Garry Jespersen, Beating Expectations

Garry Jespersen
Garry Jespersen

If a child psychiatrist had been asked to  predict Garry Jespersen’s future, the prognosis might have included life on the street, years in prison, mental illness, even suicide. Having worked with adult prison inmates and also young offenders, I know that neglect and abuse in childhood is a potent recipe for failure, despair and anger. Garry’s life hasn’t followed this usual trajectory and I wanted to hear his story.

Sitting at our kitchen table recently, he surprised Linda and me with a warm smile that seemed to say, “I welcome you into the inner recesses of my life.” Then, in response to my question he grew serious. “My mom walked away when I was 3 months,” he said. “Social services took responsibility for me and my siblings. At age 1, I was placed in the home of a single woman who put me in the attic of her home. There was a bed and 3 potties. Until age 4 I was never allowed out of that attic. She came up in the morning to give me breakfast and in the evening she brought supper. I was terribly lonely. Often I cried. She would come up and slap me. She’d order me to be quiet and go to sleep.”

Garry’s only connection with the world outside was a small window high in the wall of the attic. He never saw a dog or cat or a man. Also, he never played with other children. No social worker checked on him.

“Not having people in my life, my speaking was limited,” he said. “When the Jespersens adopted me at age 4, I didn’t know how to express my fears or desires. Everything was strange to me and I was scared.” The neglect had stunted Garry emotionally and he couldn’t grasp the Jespersen’s love and compassion for him.

He was taught to do chores on the family farm. One day, at age 9, he got something wrong and his father reprimanded him. Garry didn’t have the emotional understanding to interpret his intent. Feeling rejected, he hitchhiked to another community and stayed away 10 days.

“When my Dad saw me coming along the driveway,” he said, “he cried and hugged me. He was so glad I’d come back.”

Inspite of the all-embracing love of the Jespersens, Garry continued to be an emotional cripple, a frequent condition of children and adults who have been abused. There was one positive in his life. Listening to his mother playing the piano, he became intrigued. His parents enrolled him in lessons with the Toronto Conservatory of Music and he discovered that he had talent.

Garry persuaded his dad to buy him a Harley Davidson motorcycle for rounding up the cows and bringing them to the barn. “When I was 15,” he said, “I had another emotional meltdown and again ran away, this time riding the Harley. I joined a biker gang and stayed away 2 years. When I returned, my family welcomed me with much hugging and crying.”

A few years later he became a realtor and his earnings surprised him. “I was living with 4 guys. There was a lot of drinking. One night I dropped off my date and drove to the High Level Bridge in Edmonton. I had no sense of purpose in my life. The money wasn’t giving me satisfaction or meaning. I intended to jump.”

A name began running through his mind repeatedly. “The name was Herbert Hiller. I remembered he was the pastor of the church my parents attended. I phoned him at 2 am. I was crying and I asked to see him right away. He agreed.”

Garry had a profound spiritual experience that night and once again returned home. “My Dad urged me not to go back to my job and friends. I told him I had debts to pay. He said give me a list and I’ll pay them. He also made arrangements for me to attend a Christian college.”

Garry Jespersen enjoys playing his sax
Garry Jespersen enjoys playing his sax

The healing that began in the pastor’s home was not an instantaneous event. Undoubtedly, music has contributed to the transformation. In addition to the piano, he has picked up the saxophone and also sings. He and wife Vi now live in Kelowna and he does 40-50 performances a year. His warm smile, firm handshake and positive message of hope are a clear indication that miracles are still possible.

When Garry Jespersen plays the piano, he uses the entire keyboard.
When Garry Jespersen plays the piano, he uses the entire keyboard.

Margaret Skaar, Not A Bystander

Margaret Skaar
Margaret Skaar

Listening to Margaret Skaar in our home last week, I understood very quickly that she’s a high octane lady who, in the game of life, is not a mere bystander. “I was born in the Lethbridge Hospital the day it opened,” she said. “A year later our family moved to the outskirts of Calgary. When I was about 4 or 5, sometimes my Mom really ticked me off and I’d jump on a street car and ride to my Dad’s downtown office.”

