Category Archives: People

He Still Lives Mightily

John Merriman of Keremeos, BC
John Merriman of Keremeos, BC

After our conversation with 97 year old John Merriman in his Keremeos home, Linda was reminded of counsel offered by the ancient Israeli King Solomon. In his Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, Solomon urged “whatever your hand finds to do, do it mightily.” John has certainly packed a lot of living into his years. He lived in a time when men doing physical work often needed to contend with daunting expectations and challenges. His lean, still robust frame and resolute attitude suggest the inner steel required in those early unforgiving decades.

John was born near Des Moines, Iowa, then at age 5 was taken by his parents to England. In 1927 the family emigrated to Canada and settled on a farm in Birch Hill, Saskatchewan. Here he developed a rugged work ethic. “I clipped sheep, castrated hogs and worked on machinery,” he said. “I was mechanically inclined.”

Later, as a young man I got a job on a farm working for $100 a year.” According to “Stories by John Merriman”, a book written by a great grand daughter, he had a deep religious experience during this time and it shaped the rest of his life.

He subsequently worked on a road building operation. “We were cutting spruce timbers into cord wood, using swede saws, cross cut saws and axes. This is where I first saw a man working with a chain saw. Two men with a cross cut saw could buck logs faster than he could.”

They were working in muddy terrain and often up to 4 layers of logs needed to be laid down. “The earth sucked them under,” he explained. “Somewhere there is probably still a D6 cat buried in the mud out there.”

On a sawmill job he displayed resolve and steady nerves. “A man had his hand cut off by a big saw,” he remembered. “We applied a tourniquet and bandaged the wound. I put him in my car and we set off to the nearest doctor. Every few miles my car came to a stop. The points were corroded so I’d file them. When we met a police car, I stopped in the middle of the road so he couldn’t pass. We put the man in his car and I returned to the mill. All work had ceased because no one would go near the hand still lying there. I buried it.”

In 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian army and was assigned to the Signal Corps. “They paid me $1.10 a day. The food wasn’t so good though, mutton day after day.”

They were each given a “house wives” kit and expected to darn their own socks, or pay for new ones. “As a boy I had watched my mom darn,” he said, “so I could figure out how to do it. Most of the men smoked. I chewed snuff which cost me 10 cents a can. It damaged my teeth and gums though and when it went up to 75 cents, I quit.”

In Italy the truck he was driving was hit by German artillery. It burned up and he suffered burns to his face and arms. “They covered the burns with vaseline and put me in a tent with other disabled men. The tent smelled so bad the food was delivered to the door in a tub and left there. Some men had lost their arms and we helped them eat.”

While John was away, his father lost the family farm due to medical bills. John had saved his army pay, and upon discharge he bought another farm so his father could be on the land again. John began putting together a mill business and also a very successful trucking and construction company.

In March 1945 he went to the local improvement office to pay his taxes. Here he met Doris. “I never had time to fool around, so I married her in June,” he said. They had seven children, and enjoyed 60 years together before she passed away.


Now, deep in retirement he remains active. In 1989 he began driving for the Citizens Patrol. In recent years he has been driving people to medical appointments, to buy groceries, etc. He looks after the 50-50 draws at OAP functions. “After you’re 90,” he said, “they give you a free membership.”

Today John Merriman’s strong hands continue to find things to do, and he does them mightily.

Rhianfa Riel Of Crimson Tine Players

Rhianfa Riel
Rhianfa Riel

Rhianfa Riel had her home painted a deep purple, and the front door yellow. “I like to come home to bright colours every day after work,” she told Linda and me during a conversation in our home. Initially it seemed a tad bizarre but we would learn that her decorating preferences are not motivated solely by a fondness for radiant colours. They reflect an aspect of her life that most of us would attempt to keep secret.

Rhianfa and her husband Martin moved to Princeton in 2008 after working at a youth camp on Gambier Island for 8 years. In time they were hired by the Copper Mountain Mine. “That gave us the opportunity to have our own home,” she said smiling broadly. “It was something I had thought would never happen.” With 2 children (twins), a stable income and a comfortable home, their neighbours likely considered them a typical middle class family. The positive, upbeat aura about Rhianfa makes this an easy assumption. There was however, a troubling shadow constantly lingering over the family.

I was diagnosed with chronic depression in 2004,” Rhianfa said. “For years I felt victimized, frustrated, angry, and impotent to do anything about it. At times I was overcome by rage.”

Most of us know little about depression. It’s tempting to believe it’s a condition we can overcome by an act of the will and adopting a positive mindset. “It isn’t like that,” Rhianfa assured us. “Depression isn’t a choice. It isn’t just a bad day. It isn’t something you can talk yourself up from or out of. Mostly it’s a feeling of great sadness that clings to you and tries to pull you down into a dark hole.”

