Category Archives: Inspiration

Relationships Are Worth Nourishing

Relationships by

Although I am in regular contact with Brian, I have never met him and almost certainly never will. He’s serving a lengthy sentence in the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, a commercially operated prison. A trouble maker in the prison until quite recently, he was “bequeathed” to Linda and me by our friend Arnet Hales, who passed away last year.

With Arnet gone, we are Brian’s only connection to the world outside the high metal fence that surrounds the prison. From him and other inmates, I’ve learned something about how important it is to nourish relationships.

Maintaining outside relationships while in prison is particularly challenging. Prisons tend to have a plethora of regulations that discourage substantive interactions, even with family. U.S. prisons are especially harsh. Except for one telephone conversation, our communication with Brian has been by letter. In that single phone call from him, he said very forlornly, “I’ve done too much time. My family and friends have given up on me. I don’t know where they are anymore. I don’t blame them.” Possibly he didn’t make the effort and they didn’t either.

Having lived many years without letters or visits before Arnet’s time, Brian has become aware of the value of friendships. He invariably expresses fervent appreciation when we write.

In my work life I interviewed many inmates, many of whom, like Brian had lost all outside connections. On one occasion at the B.C. Penitentiary (since then shut down and demolished) I was required to speak with a man through a small metal mesh in a plexiglass window. Slight, with thinning brown hair and a wan, expressionless visage, everything about him suggested a deep inner desolation.

Dressed in grey prison garb, he observed me vacantly, seemingly incapable of believing any good would come from this conversation. 18 years in prison had apparently taken away all zest for life. Even so, he wanted a friend and had applied to our organization for a citizen sponsor.

I’ve come to understand that prison walls and regulations are not the only obstacles to communication. Most of us at times erect relationship barriers, intentionally or through neglect. Pressures at work, disagreements at home, discouragement, or complacency can distract us from what is really significant. I know one individual who will not accept a telephone call when her favorite tv program is on. In-depth conversations become more difficult when people continuously send and receive text messages.

Linda and I have been guilty of permitting relationships to languish. When we first moved to Hedley in the late 1970’s, we were too preoccupied with work and family to maintain important friendships we had left behind in the Fraser Valley. Due to lack of attention, they withered.

Dr. Mensa Otabil

Reflecting back on that time, we realize that Dr. Mensa Otabil was right when he wrote in Pathways To Success, “90% of the people in your life today will not be there in 10 years.”

Fortunately, when an employment change took us back to Abbotsford for some 25 years, we were able to restore many of the relationships we had neglected. When we returned to Hedley 5 years ago, we decided we would not repeat past negligence. In the hope of retaining and adding to our connections, we began writing an email letter to family and friends every 2 months.

Mostly they talk about life in this rustic, somewhat remote community. If Linda is baking brown bread or chocolate chip cookies, we write about the aroma and anticipation. When we still had 3 chickens, they received respectful, occasionally disgruntled mention. We have written about the popular monthly $5 pancake breakfasts at the Seniors’ Centre, the Museum’s Stamp Mill Day celebrating Hedley’s gold boom past, and the Community Club’s summer street dance.

The content of these letters is never sensational. Writing about small town life in a manner that interests our more sophisticated city friends can be daunting. Their responses at times do cause us to ponder. Some provide a sketch of daily routines, challenges, adventures. Many write only a few lines but want to stay in touch. Others never respond but when we meet them, they express appreciation for the letters. “We’re not good communicators,” they say, “but we like reading about your lives in Hedley. Keep the letters coming.”

Staying in touch need not be arduous. A phone call, card, email or visit lets people know we value their friendship. Relationships are worth nourishing.

On The Threshold Of 2018

I was sitting at the computer in my home office, contemplating the fact that we’re on the threshold of 2018. Several scenes from my past stirred restlessly within me, reminding me to not enter the new year with a sense of complacency.

In the first scene it was spring, and I was seated cross legged on a rock at the edge of the Similkameen River. Because this was a year of unusually heavy run-off, the icy water rushed by me with immense force. Alongside the turbulence, in a small sheltered eddy I noticed two chunks of driftwood, bumping repeatedly against the rocks, going nowhere. These pieces of driftwood reminded me of an earlier time in my life.