Later, after graduating, she wanted to go to tech school but an aptitude test suggested she pursue a career in the financial sector. Margaret landed a position with CIBC. At age 19, she fell in love and got married to Peter.

The bank put Margaret on a fast track to management. She enrolled in university night classes such as business law, economics, and personnel development. After completing the required twelve courses she was awarded the Fellowship Institute of Canadian Bankers certification.

While still enrolled in these courses, in 1980 the marriage to Peter unravelled. “It was an amicable separation,” she said. “Our 3 children stayed with me.” In addition to family responsibilities, she worked and continued with the courses. It was a test of her determination and resilience.

“When they made me a bank manager,” she said, “I learned to golf so I could hang out with the business crowd. I attended their fancy social functions. The experience helped me realize I was more comfortable with ordinary people, not with the ones who owned the corporations. People think I’m not shy, but with people I don’t know, I am.”

When the man she was dating was transferred to B.C., Margaret moved too. “The bank didn’t have a manager position for me here, so they put me in Consumer Loans. I was delighted. I especially enjoyed dealing with people buying their first home.”

There was a downside for her in this role. “Some people coming for a loan consolidation were making serious mistakes and would come in again for more funds. I could see what they were doing wrong, but I couldn’t help. If they came in for a third consolidation, I had to refuse them. I always referred them upstairs to get advice about money management.”

Desiring companionship again, in 1986 she placed an ad looking for a man who enjoyed camping, fishing and country music. In the same paper, Oly Skaar placed a virtually identical ad. They were married later that year and bought a home in Hedley in 1990. “I learned about Hedley when I did a mortgage for a man buying a home here,” she explained.

After opting for early retirement in 1992, they did a lot of camping and fishing, often at Spence’s Bridge. “We loved taking our grandchildren fishing,” she said.

It wasn’t all joy though. “Everyone in town knows Oly had a serious alcohol issue,” she said. Once again she needed to be strong and resilient. She didn’t walk away from the marriage, and she didn’t wallow in misery.

“I joined Al Anon,” she said. “That gave me a better understanding of what Oly was experiencing, and it helped me cope. When I stopped complaining about the drinking, he didn’t drink as much. We came to have a fun relationship. Sometimes we sat for a couple of hours on the front porch drinking coffee and talking. Staying in the relationship paid off.”

They gave time and energy to the community. “Oly became President of the OAP, now the Hedley Seniors’ Centre, and I was treasurer. In our first year here, Oly served as greeter at the Museum every Saturday and I worked in the kitchen.” When Oly passed away a few years ago, Margaret made the decision to carry on.

Margaret Skaar, cooking eggs for the Hedley Seniors' pancake breakfast.
Margaret Skaar, cooking eggs for the Hedley Seniors’ pancake breakfast.

Currently she is a member of the OAP in Princeton and the Seniors’ Centre in Hedley, belongs to 3 Red Hat Ladies groups, and is treasurer at the Museum. At the Seniors’ Centre she has for 10 years prepared the eggs for the monthly pancake breakfast. Until recently she participated in line dancing 3 days each week. “I used to dance with them at Ridgewood and New Beginnings. I enjoyed that. Now I go only once a week.”

The young child who took the street car to her Dad’s downtown Calgary office, now 73, is employing that early feistiness and strong will to serve her community.

Geoff Goodman of the Princeton Posse

Geoff Goodman Princeton Posse Coach
Geoff Goodman
Princeton Posse Coach

I wish my own children had received the teaching and guidance of a coach like Geoff Goodman of the Princeton Posse. In a nearly 2 hour conversation in our home, I sensed that his values and coaching style can have a positive, life changing impact on his young players. He had caught my attention earlier when he sent 2 star players to the Osoyoos Coyotes, coached by Ken Law, to give them an opportunity to showcase their talents with a team that would go farther in the playoffs.