Listening to her, it became evident to me that depression has no compassion, no willingness to accept a truce, and no redeeming qualities. It crops up when it chooses and runs amuck in the mind. It can ravage a day, even a life.

For Rhianfa the healing of her life began with medication. Then she found a couple of knowledgeable, understanding counsellors. Also, several allies were already standing by her. “Martin believed in me. He listened and he told me he loved me. He is the reason I was able to deal with the rage. Also, my faith in God buoyed me up. It taught me I was loved unconditionally.”

Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.
Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.

Even now, depression comes to do battle with her psyche and emotions virtually every day. Fortunately she’s not apathetic or complacent.

Several years ago I joined the Crimson Tine Players,” she told us. “It’s an outlet for tension and creativity.”

They write the scripts and make the costumes and props. “We do 2 big performances each year. Also occasionally we present a murder mystery at the Vermillion Forks Restaurant. We write the scripts for that ourselves.”

Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).
Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).

Theatre has become a mainstay, a means of giving back. Every 8 weeks she takes 4 youths to watch a live production at the Kelowna Arts Studio. They pay their admission, she buys the gas.

This year we joined Theatre B.C. and entered the OZone Festival. We performed “Rabbit Hole”, a Pulitzer prize winning drama. It was serious and quite difficult, but we did well.”

She is president of Crimson Tine Players and sees it as an opportunity to challenge herself and help others develop confidence and social skills. “I’ve never been in the forefront of anything before. Now I’m meeting people from outside my comfort zone, from every philosophy and walk of life. Theatre is a great way to explore our potential. Anyone can learn to act.”

Rhianfa has practical counsel for individuals besieged by depression, discouragement, loneliness and other difficult conditions. It is, in fact, excellent advice for all of life. She said, “don’t fight it alone, and don’t give up. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, be with people, and chase sunshine. Practise kindness for no reason but kindness. Pray, or find some way to feed your soul. And, allow yourself to be loved.”

At the end she said, “I hold on to my family, to the love I have for them. I make that my reason to keep going. When it gets hard I thank God the hard days aren’t every day.”

A purple house and yellow front door probably aren’t essential for healing, but getting help and taking action are.

A Surprise In Midlife

Ingrid Percival of Keremeos, BC
Ingrid Percival of Keremeos, BC

When Ingrid Percival of Keremeos, BC was 42, she received the surprise of her life. Recalling it in a conversation with Linda and me last week, she smiled, still experiencing a touch of euphoria at the memory. “I became a teenager again,” she said.

Ingrid was born in Germany in 1941, when Adolph Hitler’s Wehrmacht was trampling Europe. “My father was in the military,” she said. “I never really got to know him. After the war my parents divorced and my mother married a British soldier. When I was 8 years old, we moved to England.”

For Ingrid it was an early event in a series of challenging life circumstances. Her face grew serious. “My childhood wasn’t happy. When I told my mom what my stepfather was doing, she didn’t believe me.” This didn’t change when the family emigrated to Canada in 1953.

Some youths retreat to a street existence to escape the emotional quagmire at home. Ingrid possessed the staying power to complete high school, an early manifestation of the spunk and resilience she would require to survive future daunting circumstances. Upon graduating at age 17, she immediately fled from home, a young woman seeking sanctuary and happiness.

She believed the sun was finally shining on her when she fell deeply in love with Bill, a man serving in the navy. Although he loved her, he wasn’t ready to settle into a longterm relationship. He moved away and she was devastated.

Wanting stability and love, at age 19 she accepted a marriage proposal. The promise of happiness was short lived. She soon realized her husband had a serious alcohol addiction. “It wasn’t a good marriage,” she said. “Eventually we got a divorce.” Her face relaxed. “It didn’t leave me bitter. God has always given me the ability to forgive. The marriage did give me 4 good children.” In the midst of turmoil, she had that rare capacity to see a blessing.

She had a stable job with B.C. Electric (now B.C. Hydro) and became a purchasing agent. “I wasn’t dating,” she said, “but I did ask God if there would be a man for me again.”

Her life unexpectedly took a positive turn when she attended a seminar for purchasing agents in Vancouver. “Everyone was already seated when a man walked in,” she recalled. She looked at him and thought, “It can’t be!”

It was Bill, the navy man she had fallen madly in love with as a young woman. At the coffee break she went to him and said, “Hello Bill. Do you remember me?” He said, “How could I ever forget you, Iny?” It was at this point in her account that she said, “I became a teenager again.”

