“LDS Volunteers Helping at the Olympics,” Ensign, Aug. 1984, 78
In the competitive atmosphere of the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, members of the Church are winning something more valuable than gold medals—friends—as they help behind the scenes.
Howard Cardon, chairman of the volunteer effort for the Church’s area public communications council, estimated that there are about twenty-five hundred LDS volunteers helping at the games, many of them using their missionary language skills to serve as translators.
“It is difficult to come to an exact figure,” he said. “But at least fifteen hundred of the volunteers are in the language area. The rest are in other capacities.”
Lew Cramer, LDS recruiter for the Olympics, said the effort to recruit Church members to help with the games began four years ago.
“The senior partner in my law firm, John Argue, was the founding chairman of the Olympic Committee. He had a long history of association with Latter-day Saints and knew of the linguistic skills of our young missionaries. He liked their maturity and clean-cut look. He knew that these were the kind of people the Olympic Committee would want representing Los Angeles and the United States at the games. He asked me to be responsible for recruiting Latter-day Saints as interpreters for the Olympics.”
The same idea had been germinating in the mind of Howard Cardon, and the subject had been discussed at an area meeting prior to Brother Cramer’s suggestion.
“I was excited,” said Jack Adamson, area director of public communications for Southern California. “Where would we ever get such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity again? People from all over the world would be involved in the games and in need of our special skills.”
After a planning meeting in the fall of 1983, Brother Adamson was given approval to send a letter to all stake presidents, bishops, branch presidents, and institute directors in the Southern California area telling them of the volunteer opportunity.
The letter asked that applicants be sixteen years of age or older and be willing to attend an orientation meeting before the games. They also should be available for the entire period of the games—July 24 to August 12—and, in some cases, for two to three weeks prior to the games.
Meetings were set up in six locations during a two-week period in February and March this year so members of the Olympic Committee could interview and orient prospective volunteers.
“The response was tremendous,” Brother Cardon said. “We had one thousand language volunteers by the first of April. We have volunteers coming all the way from Arizona and Nevada for the games. Along with the volunteers we recruited at the meetings, we received over four hundred applications as a result of our notices in the Daily Universe at Brigham Young University.”
“We had many Latter-day Saints come into our volunteer centers on their own,” Callene Wiens of the Olympic Committee said.
A professional linguist specializing in Japanese commented that LDS volunteers speak the language better than volunteers from any other English-speaking group.
The interpreters are driving buses and cars, interpreting for foreign newsmen, and escorting athletes and dignitaries to Olympic events, Brother Cramer said. They are also working at the Olympic villages and driving foreign visitors to tourist attractions.
The highest ranking Latter-day Saint on the Olympic Committee is Scott Letellier. He gave up a law practice three years ago to become a member of the Olympic Committee. He was assistant vice-president in charge of sports for two years, and organized the soccer, equestrian, and baseball teams. He is now the legal counsel to the Olympics and manager of the baseball team.
An avid sportsman, he says, “I can practice law for the rest of my life, but when would I ever get the opportunity to be involved in such an Olympian event?
“Volunteerism is part of our Latter-day Saint heritage,” he commented. “We are going to see our Olympic volunteers perform in a most conscientious and exemplary way. It is part of our Latter-day Saint tradition. They will have tough assignments. They will work under adverse circumstances at times. But we will find that they will ‘endure to the end.’ That is what they have been taught in the Church all their lives.”
“The essence of the Olympic games is brotherhood,” said Bert Lynn, a volunteer at the press accreditation desk at the Coliseum, where eight thousand newsmen are expected. The Olympic Committee considers it “the largest gathering of news people in the history of the world,” said Brother Lynn.