Geoff started with the Posse on May 15, 2015, after being an assistant to Law. It was a difficult time for the team. Before departing, the previous coach had sent most of the players to other teams. Only 5 remained. Geoff chose to view this predicament optimistically. “We began rebuilding from scratch, mostly with players from the midget level.”

Reflecting back on the season in which the team won only 9 games, he says, “for several weeks we had 8 regulars unable to play due to injuries. The guys didn’t stop trying. They continued to practise hard and they grew tight as a team.” It is evident he is proud of his team’s stalwart character.

“The town gave us phenomenal support,” he said. “We didn’t win often, but we still had an average of 160-170 people at our games. Even when we lost, the fans sometimes gave the team a standing ovation. The mayor spoke at our year end banquet.”

A lot of work, including an ongoing bottle drive, is done by volunteers. Geoff is grateful for the diligence of all those who strive to make the team a success. “We could use a few more volunteers,” he said. It seems like a great opportunity to play a role in a vibrant organization.

Princeton Posse Bus Team Photo, Courtesy of Princeton Posse
Princeton Posse Bus Team Photo,
Courtesy of Princeton Posse

(click on photo to enlarge)

The Posse, a Junior B team, plays in the 20 team Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Geoff’s own hockey experience includes playing for the Dunville Mudcats, a Senior Triple A team. “At every game, after ‘O Canada’, someone threw a dead catfish onto the ice,” he said, smiling at the memory. He still retains his robust, athletic physique.

In addition to his coaching role, Geoff has a full-time job as a sales rep. He lives in Summerland and works in the Okanagan Valley. It’s a long trek to Princeton for practises and games. “I want to be a positive role model,” he said. “It’s important that the players are convinced I’m totally committed.”

Winning games is important to Geoff, but he has a broader perspective. “I want to influence the way they live,” he said. “I show respect for them. I seek to instil a diligent work ethic and a sense of pride.”

He still receives notes on facebook from players he coached in the past. One called to say, “I’ve got a job and I’m a dad now”. Ken Law, who had accompanied Geoff to the interview, shares similar goals and values. “Years later former players send us notification of the births of their children.”

The players, ages 16 to 20, come from various communities in B.C. and other provinces. Several have come from the U.S. including Colorado. “Some are a long way from home and it’s important that they trust us,” Geoff said. “They come to us with girl issues, when they’re lonely, or need a job, etc.”

The team has 23 players on its roster, each of whom pays $3,000 for the privilege of playing. The team provides billets, food, transportation, uniforms and much more.

“Our emphasis is on developing their potential as players and as people. We want them to learn social skills. This happens in the dressing room by interacting with each other, learning to work through interpersonal issues. They also learn to accept instruction from the coaches. We arrange for them to help in the senior’s centre. They read to children in schools and play with them.

In all sports, serious players seek out coaches with a reputation for player development. Arranging for stars like Stephen Heslop and Drew Carter to show case their talents elsewhere was a courageous, selfless decision. This style of putting a player’s development ahead of his personal ambitions probably accounts for the 65 player turnout at the Posse’s recent spring camp.

When I asked if he’d be interested in coaching the Canucks, he said, “I like this age group. There are fewer egos to stroke.” It will be fascinating to stand on the sidelines and watch Geoff Goodman continue to build an exciting Princeton Posse team.

Spring Delights Along 20 Mile Creek

20 Mile Creek
20 Mile Creek

Until a few weeks ago, 20 Mile Creek flowed at an unimpressive low ebb. Then the sun turned up the thermostat and began melting the snow high on the mountains. From our vantage point in Hedley we see virtually no snow anymore but it must be tucked away somewhere, out of reach of the sun’s warmth until now. We know the snow is there because the creek is flowing furiously. We gage the amount of flow by observing its level at a particular rock. When the water mounts the rock and roars over it, we consider the water to be at an intense flow. Not there yet.