Their lives had been on a parallel track, she told us. “Like me, Bill had married an alcoholic. He was a purchasing agent. Also, at that time he was in the midst of a divorce.”

They again fell in love and this time he was ready. Ingrid and Bill were married and, in spite of a disastrous joint real estate venture, were happy together.

We had 19 wonderful years,” she told us. “At Christmas 2005 Bill died of lung cancer. He was the love of my life.”

Once again her life was in turmoil. “It was tough,” she said, “but I decided to carry on. I went into volunteering. I began working in the kitchen at the Senior Centre when they put on dances. I drive for Volunteer Drivers. I also work at the Food Bank. In the beginning, I did it because I didn’t have to think. Now I do it because I like helping people. It’s satisfying.”

Ingrid found strength to move on emotionally. “I used my mower to cut the sage and weeds on the vacant lot across the street,” she said. “I tried to give away some irises, but no one wanted them so I planted them on the lot. I painted 2 rough benches and placed them there. People began noticing. An old hydrant and a lamp pole were dropped off. Also owls and figurines. It isn’t just my project anymore.”

Ingrid Percival in the  "Secret Garden"
Ingrid Percival in the “Secret Garden”

When people walk by now she sometimes hears them say, “I didn’t know about this garden. It’s beautiful!”

Ingrid Percival garden

The midlife surprise is still a deep well of joy for Ingrid. Now she also derives meaning from “our secret garden,” which gives pleasure to others.

Derek Lilly Discovers Metis Ancestry

Derek Lilly
Derek Lilly

As happens so often, we were sitting at the table in our sun room in Hedley. Derek Lilly was drinking his coffee black and reflecting on his Metis heritage. “The history books don’t tell the whole story about who played significant roles in Canada’s early development,” he said.

Derek was 10 when he came to Hedley with his mom and stepfather. “I looked up at the mountains and felt at home immediately. About a year later the folks decided to move on. I didn’t like their lifestyle so I stayed with my grandparents. They had moved here earlier and were pretty straight people.” His decision to stay was an early demonstration of an ability to make sound choices.

Derek Lilly in front of a house in Hedley, where he lived with his grandparents for a number of years.
Derek Lilly in front of a house in Hedley, where he lived with his grandparents for a number of years.

Although my mom appeared aboriginal, I wasn’t really aware of my Metis heritage at that time. It wasn’t talked about in the family. On my birth certificate I was actually registered as French. They just tried to fit in,” he said.

In grade 10 he dropped out of school and joined the armed forces. After a 4 year stint he returned to Hedley and worked for the One Way Adventure Foundation as a youth counsellor. Here his friendship with a young couple resulted in a spiritual conversion. “This produced a change in how I looked at life,” he said. “I married Noree and not long after we moved to Winnipeg. There I earned a BA in General Studies at Providence University College and Seminary.” Courses such as logic, ethics and philosophy suggest he already had the capacity to mentally wrestle with difficult issues.

In 2004 Derek was hired by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band to run their tourism program. “They were just completing the stairs high up the mountain at the Mascot Mine. I was involved in developing tours. It was during this time that Phillippe, band business manager, encouraged me to check out my Metis heritage. I followed his advice and it changed my life.”

He learned that one of his early grandfathers, John McIver, had come from Scotland. The other, James Lilly, had emigrated from England. Both were probably less than 20 years old. “They worked for the Hudsons Bay Company as fur traders,” he said. “James Lilly’s Day Book is still in the HBC archives in Winnipeg.” Like many European men, they took aboriginal wives and had families. McIver’s first wife was Inuit. When she died, he married a Metis woman.” Unlike some, both McIver and Lilly stayed with their wives and children.

In 1811 the HBC granted a large tract of land to Lord Selkirk. He created the Red River Colony, now Winnipeg, near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers,” Derek said. “He wanted to provide land for retired fur traders. he lots were long, each with frontage on the Red River. My forebears were among the Metis who received lots.”

The Metis were prosperous farmers for a time, but their lives were not trouble free. Difficulties included an infestation of locusts, drought, the government’s desire to push them out, and the Riel Rebellion. Eventually they sold their lots and dispersed to various locations.

In time, some of the Lilly family made the migration to Hedley. For Derek this was fortuitous because it led him into his Metis past. He needed to rigorously study Aboriginal history and culture to run the Mascot Tours, and then represent the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. in their Pavillion at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He also organized tours of Stanley Park for the association’s Klahowya Village.

I asked Derek how his life has been impacted by his Metis heritage. “I never knew my dad,” he said. “What I’ve learned about our history has helped me understand where I came from, who I am, and where I’m going. I also have a better understanding of my mom’s life. Learning about the role of my ancestors in building Canada has given me a greater sense of belonging in this country, a sense of pride.”

