Sheila Olsen, a widowed Idaho mother of 10 who has been named the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Mother of the Year, was honored by President George Bush at a White House ceremony recently.
"The best part about receiving this award is that my 10 children were able to be with me [at the White House]," said Sister Olsen, a member of the Idaho Falls 29th Ward in the Idaho Falls Idaho Ammon West Stake. Her sons and daughters had traveled from throughout the United States to be with their mother.Sister Olsen was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis 22 years ago when she was pregnant with her fifth child.
In the following 12 years, she had five more children while coping with the disease and the accompanying effects, including weakness, numbness, dizziness, and the brief loss of vision in one eye.
Despite progressive debilitation and the death of her husband three years ago, Sister Olsen maintains an active role in political and community life while also supporting the needs of her family and helping others who are disabled.
She was her political party's state co-chairperson in the past two congressional campaigns and a member of Idaho's 1988 Electoral College. She serves on Idaho's presidential selection committee and edits the largest political newsletter in the state. She is also a member of the board of directors for Developmental Workshop, an organization serving the disabled.
"LDS women have great potential and organizational abilities they can bring to their communities," she observed. "There is much they can do to be effective, and they must learn to work with mutual respect alongside others of different beliefs."
Participation in Church activities regularly nourishes Sister Olsen's spiritual base. Her current responsibilities include serving as stake public communications director, stake historian, and Relief Society teacher. In addition, she was a speaker at the April 1989 BYU Women's Conference and will chair a session next spring.
Asked how she participates in such a variety of activities while struggling daily with the effects of multiple sclerosis, Sister Olsen commented, "I didn't think anyone noticed [that I had MS] because I have always just worked around it."