The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 12, 2012

Former Mankato nurse, educator receives national award

— Sondra von Arb has been crossing some things off her bucket list. Three years ago the 73-year-old took up sky diving. She’s snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. She wanted to scuba dive, but they wouldn’t let her because of a bum knee.

Now, the woman who spent her career in nursing and nursing education in Mankato can cross off a “to do” she didn’t even know was in her bucket.

Von Arb was chosen from 12,000 nominees across North America as the winner of the American Music Guild’s Educational Organization Award. She and her husband, Ron, attended the Oscars-like awards ceremony in South Carolina last month, where music stars and organizations were honored.

The 10 finalists in her category were narrowed to five and then von Arb was chosen as the winner.

The award honors a volunteer group von Arb founded in the Owatonna Schools, where she and Ron now live. The School Board asked the couple — avid volunteers —  if they could find a way to get more volunteers into the school.

She recruited some friends, did six months of research and formed Grandparents for Education.

Four years later, about 130 grandparent volunteers do whatever needs doing in grades K-12. In the past two months alone they’ve had 200 requests from teachers.

“We help with whatever teachers request. We just had a request to help four students with English language learning. We tutor. A group of kids wants to learn how to make candy, so we’re doing that after school,” von Arb said.

The group grabbed the attention of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato, whose staff did some digging and couldn’t find another school volunteer group like it in the country.

“We need to get one going in Mankato,” von Arb said. 

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