A number of round faced men in drab grey garb were sitting on hard wooden benches against a long metal hut. Desolate and unfocused, they sat unmoving, as purposeless as discarded mannequins. Sometimes they waited hours in the bright warm sun for the most significant event in their day, the next meal. These men were federal prisoners in a medium security penitentiary.

Like the chunks of driftwood, the unstirring grey figures with their vacant unsmiling visages had long ago sought the safety of quiet waters. Perpetually anxious, they were unsettled by the questions, decisions and rigours of life they would need to deal with upon release. Although loath to acknowledge it, the only place they felt somewhat secure was inside the high chain link metal fence surrounding them.

Still observing the two chunks of driftwood floating aimlessly in the secluded eddy at the edge of the river, it occurred to me that quiet water holds no excitement, no challenge, and no fulfillment. In its apparent safety, nothing grows except smelly, green stagnation.

Bending over, I reached for one of the chunks of driftwood and hurled it with all my strength into the midst of the rushing river. It was suddenly seized and energized by the might of the current. I watched with a sense of wonder as it sailed triumphantly around the next bend and out of sight.

That liberated piece of driftwood brought to my consciousness yet another scene that has for many years intrigued me. This scene came from a Bowron Lakes canoe expedition in the wilderness near Barkerville some years ago. We were 12 in number, 3 leaders and 9 adolescent boys.

As we emerged that Thursday morning from the fast flowing, potentially treacherous waters of the Bowron River onto Lanezie Lake, a powerful headwind was already whipping up the waves, stinging our faces with cold spray. In spite of strenuous paddling, our 6 yellow frontiersman canoes bobbed like corks on the unruly water, scarcely moving. Hemmed in by mountains that descended to the very edge of the lake, we could not hope for refuge there.

Our usually boisterous boys grew eerily quiet. Concerned they might panic, I looked for a means of bolstering their spirits and overcoming my own anxiety.

Some might deem it nonsensical, but I started to sing, “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” I’ve never been nominated for any singing award, but in this situation it didn’t matter. At first the boys seemed puzzled, then two joined in. Their voices weren’t much better than mine, but in the blowing wind, who cared. “Row, row, row your boat.” Soon we were all singing, whooping, and paddling like mad voyageurs from another time. We became lusty and strong, free of fear.

“Shooting the Rapids”, painting by Francis Ann Hopkins (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/02774f)

I looked at the 2 straining, sweating boys in the canoe closest to me. Both were grinning. They were having too much fun to be scared.

Three hours later we were in the safety of our rustic camp, tents set up, fire burning brightly and warm food in our bellies. Surrounded by the deep darkness of the wilderness, the boys were sitting around the fire talking quietly. I sensed today’s experience had made them more aware of the strength, resilience and courage residing within them, waiting to be called upon. They had contended with danger, and had learned they could overcome.

Although these scenes are from my distant past, they are indelibly imprinted on my subconscious mind. They remind me that even though I no longer have the vibrant strength and energy of those years, and the challenges have changed, if I want significance and excitement in 2018, I still must avoid life’s quiet waters.

Undaunted In Life’s Last Chapter

Anna’s life changed when she fell out of a cherry tree.
(photo from Mercer Orchards)

During the 6 years my Dad was in a longterm care facility, I observed that the dynamics here were similar to what I had seen in prisons. Some residents lost all hope and just sat inertly in their wheel chairs, unwilling to participate in group activities. A handful of undaunted residents demonstrated surprisingly purposeful responses to this final, difficult stage in life.

After Dad fell and broke his hip, he never walked again. The facility in which he was placed had about 200 residents, all in wheel chairs. The perimeter doors were securely locked and the long hallways were impersonal and uninspiring.

A lifelong fascination with music helped Dad become one of those who decided to employ the time profitably. He played the cello and on every visit I carried the instrument to the piano in the dining room and we made music. It was the beginning of a drama that pulled together some of those who refused to give up. Because I arrived on almost a daily basis, I had considerable opportunity to observe the interactions and in some cases to be drawn in.

