IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Pandemic leads to unlikely friendship between toddler and 99-year-old neighbor

Their bond developed from behind a fence during the COVID-19 crisis.
/ Source: TODAY

The bright spot of the pandemic for Benjamin Olson, a 2-year-old boy in Minnesota, has been becoming best friends with his next-door neighbor. Her name is Mary O’Neill and she will celebrate her 100th birthday in December.

“For more than a year, he didn’t see other kids. He didn’t interact with anyone except our family and Mary,” Benjamin’s mom, Sarah Olson, told TODAY Parents. “They ended up forming an incredibly strong bond.”

Benjamin Olson, 2, considers his 99-year-old neighbor Mary O'Neill to be his best friend. Sarah Olson

At first, O’Neill, who lost her husband 37 years ago, would just wave at Benjamin from behind a window. Then, she began venturing outside to say hello. Soon, the two were having regular meet-ups by a fence that separates their homes.

“Benjamin keeps me company,” O’Neill told TODAY Parents.

When the weather is nice, O’Neill and Benjamin will sit on her steps and blow bubbles together.

“Sometimes he’ll get up and grab a piece of sand or a rock and give it to me as a gift,” O’Neill said. “He makes me feel good.”

Mary O'Neill and Benjamin Olson have a chat by the fence that separates their homes. Sarah Olson

Early on in their friendship, O’Neill created a game where Benjamin kicks her a ball and she passes it back to him with her cane. She calls it cane ball. O'Neill also gifted the little boy with a big box of toy trucks that belonged to her late son.

“Mary carried this big laundry basket filled with heavy trucks up from her basement. I have no idea how she did it. But she carried out those trucks, no problem,” Sarah recalled.

O'Neill said the trucks are helping Benjamin to learn his colors.

O'Neill gave Benjamin a box of toys that belonged to her late son. Sarah Olson

Recently, NBC affiliate KARE 11 interviewed O’Neill and the Olsons about the unlikely friendship. Sarah said she got teary-eyed as she listened to O’Neill share what Benjamin means to her.

“Mary is fiercely independent. She doesn’t really show her cards,” Sarah explained. “So I got really emotional when I heard her say that she missed Benjamin on the days when it was too cold or rainy to go outside.”

Benjamin felt the same way.

“Mary really is Benjamin's best friend,” Sarah said. “She’s his first best friend.”

KARE 11 video about Benjamin and Mary:

Related TODAY video from the archives: