As I draw nearer to age 40, some of my memories of growing up in Hillsboro during the 1990s have become foggy. 

I have to think really hard about what the town was like without a Burger King or what the high school lobby looked like when it housed a concessions stand.

Naturally, my more vivid memories pertain to playing and riding bike with the neighbor kids, building snow forts and lots of video games.

But my most special place was always the Hillsboro softball fields, now known as Olsen Softball Complex.

I recall impatiently waiting on the metal bench for my turn to bat in T-ball and the smell of my leather glove – a hand-me-down from my oldest sister, Krista – as I held it over my face.

I remember the fun, the fear of failing, the feeling of vulnerability being away from my parents (I was very shy), the coaches and the tough lessons I learned at the fields.

There were a ton of smiles and plenty of tears along the way.

More memories and more tears flowed Saturday, as my family and about 60 other people celebrated the installation of field lighting at Olsen Softball Complex, which was lit up for the first time in its 39-year history that evening.

For myself as the Hillsboro-Central Valley head fast-pitch softball coach, Saturday was the culmination of years of wishing, waiting and working with the Hillsboro Park District to make the project happen.

However, that all seemed insignificant as I watched Marlis Olsen and Steph Olsen walk onto the main field at Olsen Softball Complex to toss the ceremonial first pitch under the lights in honor of Ed and Vernon Olsen.

Those two men spent hundreds of hours in the early 1980s converting a section of land the Hillsboro Park District had leased to a cement-mixing company into the community facility the city now enjoys.

Ed and Vern installed the fences, moved dirt, built seating and installed a lot of the necessary plumbing and electrical work themselves – all donated by the pair, their families and a small group of volunteers.

They literally crafted a diamond in the rough. 

The softball complex was officially named after the duo in 2013, a year and a half before Vern – Steph’s dad – passed away at age 90.

Ed – Marlis’ husband of 70 years – died from COVID-19 in 2021 at age 90. 

With lights shining down on Steph and Marlis, it was difficult to hold back tears watching Steph toss a pitch to her granddaughter, 8-year-old Harper Olsen, in honor of Vern.

It was downright impossible to hold back while I watched Marlis and her great-granddaughter, Karlee Johnson, embracing near home plate as they honored Ed.

When I was 8 years old, I didn’t know Vern or Ed or what they had done in order for me to have the youth baseball experiences I had. 

I didn’t know about their contributions until I was in my mid-20s. 

Honestly, I’m still trying to find ways to say thank you.

I walked up to Marlis, who was wearing Ed’s old cap, after the lights had been on for several minutes Saturday. 

Sheepishly, I asked if Ed would have approved.

“Oh yeah,” she said. 

We shared a hug and I pointed out how many kids were out on the field enjoying themselves at the facility, even in 40-degree temperatures. 

Look what Ed and Vern started.

Ed once told me that the kids wanted a place to play ball so they made it happen.

The park district didn’t have a lot of money to work with, but they found a way.

Saturday’s celebration at the softball fields wasn’t about just getting some lights.

For this community, it was a celebration of many people coming together for our young people. 

That’s what makes small towns so special.

When today’s T-ball, Little League baseball and youth softball players get older, I hope they remember the lessons they learned at Olsen Softball Complex as fondly as I do.

And I hope they smile, as I did, when they realize how many people came together to make that happen. 

I know that Ed and Vern are smiling, too. 

A full-page ad featuring a list of sponsors for the Olsen Softball lighting project can be found on Page 15 of this week’s Banner.