Cpl. Conor Masterson and Lance Cpl. Daniel Olsen led parallel lives.
Masterson grew up in Woodbury before enlisting in the Army, joining a family tradition of military service going back five generations. He was known for his humor; Masterson’s fellow soldiers called him their “informal morale officer.”
Olsen, born a year later, was raised in Eagan and became a Marine. A lifelong introvert, Olsen elected to not purchase a dress uniform because he didn’t want to show off.
Three months into his tour of Afghanistan, Masterson was killed in a roadside bombing. Six days earlier, Olsen fell to gunfire in Iraq. They were buried in adjacent plots at Fort Snelling.
To remember their sons, Sandy Masterson and Gwen Olsen helped launch Scoops for Troops, an annual fundraiser for military families, which returns to Eagan on Sunday.
Originally conceived as an ice cream social for family and friends, Scoops for Troops has grown to include a 5K run, guest speakers, pizza and local celebrity ice cream scoopers. In six years, the event has raised $47,000 for postsecondary education for children with a parent killed in the line of duty.
Olsen said the event has also transformed into a gathering place for Gold Star families — those who have lost a loved one in the armed forces — to meet and celebrate the servicemen and women who lost their lives. Scoops for Troops has grown to fill that need even for families outside of Minnesota, Olsen said.
“They enjoy seeing each other when it’s not about focusing on the grief,” Olsen said. “We need that too.”
Money raised Sunday will go to Tribute to the Troops and its Children’s Education Fund. The group has set up accounts for 28 children so far, with another five on the way, according to Jim Woodruff, chairman of Tribute to the Troops’ Minnesota chapter.
“They’re growing up without their dads,” Olsen said. “It’s kind of nice, when most of their world has gone back to normal, that they get this in memory of their father.”
In addition to funding education, Tribute to the Troops also stages an annual motorcycle ride around Minnesota to pay respects to deceased soldiers and their families. Olsen became acquainted with the group when they visited her home after Daniel’s death in 2007. Now Olsen and her husband ride their own motorcycle with Tribute to the Troops and help support others who have lost a loved one.
Sunday’s fundraiser will feature celebrity ice cream scoopers, including former “The Voice” contestant Nicholas David and Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire. Maguire has participated in Scoops for Troops for several years now, and he said he remembers well how Daniel Olsen’s death rocked the city.
“When we lost Daniel, it brought the war home,” Maguire said. “It’s something that we don’t want to forget.”
Olsen and Masterson said Scoops for Troops has swelled into such a large event, with more than 75 volunteers and nearly a thousand participants, that they are often so concerned with making everything go smoothly that they hardly have any time to think about themselves and their sons.
Recently, Masterson said they’ve begun a new tradition of visiting Fort Snelling and eating a quiet dinner together to reflect on their sons’ sacrifice before the flurry of activity begins.
Olsen said she’s pleased Scoops for Troops has become an occasion to celebrate the lives of all service members, and an opportunity to help those who are experiencing what she went through.
“It keeps [Daniel] alive,” she said. “I’m thinking of him, but not as a big void.”
Tony Wagner is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.