Another view of 20 Mile Creek
Another view of 20 Mile Creek

A few blooming Saskatoon bushes along the way give promise of tasty berries later in the season. It’s always a competition between humans and the local black bear. The bear invariably insists on getting more than his rightful share. We knows he’s been munching when the branches are in considerable disarray, and have been stripped of berries and leaves. The bear is not a tidy eater. Some people don’t appreciate the seeds, but he seems not to be troubled by them.

Saskatoon bush in bloom
Saskatoon bush in bloom

Flowers are beginning to bloom, even on the bank along the trail, where there appears to be no good soil to encourage growth. This flower is an Arrowleaf Balsam Root.

Arrowleaf Balsam Root
Arrowleaf Balsam Root

Yesterday Linda spotted a bird hiding in a clump of grass, obviously hoping its colouring blended well with the surroundings. Although I didn’t think it would show well on a photo, she took the camera and managed to get fairly close. We weren’t sure what type of bird it was so she later asked Frank Schroeder, our local bird expert. He compared it with pictures on his phone and identified it as a spruce grouse. It is his opinion that because it doesn’t show bright colours, it is likely a female.

A female Spruce Grouse
A female Spruce Grouse

The area is still fairly pristine, thanks to people like Lydia Sawicki, Frank Schroeder and Bill Day who have been active in removing garbage left by those who show little respect for the wilderness. Lydia has played a key role in persuading people not to dump or leave anything behind.

I am frequently impressed by the beauty, orderliness, and intricate interrelationships within nature. For me the phenomenal complexity is convincing evidence of a Designer’s mind, still active behind the scenes, keeping it functioning in a manner that delights and surprises. We’re blessed to have 20 Mile Creek, a wilderness gem at our doorstep.

Did Edward Greenspan Think Differently?

Edward Greenspan en.Wikipedia
Edward Greenspan

I’ve sometimes wondered if exceptionally successful individuals like Jimmy Pattison use their brains differently than the rest of us mere mortals. Books like “The  Success Principles” by Jack Canfield suggest they do. In “The Case for the Defence” legendary attorney Edward (Eddy) Greenspan (1944 -2014) provides some helpful insights.

One case he cites involved Anthony, an Italian shopkeeper who had confessed to the shooting of 2 youths, both age 17. When the police arrived at his shop they saw the boys lying side by side on the floor, a total of 8 bullets in their bodies. In answer to their questions, Anthony was reported to have said, “they come in my shop. I shoot them.” Considering it an “open and shut” case, they charged him with first degree murder. The Crown Prosecutor agreed and opposed bail.

Retained to represent Anthony in court, Greenspan realized it would be extremely difficult to convince a jury to acquit a man who has shot 2 innocent youths from good families. He did not, however, assume it was hopeless and wondered if the police perception might be overly simplistic. It was his practise to question his own assumptions and those of others. He wasn’t a fan of easy explanations and applied a relentless work ethic to uncover the facts.

Having a curious mind, he felt somewhere in this tragic situation there might be information that would assist him in defending his client. Patiently questioning Anthony, he discovered the man had been born in Italy and because of his father’s ill health, had gone to work after grade 5. Upon emigrating to Canada he married a girl from his village in Italy and they had 2 children. To support his family, until the day of his arrest, he had worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. His English was rudimentary.

Greenspan felt he must gain an understanding of why a hard working man with a family might have shot 2 apparently harmless young men. Working tirelessly, as was his habit, he delved into every possible nook and cranny.

Examining police notes, Greenspan concluded his client had not understood their questions and they had not understood him accurately. They had written in the notes what they thought he had said.

What, he asked himself, would have led this seemingly harmless man to pull the automatic 32 calibre Beretta from a shelf behind the counter and shoot the boys? His questioning revealed that the 2 young men had entered Anthony’s shop on numerous occasions. Usually they harassed him with threats. One had stolen 5 gallons of gasoline. They had also thrown snowballs at his shop and broken a light bulb. They were big, strong boys and he was scarcely more than 5 feet in height. He admitted he had feared them.

