Deedee O’Brien has been the only executive director of Ironstone Farm’s Challenge Unlimited program for its 37-year history.
On July 1, however, O’Brien, 69, assumed a more limited role as executive director emeritus so she can focus on her personal life. She will continue to work for Ironstone in a lesser role, writing grants and raising money for Challenge Unlimited.
“O’Brien has overseen the organization’s growth from a small, volunteer-driven and grassroots nonprofit to one of the largest therapeutic riding programs in the nation,” reads a press release from Ironstone.
Challenge Unlimited is a therapeutic program that uses horseback riding and a farm environment to help people with special needs, military veterans and others from more than 90 communities in the Merrimack Valley and Greater Boston.
“I cannot tell you how much joy Ironstone Farm has brought me,” said O’Brien. “The people we serve are constant inspiration – from children living with disability and their devoted families, to our newest populations of combat veterans and seniors with memory impairment, to everyone in between.”
O’Brien planned to transition out of her role in January 2021, but health problems experienced by her and her life partner, legendary Boston TV sportscaster Bob Lobel, have required her to step down early.
O’Brien has leukemia and Lobel, 76, was recently paralyzed from the waist down due to transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that causes inflammation to the spinal cord.
O’Brien met Lobel at Ironstone Farm several years ago after he was invited to one of the organization’s galas. Their initial meeting brought a surprise.
“While he was watching our horses, someone asked him where he grew up and he said he grew up in a little town in Ohio that nobody ever heard of, and I said, ‘Well try me because all these horses grew up in a little town that nobody ever heard of’ and it was kind of a joke,” O'Brien remembered.
“He said, ‘The town I grew up in was Apple Creek, Ohio,' and I couldn’t believe it,'' O'Brien said. "There have to be 800 people in Apple Creek and that’s where all of our horses came from. They came from an Amish farm in Apple Creek, Ohio.”
O’Brien and Lobel live together in Quincy.