I occasionally chatted with Edna, a petite, fragile appearing woman with long white hair. In her late seventies, her alert mind still craved stimulation. Wanting freedom, she had seven times cut the belt staff affixed around her to ensure she would not fall from her wheelchair.

One day during the music time she parked her chair immediately behind the piano bench on which I was sitting. When we finished playing, I stood up and turned toward her, quite unaware of her devious intent. Grasping my wrist firmly, she fixed her mischievous blue eyes on me and said, “kiss me.” Dumbfounded, my mind scrambled, searching for a way to extricate myself from this awkward situation. I said, “what did you say?” “Kiss me,” she repeated, but with greater urgency. I didn’t want to embarrass her with an outright refusal. Studying her face, which still retained vestiges of earlier beauty, an idea came. Leaning over, I pecked her lightly on the forehead. Apparently satisfied, she smiled impishly.

Elsie, an independent minded resident, had earned a reputation with staff as a troublesome agitator. Over the years MS had trapped her questioning spirit in a body that no longer responded to commands. She guided her electric wheelchair by manipulating a steering device with her chin. Each morning she adeptly maneuvered the chair into Dad’s room and said “good morning Jacob, how are you?” After a brief chat, she backed out and roamed the hallways and dining room, searching for issues to take up with staff. Sometimes she literally cornered me and talked about the latest injustice she had uncovered. The Head Nurse became wary and uneasy when she saw Elsie trundling down a corridor on a sleuthing expedition. She attempted to discourage Elsie’s ceaseless roaming, but Elsie could not be stopped. She saw and heard things the Head Nurse didn’t want exposed. Elsie was delighted at each opportunity to tell institutional secrets.

As a teen, Anna had fled with her parents from a Mennonite village in Russia to escape Stalin’s purges. Now 83, she had been confined to a wheelchair for several years after climbing a tree to pick cherries. When a branch broke, her aged body had not been able to withstand the hard landing.

Day after day she sat in her wheelchair in the dining room, observing, meditating, often smiling. A woman of deep faith in God, serene and wise. One day as I was about to leave after a brief visit, she placed her hand gently on mine. In her native Low German, she prayed a blessing on me. As I walked away, I wondered if Anna had a premonition that we would not speak again. Several days later she wasn’t in her usual place. I went to her room where she quietly lay, very near to drawing her final breath.

Now, some years later, I still think often of these stalwart individuals. They had been stripped of health, material possessions, the freedom to go where they pleased, in some cases even of family and friends. Still, though the flesh was weak, the spirit was willing, and they were undaunted in this last difficult chapter of their lives. To this time I continue to feel privileged to have been in their company and to have learned from them.

The Passing of Hugh Hefner and John Boersma

Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) photo from Wikipedia

My friend John Boersma and Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner had both attained the 9th decade when they passed away in September. This was pretty much all they had in common. John’s exit received little attention outside his very loyal circle of friends. Hefner had a following around the globe and for a couple of days, local and international media avidly interviewed anyone who had ever known him. I wondered about the impact of their lives.

Hugh Hefner is principally known for his Playboy Magazine and the 29 room Playboy Mansion. The former was first published in December, 1953, with Marilyn Monroe on the front cover. It became famous for its centerfold. Each issue featured a dazzlingly lovely young woman sporting an exquisite, flawless, totally nude body.

John Boersma (November 29, 1922 – September 17, 2017) photo from Dignity Memorial.

When John Boersma was a young man, a woman exposing her body publicly was considered unseemly. This was certainly true in the conservative culture in which he lived. He attained a trade, worked diligently, got married and with his wife Theresa raised 3 children. They sought to instill sound values and modeled stability.

In the mean time, Hugh Hefner was embarking on an amazingly, hedonistic life style. He established the Playboy Mansion and surrounded himself with “bunnies,” gorgeous young women he invited to live with him in the mansion. He dated up to 7 women at a time, had 5 partners over the years, plus numerous girlfriends. Into this confusing mix, he added 3 marriages. His third wife, Crystal Harris, was 26 and he was 86 when they married.