Greenspan’s meticulous, unstinting research revealed that the youths had earlier threatened, bullied and physically attacked others. On the night of the shootings, they had entered Anthony’s shop just before his closing time of 10 pm. One took a swing at him, then reached for the cash register. When Anthony said, “I call police,” the youths said they would kill him before he could make the call.

Greenspan knew that in court, the Prosecutor, a skillful litigator, would almost certainly play hardball. Unlike Greenspan, he had accepted the police version of events. Greenspan understood fully the Prosecutor’s role and purpose was to tenaciously argue for a guilty verdict. He would not ferret out mitigating information. Believing Anthony deserved a harsh sentence, the Prosecutor would use every possible device to convince the jury he was of unsavory character.

In court, the Prosecutor argued that Anthony had shot the boys in revenge for the gasoline theft. However, Greenspan convinced the judge to allow him to present the bullying history of the 2 youths. He argued Anthony had become psychologically distraught by their threats. He had believed they intended to rob him and then kill him so he could not identify them later. Anthony testified “in all my life I have never been so afraid.” At the end of the trial, after 5 hours of deliberation, the jury found him “not guilty.”

Observing Edward Greenspan, Jimmy Pattison and others, I’ve concluded that along with their various skills and positive attributes, highly successful individuals possess a deep seated conviction that what others deem impossible might in fact be possible.


The Tulips Are Blooming!

Waves of Tulips photo by Terry Friesen
Waves of Tulips
photo by Terry Friesen

I have long  been an ardent admirer of Terry Friesen’s photography. Recently he sent me a couple of his photos with permission to post them. His note accompanying the photos said, “the Annual Seabird Tulip Festival is no more, but the growers of the tulips are now leasing land from my friend Frank Pauls in Greendale. The blooms are really coming out now.” Terry has posted more photos on his Flickr site Hope you enjoy them as much as Linda and I do.

Pink Upshot by Terry Friesen
Pink Upshot by
Terry Friesen

Mexico Trip With A Purpose

After 3 days on a Greyhound style bus, Ayrelea and Zion Nimchuk of

Ayrelea & Zion, at our home
Ayrelea & Zion, at our home

Hedley arrived in Zapata, an impoverished village in Mexico. They were part of a contingent of high school students on spring break. In four days they would construct simple houses for 2 families living in tiny one room shacks. Sitting at the table in our sun room, drinking tea and munching on Linda’s home made chocolate cookies, they talked with evident fervour about the poverty, the people and the building project. They seemed deeply humbled, and also excited by what they had experienced.

“The family for whom we built a house was living in a shack about the size of this room,” sixteen year old Zion said. I wondered how a family of 4 could live in a home measuring approximately 12 ft. by 12 ft. “They don’t have electricity or running water,” Ayrelea, age 14 added. “They cook meals outside on a 2 burner propane stove. One of the burners wasn’t working. They wash clothes by hand. Their bathroom is an outhouse.”

Ayrelea , along with 2 other volunteers, taking care of young children.
Ayrelea , along with 2 other volunteers, taking care of young children.

Neither of the Nimchuk youths speak Spanish. Zion has studied Japanese in school and Ayrelea has focused on sign language. It wasn’t a problem though, they agreed. They feel they came to know the family. “We learned a few simple words, like how to say dog,” Zion said. “This helped us to explain to the people, with gestures, that we would build a little house for their dog.”

Zion, making good use of his carpentry skills.
Zion, making good use of his carpentry skills.

Wanting to learn more about organizational details concerning the project, I called Les Clark, pastor of the Community Church in Kaleden. He has gone to Mexico 11 times and is the local organizer. “It’s done under the auspices of Live Different,” he said. “We draw youths from local schools. The cost is $1500 per individual. This covers all expenses for travel and staying in Mexico. It also pays for the materials to build the homes.”

This year they did a major bottle drive in Kaleden and hosted 2 spaghetti dinners to raise funds. A number of people in the community see the value for the students and the recipients. They contribute funds. “When a home is completed,” he said, “we furnish it with beds, mattresses, a 3 burner propane stove, a table and chairs, plus a fruit tree and other items.”

