By Karen Andrew
The Cincinnati Enquirer
GREEN TOWNSHIP - For almost 20 years, Ethel D. Luken used hard work and determination to make a difference in the lives of thousands of athletes who participated in the Special Olympics.
Because of her efforts as executive director of the Hamilton County Special Olympics - for people with disabilities - an award was established in her honor.
The Ethel Luken Dedication Award is given each year to a female and male athlete who demonstrate the work ethics she embraced.
Mrs. Luken, a longtime Green Township resident, died Oct. 18 of diabetes at Three Rivers Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Miami Heights. She was 80.
Born in Cincinnati in 1922, Mrs. Luken grew up in Fairmount. She attended Mother of Mercy High School and graduated from St. Xavier Commercial High School in 1940.
She took a secretarial position at Cincinnati Financial, then in 1950 went to work for the Christian Youth Organization. She left CYO in 1951 to marry Henry D. Luken. The coupled raised five sons.
"She was a wonderful mother," said her son, Kenneth, of North Bend. "She was efficient, stern and religious in her efforts. Mom worked to raise us five boys to have an exceptional work ethic, to be honest and live life with integrity based on our religion."
In 1971, Mrs. Luken joined the newly formed Hamilton County Special Olympics as a member of its executive committee. She later served as the committee's secretary. In 1976, she was named executive director of the largely volunteer organization, but insisted on working out of her home so she could take care of her family. Until her retirement, 19 years later, she operated the organization from her home.
Under Mrs. Luken's direction, the local Special Olympics went from hosting two events - track and field and swimming - to multiple events, including gymnastics, basketball and bowling. About 450 mentally/developmentally handicapped athletes participated in 1971.
By the time of her retirement, about 1,800 athletes participated each year.
Her husband, Henry Luken, preceded her in death in 1991.
Besides her son, Kenneth, Mrs. Luken is survived by four other sons: Pete, also of North Bend, Greg of Colerain Township, and Richard and Jeffrey of Bright, Ind.; two sisters, Ann Schneider and Betty Dreyer; and nine grandchildren.
Services have been held. Burial was in St. Aloysius Gonzaga Cemetery, Bridgetown.
Memorials: Hamilton County Special Olympics, 4777 Red Bank Expressway, Cincinnati, OH 45227.
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