John Boersma was already in his 80’s when I met him at a longterm care facility where he visited Theresa daily. She had drifted into dementia, which might have persuaded some men to part company. Not John though. Even when she lost all speech, probably didn’t recognize him, and needed to be fed, he continued to call her “sweetie” and spend the entire day with her. When she rested, John cheered up other residents, encouraging them, often whistling a tune, adding his deep baritone to a musical group, sometimes taking a female resident’s chair and dancing with her. His zest for life raised morale and brought joy.

Hefner’s Playboy magazine lured men into a very different lifestyle. The centerfold caused their hormones to flutter erratically and dance in excited anticipation. I never did buy a copy but as a teen I occasionally slipped into the local pharmacy and surreptitiously viewed the beauty of the month. Payment of $25,000 persuaded many cash strapped lovelies to disrobe for the Playboy camera.

There’s a meticulously crafted sense of mystique around the mansion, the magazine, and Hefner himself. The Playboy empire is deliberately portrayed as a glamorous, magical kingdom with Hefner in the role of Playboy Prince. The alluring imagery is calculated to lead people to believe they’re missing something essential, and to long for that elusive ingredient.

As seen from outside the Mansion, it is indeed a glamorous and enticing lifestyle. According to several former Hefner playmates however, the reality was not as enchanting as the public image. Holly Madison, for 6 years Hefner’s #1 girlfriend, presented a more somber view in Down the Rabbit Hole. In its promotion of the book, publisher Harper Collins wrote “What seemed like a fairy tale life quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies. Life inside the notorious mansion wasn’t a dream at all, and quickly became her nightmare.”

In Bunny Tales, Izabella St. James, another former Hefner girlfriend wrote, “ Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef’s room, wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet, and then asked for our one thousand dollar weekly allowance. He used the money to control us. We all hated the process.” St. James described the mansion as decrepit. “The mattresses on our beds were disgusting – old, worn and stained. The whole business was built on the bodies of nude women.”

There are always some who push the bar lower. Flamboyant individuals like Hugh Hefner are able to have a destabilizing impact on our society, because the media love to feature them and we are willing to be tempted. People like John Boersma do not exude the same charm or charisma, but they set for themselves a high standard of morality and decency. They are worthy role models for us all.


My Dad’s Guatemalan Summer

Elderly Guatemalan Woman, photo by

My gentle, white haired Dad didn’t actually go to Guatemala that summer in 1994. It just seemed that way. When the Mennonite Central Committee told him about Hugo, a 36 year old Guatemalan man who worked on a hog farm and lived in his car, Dad knew someone must do something. “I have much to be thankful for,” he said. “I’m living alone in a 3 bedroom home. He is welcome.”

Hugo walked in that first evening carrying his few belongings. Dad had supper waiting and over the meal they began to talk, but Hugo’s sketchy English made communication difficult.

During the first couple of weeks they collaborated in developing a simple system of signs and words. They were like 2 kids who haven’t yet learned communication requires a common language.

Jake, you want?” Hugo would say, holding up his offering. Sign language was unnecessary when Dad said, “Hugo, you want coffee?”

On work days Hugo got up at 5 a.m. and prepared breakfast for himself and Dad, often a fried egg, unbuttered toast, a spicy green pepper and coffee. By the time Dad woke, the food retained not even the slightest hint of warmth. Only the green pepper was hot. Dad ate all but the pepper, without complaint. “I lived through the Dirty Thirties,” he told us. “I was taught to be grateful for whatever was placed on the table.”

At supper it was Dad’s turn to cook. His specialty was vegetarian soups and pies. Except for Guatemalan foods, Hugo had a teenager’s palette. He loved greasy foods, especially burgers and fries. He always praised Dad lavishly, smiling broadly and saying “good food, Jake. I like.” Dad noticed though that Hugo ate little. “I don’t think he cares for my cooking,” he said. “I’m sure he stops at McDonald’s on his way home.”

