Les O’Donnell, 82, passed away on May 22 in North Platte surrounded by his wife and family.

Services will be held May 29-30. The family will welcome guests at Carpenter Memorial Chapel from 3-5 p.m. on Monday, May 29. The celebration of life will be held at 1 p.m. on May 30 at the First United Methodist Church.

O’Donnell left a legacy among those that he touched, including thousands of girls softball players.
He was the founding coach of the North Platte Sensations. The Sensations softball team became a top teams in Nebraska and well-known to softball players and families around the country.

“The Sensations became a well-known name,” said Marilee Hyde, whose two daughters played for O’Donnell in the 1990s. “We traveled to tournaments in Houston, Kansas City and Las Vegas. One year, we flew to Fresno, Calif.”

“He was like a legend with the younger girls,” Hyde said. “He would come scout their games. It was a big deal to be selected to play for the Sensations.”

Hyde said O’Donnell coached the Sensations for many years, insisting on hustle, teamwork and good sportsmanship.

“He made sure his players treated everyone with respect,” she said. “There were no prima donnas. There was no back talk. If a player ever threw a helmet, they regretted it.”

In the commitment to excellence, O’Donnell expected the same from players and their families.

“We practiced all winter and played all summer,” Hyde said. “When you committed to the Sensations, you had to really be committed.”

In addition to coaching generations of softball players from North Platte, O’Donnell conducted softball clinics across the state from Lincoln to Chadron.

He is a member of the Nebraska Softball Coaches Hall of Fame.

In the mid-90s, he also helped launch the North Platte High softball program, which was a club sport at the time.

Hyde said O’Donnell supported a lawsuit to force the school district to start the program under the federal requirements of Title IX, by which schools across U.S. must offer competitive women’s sports programs.

The Hydes were one of five families who filed the suit.

“We didn’t want to seem hostile, but high school softball in North Platte wouldn’t have happened otherwise,’ Hyde said. “We knew it had to be done.”

And in 2014, he came out of retirement to step up to coach the North Platte High girls team for the season in order to fill a vacancy.

His legacy continues. His daughter Leah was recently hired to coach the Lady Bulldogs softball team during the 2023 fall season. His grandson Landan Greeno recently drove in the winning run for the North Platte FNBO Seniors in a game against their arch-rival, Kearney.

Les was born on Sept. 7, 1940 in a farmhouse outside of Bird City, Kan. to Leslie and Doris (Lowe) O’Donnell. He was raised in Benkelman with his older brother, LeRoy, according to his obituary.

He graduated from Benkelman High in 1958. He attended McCook Junior College and attended the University of Nebraska and earned a degree in Civil Engineering.

Before his graduation from NU, he married Deanna Nicholson on June 10, 1962. The couple had three children.

Les worked for the Nebraska Department of Roads in Benkleman, North Platte and Lincoln during his career. In 1971, he was promoted the District 6 Construction Engineer and in 1974, he was named the District 6 Engineer, taking charge of western Nebraska operations.

He retired on Oct. 14, 2005 after 44 years of service to the state roads system.

Les enjoyed hunting and fishing in addition to coaching. He coached Larry in little league baseball and football. He started coaching his daughter Leah in softball in 1980. He coached both of his daughters on the same team in the summer of 1984, the obituary said.

He is survived by his wife, Deanna; children Larry and Christine O’Donnell, Lorie O’Donnell and Greg Hanna, and Leah O’Donnell; grandchildren Luke, Abigale, and Kailey Grace O’Donnell, Connor and Callie States, Savanna States, Logan and Landan Greeno, and Layna O’Donnell; great-grandson Sawyer; sister-in-law,Nici Lehmer; nephews, John Lehmer, Lance O’Donnell and Lynn O’Donnell.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the First United Methodist Church or to the North Platte Public Schools Foundation, designated to the NPHS softball program.

(This report was first published in the Bulletin’s May 24 print edition.)

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