving buildings, my joy in the society is what goes on in those buildings as far as education and sharing,” he said.

Although Foundation Week aims to recognize and thank all donors, the Wednesday afternoon luncheon was primarily held to recognize Legacy Society members — contributors who have either recognized the foundation in their estate planning or made a $10,000 donation to the organization during their lifetime.

While addressing the crowd, Ganfield also thanked the Zamboni sisters, who were in attendance and also who contributed to the history center’s construction. Edith, known as “Dede,” and Jean were recognized with the “Spirit of the Community Award” at this year’s luncheon.

The honor is given out by the foundation to longtime residents who have consistently donated time and resources to community projects.

“Anyone who doesn’t know the Zamboni twins or hasn’t seen them around, lives in Waseca!” joked board member Chad Lange, while introducing the 94-year-old-sisters. “They are the most civic-minded and active citizens in Owatonna.”

Lange noted that it’s not uncommon to see the women out and about at sporting events, theater productions and art openings, and Resler noted that this year’s attendance may have been due in part to the twins’ popularity.

“They have a lot of community support. They’re well-loved, so I’m sure there are people who came to honor them as well,” she noted.

This year’s attendance was a record for the luncheon. While it has traditionally been hosted at the history center, the luncheon moved to the Owatonna Country Club for the first time this year after outgrowing its former space. In terms of Legacy Society members alone, the foundation has added 15 this year, bringing the grand total to nearly 100.

Edith and Jean closed out the event with an emotional acceptance speech, saying they were humbled and surprised to receive the award.

Between heartfelt “thank yous,” the pair also joked around with each other and the crowd. When foundation trustee Dennis Meillier told Jean that he was giving them only one plaque, and that they would have to share it, she jokingly pretended to snap the award into two halves.

“You can always expect one from her,” Edith told the audience, of her sister’s humor. In closing, the pair encouraged everyone to engage with them when they were out and about in the community, and the duo had a long line of well-wishers as attendees filed out.

Following the luncheon, as well as an Oct. 8 breakfast for professionals, the foundation will host a wine and beer tasting fundraiser Thursday night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Owatonna Holiday Inn & Suites, 2365 43rd St. NW. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and can be found online at

Then, to cap off Foundation Week, the group will be tossing out T-shirts at tomorrow night’s Huskies home football game.

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