At the beginning of summer, Hugo said, “Jake, my mother, my sister. They want come visit Canada 2 weeks. Is alright they stay here?” Dad knew Hugo’s family ties were tenuous. This might be an opportunity to mend fences. “Yes, Hugo,” he said. “They are welcome.”

The mother and sister soon arrived. They spoke only Spanish, so Hugo needed to interpret in his still skeletal English. The two women quickly commandeered the kitchen. Soon the fridge was stocked with ingredients to prepare tortillas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and more. Dad was pleased.

Virtually every day, while Hugo was at work, the old mother and her daughter visited local thrift shops. They returned with bulging shopping bags. Because Hugo left early in the morning and usually returned late, Dad was often at home with the two ladies. They were learning English, but initially communication was primarily by signs and gestures.

We remembered that Hugo had told Dad the ladies wanted to stay two weeks. The time passed rapidly and when we expected they’d be leaving imminently Linda and I invited Dad and his “Guatemalan family” for dinner. Over coffee and dessert, Linda innocently asked what day they were planning to leave.

The Old Mother’s response provided insight into Guatemalan time and culture. “In our village, when someone goes on a holiday,” she explained, speaking through Hugo, “it is necessary to bring a small gift for everyone. I have too many presents for the plane. I will buy a truck and my other son will drive it back. We will go with him.”

When Hugo’s sister unexpectedly left for L.A., Dad faced a new challenge. It was not considered proper in his Mennonite culture for a man and woman to live in the same house outside the bond of marriage. How would he explain this woman, almost his own age, living in his house? He devoted many hours to working on his yard. It was looking pretty spiffy.

Several weeks later Hugo arrived driving a red 1979 Toyota pickup truck. “Brakes no good,” he said. “My brother Otto fix when he has time.”

In the eighth week Otto arrived in the pickup. When he had loaded the truck, the Old Mother came to Dad and gave him a large straw hat with a red ribbon. With tears in her eyes she said, “In my village you welcome to visit.” Then she added, “Please, you take care my Hugo.”

Yes,” Dad said. “He is like a son.” She climbed into the truck, tears on her cheeks. And so ended my Dad’s Guatemalan summer.

Jeff Lakey, Healing With Music

Jeff Lakey

Sitting under a lush canopy of green leaves in a Cawston orchard last week, I asked musician Jeff Lakey, “What has surprised you?” He replied, “I’m surprised I’m still alive and healthy.” After hearing his story, Linda and I were surprised too.

The setting was a neighbourhood gathering of orchardists, farmers, fruit pickers, and anyone living in the area. A long table was laden with tempting, sumptuous dishes. I lost count of the many people seated at tables scattered among the trees.

Jeff was there as one of the entertainers who would perform on the spacious stage. He had asked us to meet him here for the conversation we had arranged when he was in Hedley with his band, the Black Birds. As we were eating, a succession of individuals came around to greet him. Some shook hands, some hugged. It was evident they were delighted to see him. I thought there was a sense of poignant nostalgia in some of the greetings. He was one of them, and yet different.

We learned that music has been a constant thread in most of Jeff’s 53 years and has almost certainly buoyed him and kept him alive. “I play drums, guitar, strings (key board), piano, bass guitar and I do vocals.” He writes much of the music he performs and has produced 2 albums. When the first musicians appeared on stage, Jeff was asked for help with the elaborate sound system.

Now a warehouse supervisor in Keremeos, he earlier worked 10 years at a center for children with mental disorders. “I introduced music therapy,” he said. “I brought in tambourines and shakers and we made music together.” He still cherishes the memory of hearing children say, “I feel like I’m actually worth something.”

He also did music therapy at Portage. “One day I heard a girl singing in her room. She had a beautiful voice. I urged her to come out and sing for everyone. She told me she didn’t sing for people. I offered to accompany her on my guitar and she agreed. She went on to sing ‘True Colours’ at a concert in Vancouver. About 30 musicians came out of my program at Portage. I always recorded them and gave them a copy.”