Shannon Beglaw of Keremeos again made the trip with her 2 children this year. “We want the kids to see that it’s possible to make a difference by showing kindness,” she said. “We are really grateful to the community for helping make this happen.”

According to Live Different, the sponsoring organization, “what we do allows our volunteers to see first hand how two thirds of the world lives. It expands their world view and gives them the opportunity to consider how they can build hope and change in their own lives.” They state further that “our programs are designed to inspire students to take immediate action to make a positive difference in their world.”

Volunteers working together, erect a wall.
Volunteers working together, erect a wall.

I wanted to know what impact the project had on Ayrelea and Zion. “We developed relationships with the family,” Ayrelea said. Zion nodded and added, “to really understand the conditions the people live in, you have to go there and see the one room shacks. We know now that they all need help.”

Ayrelea then offered another thought. “Even though they have so little, they are happy. They smile a lot.” Zion agreed, then added, “we have so much. We really are blessed in this country.”

Were there any significant interpersonal issues in the group? “Yes,” Ayrelea said. “The boys were getting to do all the hammering on the roof, while the girls painted. We wanted the experience of hammering too, so we brought this up at the evening debriefing. The next day the boys were painting the house pink, as requested by the family. The girls were on the roof hammering.” She smiled at the memory.

Ayrelea, on the roof.
Ayrelea, on the roof.

Do they hope to go again? Once more Ayrelea responded without hesitation. “Yes, I really want to go back and see the family.” Zion was equally certain. “I want to go back every year.”

At a time when challenges abound around the globe, the Live Different emphasis on being grateful and helping others is enabling local youths to make a positive difference internationally.

Maha’s Delightful Perogies

perogies photo by our way to
perogies photo by our way to

Linda and I both  grew up occasionally feasting on perogies hand made by our mothers. Along with other calorie laden foods, they certainly played a role in creating my rounded stomach as a young boy and teen. They weren’t a frequent treat so I never grew weary of them. Their rich flavour and aroma still linger in the deep recesses of my memory. The memory is always accompanied by mental images of sitting at the table with the family at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and a few other occasions. Holiday meals were a special delight for mom. She loved to observe us enjoying her sumptuous meals, always encouraging us to partake heartily.

Sadly, these good family times ended when mom passed away. Fortunately Linda’s mom continued to make perogies though. Most of her family enjoy them as much as Linda and I. That too ended when her years began sapping her energy and strength. Now age 92, she has less interest in food preparation and perogies are definitely no longer on her menu. The commercial variety are ok but we buy them only when we are virtually quivering with the need for a perogie fix.

Family experiences with one of our very favourite foods explains why this Easter weekend was especially memorable in a culinary sense. Maha, our Iraqi born sister-in-law and the newest addition to the family, had accepted responsibility for preparing the family meal on Sunday.

Encouraged by her husband Gary, Linda’s brother, she learned to make perogies a few years ago. She was guided in this, step by step, by Linda’s mom. To ensure nothing was overlooked, Gary stood by patiently with a pen and notebook, meticulously recording each step. He’s as seriously hooked as we are.

When we walked into the house on Easter Sunday, Maha had a variety of dishes almost ready. Apparently the excitement of the preparations had stirred Linda’s mom to play a role. Wooden spoon in hand, she was stirring the gravy. Seeing that I’d just be a nuisance to the several cooks now engaged in last minute ministrations, I went out and walked around the block. This would be a meal for which I wanted a hearty appetite.

After brother-in-law Stan had prayed a blessing on the food, we sat down to a dinner reminiscent of meals my mother prepared for special occasions. It awakened memories of those good days when my parents still lived and our family enjoyed mom’s cooking.

A note about Maha: She fled with her family from Iraq to Turkey some years ago, then immigrated to Canada. Certainly we have known from the beginning she’s a treasure. The perogies have boosted her to star status in the family.