As former college athletes themselves, Kevin and Karla Anundson understand the rigors of being a student-athlete. Dealing with the stresses that come with both sport and school can be difficult, so any outlet that allows student-athletes to kick back and relax is a welcomed release.
The Anundsons have helped Southwest Minnesota State University athletes find that release and share their faith for nearly a decade. They helped organize Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings in 2004 and kept them going ever since. Along with organizing the weekly meetings, they also book speakers and prepare and serve food to the athletes.
It's just one of the ways the Anundsons volunteer their time to SMSU athletics, and it's also one of the most rewarding to them.
Photo courtesy of SMSU Athletics Department
Kevin and Karla Anundson, both graduates of Southwest Minnesota State University, began weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings for student-athletes in 2004 and volunteer their time to many other efforts to aid the SMSU athletes and the Mustang athletic department.
"It really means a lot to be able to support the athletes because they have a lot of pressure with schedules and traveling and games," Karla said. "We just try to give them a little taste of home and find out how they're doing. It's really fun to see their faces when they walk in and ask them, 'Hey, how was your week? How's it going?' It's just kind of neat relationships."
Kevin and Karla will be presented with the Noel Olson Volunteer of the Year Award tonight in St. Cloud during the 14th annual Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Hall of Fame Banquet. The award "recognizes the singular commitment of former NSIC coach and athletic administrator Noel Olson to the advancement of the conference's visibility, credibility and excellence throughout the nation during his tenure in the league."
The Anundsons both played sports at SMSU. Kevin, a 1982 graduate, was a receiver on the football team and Karla ran cross country. They have been married for 26 years and make their home in Minneota.
After graduating, the two still felt drawn to the campus and have spent much of their time volunteering there. When Eric Eidsness was named the SMSU football coach in 2004, Kevin approached him and asked if he would speak to a high school FCA group he led in Cottonwood. Eidsness said yes, but also said he would like to have a spiritual outlet for members of his football team and asked Kevin to either start a meeting himself or find someone else to do it.
The Anundsons, who are both active members of the Mustangs Booster Club, decided to help organize it themselves and had nice cross section of athletes from all SMSU sports at their initial meeting. They say they now get anywhere between 30 and 60 student-athletes to come to each meeting.
The food that the Anundsons bring, which is usually prepared by Karla, is a big draw for the athletes, but Kevin said the food gets them there and the relationships keep them coming.
"I'd say the bottom line is relationships," Kevin said. "At the center would be a relationship with Jesus Christ, that would be our focus, and from that you draw into relationships with other people. I think that's a really effective way to represent the Gospel on a basic level is through relationships and taking care of people, young folks.
"In some ways it's maybe a refuge in that one night a week they can draw together and have a spiritual aspect interjected into their busy lives. And the food doesn't hurt."
The Anundsons also began holding bible study groups each week for the women's basketball team during the 2004-05 season. Those have a more intimate atmosphere. The food, again, makes an appearance.
"I cook more of a sit-down supper, like a roast and mashed potatoes, on Sunday nights," Karla said. "I really enjoy when they're all sitting around the table like a family and talking. It's really fun listening to the banter."
The Anundsons also serve a weekly breakfast for SMSU coaches during the season, another way they volunteer behind the scenes. But Kevin also gets his moments in the spotlight, in a way. On Saturdays during home football games, he can be seen running along the sidelines of Mattke Field serving as a ball boy.
When SMSU was still playing games at the old Mattke Field, the Anundsons attended a game and someone approached them asking if their two sons would be willing to be ball boys since the ones who were supposed to be there didn't show up. One son was willing to help and the other didn't feel like it, so Kevin volunteered to do it himself. He kept on serving as a ball boy, knowing SMSU was about to move into the Regional Event Center in 2008 and he was happy to have a way to get on the field.
"I see the same officials every year, but that first year they kind of looked at me like, 'Aren't you a little old to be doing this?'" Kevin said. "But it's fun, I enjoy it. You actually get the best spot in the whole stadium because you're always following the ball. You don't have to stay with the chains, you get to move wherever you want to go."
Kevin and Karla, who have four children between the ages of 16 and 22, are being awarded for what they've done to help athletes at SMSU, but they say they are the ones who are thankful to be able to lend a hand.
"We were just surprised to get the award and appreciate being a part of the Mustang family," Karla said. "It's a great institution and there are really wonderful people. We really enjoy all the athletes and coaches and enjoy the opportunity to serve them."