Personable and energetic, Jeff has loyal friends and has enjoyed considerable success as a musician. But, it almost didn’t happen. “My dad left when I was 3,” he said. “I’ve totally lost track of him. Fortunately Mom married again. This man became my father. He was my friend and mentor.”

For reasons Jeff doesn’t fully comprehend, his life began to unravel in his early teens. “I was carrying a lot of resentment,” he recalled. “I got into drugs, anything I could get my hands on.” In 1999 his parents intervened. They brought him home to their farm.

“I continued with the drugs though and hid this for 2 years. Later people in Cawston told me they knew. They accepted me anyway. During that time I teamed up with a friend and started the Black Birds band. Then my father died at age 56. He was my rock. With him gone, that was it. I couldn’t do anything. I crashed.”

A friend came looking for him and found him in a drug house. “I was lying on the floor. He took me away from there.”

In 2001, at age 38, he understood his life style was leading downward to certain failure and destruction. This wasn’t what he wanted. Within him was a desire to do something of value with his musical talent. He entered treatment at the Cross Roads Centre in Kelowna. This cleared his thinking. It was after this that he produced the 2 albums, worked with mentally disadvantaged children and then persons with addictions. He has written and performed numerous songs. When his mother died 3 weeks prior to our conversation, he wrote a song for her. It says in part, “Images of you in my heart, keep me satisfied.”

Jeff’s life experiences enable him to write realistically about addiction and homelessness. “My message,” he said, “is that sometimes when you are knocking on a door, asking for help, people don’t understand. Keep knocking and in time someone will answer.”

Recently Jeff Lakey auditioned successfully with an all-star band in Vancouver. He’ll have a bigger stage for his message. The people in that Cawston orchard will be cheering him on.




Mark, A Vision For Cycling Adventure

Mark from Germany, cycling in North America

I invariably experience a twinge of envy when I meet an individual with the vision, courage and will to do something that is a significant challenge, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional. Linda and I met Mark in Manning Park this past week, on our way to Abbotsford. He told us he had flown from Frankfurt, Germany to Anchorage. From there he had come by bike, cycling most of the way but occasionally hitching a ride with a pickup truck. I noticed that the bike was heavily loaded. Four saddle bags hold everything he requires on the way. He is hauling, food, tools to repair the bike, and clothes.

He said, “At first I carried mostly Snickers for food.| (I gathered he meant junk food in general.) Then I met someone who was eating only vegetables. We exchanged ideas and he started eating Snickers as well as vegetables. I added vegetables to my diet.”

Mark, taking a break from his cycling in Manning Park, BC.

In Frankfurt he teaches English and Spanish. He will be traveling for one year and two months. I noticed that in spite of the Snickers in his diet, he carries no excess pounds on his body. There are side benefits to his life of adventure. Upon leaving Manning Park, he planned to ride to Whistler, B.C. We’re not sure where he will travel beyond that, but Linda thinks he may have mentioned South America.

For the time being at least, Linda and I will let Mark do the cycling. We are supremely satisfied with our Hedley adventure.

Duane Fritchie, Aquabike World Champion

Mary & Duane Fritchie

I suspect a lot of macho males have cast envious glances at Duane Fritchie’s Triathlon sculpted physique. It’s the type of body men’s magazines delight in featuring on their front cover. When I first saw him, for a fleeting moment I actually wondered what I would need to do to achieve that trim waist and V shaped torso.

Linda and I met Duane, a World Champion Triathlon competitor, and his wife Mary in Hedley last week. They had driven from Lee’s Summit, Missouri so he could compete in the prestigious 2017 Penticton ITU (International Triathlon Union) Multisport World Championships this past weekend. We liked them immediately and invited them to our home.

Duane began his triathlon adventure after watching a man from his community compete in a race. “I felt it was something I could do,” he said. “I was already riding my bike and running. I wasn’t a good swimmer though, and at age 31 it was a bit late to become great. Fortunately the swimming coach at the high school where I was a teacher offered to help.”

