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'Helping Shannon matter beyond Rochester': O'Hara Foundation to present scholarships at Hockey Day Minnesota

The Shannon O'Hara Foundation has raised more than $300,000 over the past decade, much of which has been donated to cancer research and to college scholarships for high school hockey playing seniors in Rochester. The foundation's reach is expanding this year; it will award eight $1,000 scholarships to players at Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday in Mankato.

Shannon O'Hara memorial
A memorial for Shannon O'Hara hangs in the lobby at Graham Arena in Rochester. O'Hara died on Jan. 6, 2012, at age 13, after a battle with an inoperable brain tumor. A foundation started in her honor has raised more than $300,000 over the past decade and will award eight $1,000 college scholarships to high school hockey playing seniors at Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday in Mankato.
Jason Feldman / Post Bulletin
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To say the past two weeks have been full of mixed emotions for Dan and Jennifer O’Hara is an understatement.

Two weeks ago Thursday — Jan. 6 — marked the 10th anniversary of their oldest daughter, Shannon, passing away at age 13 after bravely battling an inoperable brain tumor.

Two days from now — on Saturday — the O’Haras will stand on the ice at Hockey Day Minnesota ’22 in Mankato and hand out scholarships to eight high school hockey players, thanks to a foundation that carries their daughter’s name.

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The Shannon O’Hara Foundation is expanding its reach this year, and for the foreseeable future.

“This will broaden our reach to a state-wide or regional audience,” Jennifer O’Hara said this week. “We hope that we reach more people this way, and not just the eight kids who will get scholarships on Saturday, but families along the way who hear Shannon’s story and take it to heart.

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“This is a chance to grow the group of people who Shannon matters to.”

The Shannon O’Hara Foundation started 10 years ago with a $5,000 contribution from a group of parents whose daughters played on Rochester’s U14 team with the diminutive player who became known as “Shannon The Cannon” due to her not-so-heavy shot.

The Foundation has raised well more than $300,000 over the past decade, most of which has been donated for cancer research and to high school hockey playing seniors in Rochester.

The foundation traditionally has awarded anywhere from two to four college scholarships (generally ranging from $1,000-$2,000) to Rochester players, who are asked at the start of each season to write an essay about what playing hockey in the Rochester Youth Hockey Association has meant to them. The winners — selected by the foundation’s board of directors — are the boys and girls who best exemplify the spirit that Shannon had for the game and her teammates — living life with a positive attitude, working hard and being a good friend and teammate.

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Shannon O'Hara

On Saturday, the Shannon Foundation will present $1,000 scholarships to one player from each of the eight high school teams that will play as part of Hockey Day Minnesota ’22 — Mankato East girls (Anna Rader), Mankato West girls (Emily Bloemke), Mankato East boys (Aiden Prochaska), Mankato West boys (Blake Como), Andover girls (Ashley Grabau), Edina girls (Audrey Kelley), East Grand Forks boys (Zach Stocker) and Prior Lake boys (Justin Simonson).

“We’re excited,” Jen O’Hara said. “Our board of directors has been looking for ways to expand our scholarship offerings. We will still do the scholarships for local players (in Rochester), but we were looking for opportunities state-wide.

“Part of our outreach to each of the schools participating (in Hockey Day Minnesota) was, we’re looking for that Shannon-like kid in the locker room, the good teammate. We don’t care if they score a lot of goals, we want the kid who is a good teammate and has a positive attitude.”

The O’Haras are set to do an on-ice scholarship presentation at the end of Saturday’s girls high school game that starts at 9:30 a.m. between Edina and Andover. They’ll then do a similar presentation for the scholarship recipients from the East Grand Forks and Prior Lake boys teams following their game, which begins at 1 p.m. The four winners from scholarship winners from Mankato will be recognized prior to the 4:30 p.m. men’s college hockey game between the University of St. Thomas and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

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Following Saturday’s games and presentations, the Shannon Foundation's board will meet Sunday to determine this year’s winners of the scholarships presented to Rochester players. That presentation ceremony is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Feb. 5, between periods of a game between the Century and John Marshall boys at Graham Arena.

The Shannon Foundation has reached an agreement with the Minnesota Wild to present scholarships during Hockey Day Minnesota for at least the next five years.

“Dan and I laughed that we may be spending the next five years traveling around the state,” Jen O’Hara said, “but we’re all-in for the chance to do this for the foundation.

“Shannon would’ve loved Hockey Day Minnesota.”

Telling Shannon’s story

Saturday’s scholarship presentations are the culmination of several years of discussions and hard work between the O’Haras, the foundation’s board members, and the Wild.

Dan O’Hara had known former Wild assistant general manager Tom Kurvers since their high school days. When Kurvers announced in 2019 that he was battling an inoperable lung tumor, O’Hara reached out to offer support, and also to discuss a partnership between the Shannon Foundation, the Wild and Hockey Day Minnesota.

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Shannon O'Hara Foundation

“Dan and Tom started talking about Tom’s cancer journey and they sort of bonded over that,” Jen O’Hara said. “Tom got to know a bit about our foundation and he connected us with the community engagement group at the Wild.”
Kurvers passed away last June at age 58, and the Wild’s community engagement staff felt even more compelled to continue to learn about Shannon’s story.

Not only will the O’Haras be in Mankato on Saturday to present scholarships, but Shannon’s story will be told at some point during the day on Bally Sports North’s 14-plus hour broadcast of Hockey Day Minnesota.

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Producers from the network were in Rochester three weeks ago to talk with the O’Haras, as well as two of Shannon’s coaches, Bob Montrose and Bart Grafstrom.

“It was interesting after 10 years to be able to sit down with someone who didn’t know Shannon’s story at all,” Jen O’Hara said, “and to look back at the journey and what it’s grown to mean to us, and now hopefully a wider community.

“We are happy to share the things that mattered most to Shannon – loving the journey, whatever it is for you personally. It was more emotional than I thought it would be. The chance to share it with a new audience is very special. We’re excited for that and to help Shannon matter beyond Rochester.”

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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