Olympic Torch

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

June 3, 1996

Alum Carries Olympic Torch

By Valerie Hause
UW-RF News Bureau

UW-River Falls alumnus Babatunde Ajayi got his 15 minutes of fame on Sunday as he proudly carried the Olympic Torch down University Avenue in St. Paul.

Ajayi was one of 90 torch bearers in the Twin Cities chosen for the honor because of his commitment to community service. The selection process was directed by United Way, which pored through 400 nominations of those who could be called "Community Heroes."

Ajayi received his Master of Science in Education degree from UW-RF in 1987, and said that the knowledge he gained has been very useful in his business pursuits. Ajayi now runs an export company in Nigeria and is frequently out of the country, but his family remains in Eagan and his interest in the community remains strong.

Among those at the starting point for Ajayi's run on Sunday were his wife, Yemi, and his son , Femi. Ajayi also has a daughter, Nike, who attends Georgia State University but was unable to be in St. Paul for the ceremony.

At Sunday's festivities, Femi held the Olympic flag that signaled the beginning of Ajayi's run. A fifth-grader at Northview Elementary, Femi said that things were "a little crazy" at the Babatundes' home the morning of the Torch run, and that his father was "very happy" to be carrying the torch.

As mementos of the run, Ajayi was presented with a Torch bearer's running outfit, and he will purchase the $250 Torch he carried during his leg.

Early on Sunday, Ajayi was dropped off at his starting point by an official Olympic bus about two minutes before his hand-off. He bounced off the bus with a big smile on his face and his arms high in the air as thousands of spectators looked on.

The crowd cheered and people quickly pounced on him, asking to have their picture taken with him. Ajayi was obviously touched by the many children in the crowd and he took many pictures with them and let them hold the torch.

Moments after Ajayi was dropped off for his hand-off, the torch bearer on the previous segment was seen jogging toward him. The hand-off went smoothly with the men giving each other a high-five before Ajayi headed down University Avenue. He ran confidently and within seven minutes had covered the 1,000 meters (.62 miles), and then was quickly swept away by the Olympic bus.

Colleen Hartman, a former co-worker of Ajayi's at Honeywell, Inc., nominated him for the recognition. She wrote an essay that outlined his dedication to helping others.

Hartman recalled of her nomination, "He (Ajayi) is a great guy. He would do anything for anyone."

Hartman said that Ajayi frequently goes above and beyond the call of duty. As an example, she noted that while Ajayi was employed at Honeywell, one of his favorite activities was the Minneapolis Paint-A-Thon in which various companies set up teams of volunteers to paint houses for low-income families. Many times, when Ajayi thought there was too much scraping to be done, he would drive to the project home himself after work, and scrape the paint off the house so that on the weekend his Honeywell team members wouldn't be overwhelmed by the challenge.

Ajayi was modest about his extra efforts: "I take delight in it, so my team won't suffer."

Other volunteer organizations that Ajayi has been active in include the Junior Achievement program in which business people teach high school students how to set up a business. For 10 weeks the students produce and market their products, and even earn wages and sell stock in their company.

He also is involved in the Inner City Mentor Program, pairing with disadvantaged teens to serve as a friend who they can talk to about their problems, and help find the appropriate solutions.

In talking about his involvement that led to the Olympic Torch run, Ajayi says, "I may be receiving all the glory, but if companies don't encourage and finance these kinds of programs, it would be very difficult for people to be involved in them."

After Sunday's run, Ajayi celebrated with the other "Community Heroes" at the St. Paul Amtrak Station, the hub of Torch activities.

Flanked by family, friends and well-wishers, he again was asked for numerous autographs, which he happily supplied.

"This is exciting. I'm on top of the world."

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