Now 67, Duane’s rigorous commitment has produced gratifying results. “My first triathlon was in Hawaii in 1982,” he told us. “At that time you didn’t have to qualify. Since then I’ve participated in about 200 competitions in places like Australia, New Zealand, England, the U.S. and Canada.” In response to my prodding he said, “In 2001 I won the World Triathlon Championship in Edmonton. My whole family was there. It was fantastic.”

I asked about his training regimen. “When Mary joined Weight Watchers,” he said, “I noticed she was shedding pounds. Following her eating pattern, I cut back on carbohydrates and added protein, mostly lean meat. My mental preparation includes visualization. I mentally see myself doing the swimming strokes just right. I set goals. I try to stay positive and always believe I’ll do well.”

In regard to what he hoped to achieve in the weekend event he said, “ My goal in the Penticton race is to place first overall, not just in my age category. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m strong in windy conditions. If there is wind, it’s not impossible.” He is definitely a believer, but also pragmatic. “I’ll still be pleased if I finish in the top 3 in my category.”

Until recently, Duane raced mostly in triathlons. With the introduction of the aquabike event, 3 km swimming and 120 km cycling, he dropped the running. “Aquabike is geared to individuals 50 and over,” he explained. “A lot of men aren’t eager to run after hitting 50. It’s hard on the joints. Aquabike makes it easier to continue competing. This event in Penticton is the first World Championship in Aquabike.”

Talking about his bike, Duane said, “Competitive racers use deep dish wheels. They’re designed to shed wind. These wheels alone cost $4,000. I have about $10,000 invested in this bike.” I observed with chagrin that the wheels on my old mountain bike bear little resemblance to the wheels on his bike.

Duane Fritchie showing the Cervelo P5 bike he rode to become the 2017 World Champion in Aquabike in his age category.

“A good bike is essential,” Duane said, “but you need people to support you. Mary is my greatest source of encouragement. When I’m riding with others, she drives the support vehicle. Also, our 3 daughters urge me to train with them. I ride 200 to 400 miles a week. Along the route, I watch for places to swim.”

For Duane and Mary, their efforts are not just about being fit, racing, or winning world championships.

“We hope our example will persuade young people and older ones to believe for more,” they agreed. “And,” Mary added, “we’re involved in enabling people with MS to ride.”

The MS involvement began when Les Gatrel, a champion wrestler and businessman, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “The wrestlers supported him and we worked together to get Les on a bike,” Duane said. “Initially he rode tandem with me. Now he rides his own bike, 4,000 miles in the last 3 years. Along the way, Wrestling MS was established. Now the organization provides MS patients with bikes, hope and support to help them regain balance, strength and freedom. All at no cost to them.

When we talked with Duane and Mary last Wednesday, their close bond was evident. On Saturday he finished strong overall and captured first place in his age category. We are proud to have had these world champion partners in our community.


Aunt Mary’s Commitment Shaped Lives

Aunt Mary celebrating her 90th birthday.

I wasn’t really surprised there was no mention in the national, or even the local Manitoba media, of the recent passing of my 98 year old Aunt Mary. She had not battled for social justice like Supreme Court Judge Bertha Wilson. Nor did she have Emily Carr’s remarkable ability to create inspiring scenes on canvas. What she did have was an understanding of the importance of commitment. Especially a commitment to living in a manner that positively impacts the thinking and actions of the next generation. In my opinion, she lived in a way that is as beneficial to our country as the lives of more well known citizens.

Working with young offenders in Hedley, I saw repeatedly the unfortunate results of careless, self-indulgent, neglectful parenting. Almost without exception, the youths sent to us came from shattered, dysfunctional families. The parents seemed to not understand that their values and attitudes were exacting a toll on the future of their children. Apparently it did not occur to them that without constructive examples to observe and learn from, their offspring would be ill-equipped to participate productively in the life of our nation.

When Aunt Mary’s husband, David, lost a battle with cancer, she could have become immersed in self pity. David had been a strong man, physically, mentally and emotionally. He had brought order and stability, as well as a sense of humour. At age 46, with 2 young sons still at home, she now needed to be the one who was strong for them.

For many years I had not had much contact with Aunt Mary. To learn more of her life, I called each of her 3 older offspring, all living in Manitoba. Sara, the youngest of the 3 said “mom loved to be with people and to serve them. She was very thankful, and she knew how to laugh. She lived on the 6th floor in a residence for seniors. When a group came to provide music, she always went down to the entrance to open the door for the guests and welcome them. She would often say ‘we should be thankful for people who come to sing.’” Sara also said, “I did everything I could for her. I’m so grateful for that.” She had been inspired by her mother’s example of service to others.

Elsie, the eldest, said their mom walked a lot until she was 95. “If it’s not raining,” she would say, “I’m walking.”

As long as she could walk,” Elsie said, “she volunteered in a care home for the elderly. Often she pushed people in their wheelchairs. When there was a potluck in her residence, if someone wasn’t well enough to attend, she would bring them a tray laden with food.”

Ed said, “Mom often wanted to visit relatives in Barkfield and Gruenthal. These relationships were important to her, so I would take her there. Sometimes there were functions in her church that involved a meal. When she finished eating, she’d get up and help with clearing tables.”

In the Fernwood residence where she lived, people place a yellow card on the outside of their entry door before retiring at night. In the morning, by 10 am, they take it back in. “For many years Mom would walk the halls on all the floors, checking for cards,” Ed said. “If there was a card after 10 am, she would knock on the door and inquire if there was a problem. She was still doing this in her nineties.”

Aunt Mary did all she could to foster strong relationships in her family. “Toward the end of her days,” Ed told me, “she encouraged us to always love one another.”

Having received only a rudimentary education in a remote one room rural school, Aunt Mary never achieved the renown of Canadian icons like Bertha Wilson and Emily Carr. After listening to members of her family and others though, I decided her commitment to service had positively shaped thinking and actions in her limited sphere of influence. She encouraged people with her smile, a cheery greeting, sometimes by noticing they had a need. Aunt Mary demonstrated that if we are alert and willing, there are many little actions that can bring a ray of sunlight and a reminder someone cares. Fortunately she isn’t the only one doing this. Our country needs many more.

Cyclists Mission To End Poverty

Cyclists on a mission to end poverty.
Cyclists on a mission to end poverty.

Traveling the Hope-Princeton Highway spring to autumn, Linda and I usually pass several hardy cyclists laboriously ascending the grueling inclines or controlling their speed coming down the other side. On our return from Langley to Hedley today, there seemed to be a few extra bikers. Then, about 25 kilometers from Sunday Summit, we understood why. About a dozen cyclists had congregated around an impromptu table in front of a small recreational vehicle. Curious, we stopped, hoping to learn what kind of venture this was.

They welcomed us warmly and were pleased we wanted to photograph them.

John (left) & Bill (right)
John (left) & Bill (right)


Two of the cyclists, Bill (from Ottawa) and John (from Michigan) told us the group’s name is “Sea to Sea” and its purpose is to fight poverty. It consists of about 140 members from diverse points in North America. One is from Taber, Alberta, where Linda was born.

They are riding from Vancouver to Halifax, raising funds to combat poverty in various locations around the globe. According to Bill and John, about 90 members will participate in at least one stage of this expedition. It is my understanding that some will go the entire distance. They must be in pretty decent condition, planning to be in Halifax on August 28, ten weeks after departing Vancouver.

These cyclists were riding recumbent bikes.
These cyclists were riding recumbent bikes.

Each cyclist is expected to raise $ 12,000 prior to the trip. They are also inviting donations along the way and have raised $1.5 million to this time. Funds will be given to 2 organizations (co-hosts), active in the fight against poverty.

According to the cyclists’ website, one of these organizations is Partners Worldwide, a global Christian network that uses business as a way to end poverty. They partner with local businesses around the world to use 4 methods. These are mentoring, training, access to capital, and advocacy.

The second organization is World Renew. It envisions a world “where people experience and extend Christ’s compassion and live together in hope as God’s community.” It equips people with microloans, community development, and savings groups. The sponsoring body is the Christian Reformed Church, which has Dutch roots. Anyone desiring further information can go to