Derek with his work truck.
Derek with his work truck.

Derek has contributed to the Hedley community. He was Fire Chief for 18 years and still serves as duty officer one day a week. Currently he is on the Hedley Grace Church Leadership Team. When he retires from his job as an industrial electrician at the pellet plant, he hopes to be more involved in Aboriginal work. The young man who quit school in grade 10 has done a lot to make Metis and Aboriginal people proud.

Former Citizenship Judge Honored

Bill Day expressing deep appreciation for his friends.
Bill Day expressing deep appreciation for his friends.

Although Bill Day lives in Hedley only part-time, some 23 people, primarily citizens of Hedley, gathered last Saturday to honour him on his 83rd birthday. A former college president and citizenship judge, Bill has won the respect of many in the community by participating and contributing wherever he can. Last year he did the sleuthing necessary to locate two WW1 machine guns. He persuaded the owner to loan them to the town for a special commemorative ceremony to pay tribute to the young men who had volunteered for war service.

He is a member of the Hedley Historical Museum Society and when the kitchen needed updating, he gave time to this project. His plumbing experience was a great asset. Bill also worked many hours with Terry Sawiuk restoring Miner’s Cabin at the Museum. When something needs doing, Bill frequently says, “just tell me what you want done and I’ll do it.” Maybe his robust health comes from having an optimistic outlook on life.

Lynn Wells served the birthday cake.
Lynn Wells served the birthday cake.

The party was arranged by Bill’s partner, Lynn Wells. Apparently Bill and Lynn enjoy the company of people making a positive and substantive difference in this community. Virtually every guest present is active in at least one community organization, and, according to Lynn, Bill has worked on one or more projects with each of them this past year.



The atmosphere was upbeat and the cake was delicious.

Laila Bird, No Ordinary Life

Laila Bird holding the rhubarb crisp, which she later served us with ice cream
Laila Bird holding the rhubarb crisp, which she later served us with ice cream

Sitting at a small table on Laila Bird’s deck, Linda and I enjoyed her delicious coffee and the panoramic view of the valley. We had come to engage in a conversation about her life, but at the outset she attempted to dissuade us. “I don’t know why you want to write about me,” she said. “I’m really not interesting.” She then produced the names and phone numbers of 3 acquaintances who she assured us “are really interesting.”

I conjured up what I hoped was an engaging smile and asked, “where were you born, Laila?” Evidently convinced we really did want to know about her life, she said, “I was born on a duck farm in England. My maiden name was Laila McKenzie-Muncaster. We had nannies and housekeepers and mother drove a large American car.” Those words launched her into an intriguing, and sometimes amusing account spanning 80 years. Her story was somewhat akin to entering a maze consisting of numerous side paths, some of which she followed and then inexplicably abandoned. We would come to understand that she’s a lady of great resolve who has learned to embrace life, even in the midst of challenging circumstances.

Her father, an engineer, had a reputation for being knowledgeable about birds. This produced an early memory that is still fixed prominently in her mind. “One day Lady South Hampton asked him to come and advise her concerning her peacocks,” she said. “He took me along and I expected her to be dressed elegantly, like a woman of nobility. I was astonished when she came out of her home wearing torn baggy pants and a sweater held closed by a safety pin.”

Born in 1936 Leila has childhood memories of WW II. “My parents were requisitioned to civilian jobs the government deemed important,” she said. “A machine gun was stationed at the bottom of our garden. The war ruined us.”

As a young woman she got a job in the PR department of the Dutch Embassy and escorted journalists to Holland. Shortly after though, she became annoyed at Britain’s involvement in the 1956 Suez Crisis. “We had just recently dealt with the hardships of war,” she said. “I moved to Canada.”

After several other jobs, she began selling Persian and Oriental rugs for “a man who was very, very lazy. He was an alcoholic and depended on me to take care of the business. He had started it as an auction but I suggested he open a store, so he did. It was a big success.”

In her group of friends was a young man who became keenly interested in her. “He was always around,” she said. “When I left for work in the morning, he was there. When I got home, he was waiting for me.” They got married and started a pig farm in South Langley. “Twenty sows and two boars. We also had goats,” she said. “While I was milking them one day I went into labour. I finished milking, strained the milk and then went into the hospital.”

She recalls the pigs with great fondness. “They had the cutest little babies. Pigs are much like dogs in intelligence and if they’re trained right, they will obey like dogs. They played with soccer balls and toys. They ate a well rounded diet, but not cucumbers.”

A major crisis entered her life when her husband left the family and went to Central America. Responsible for 4 children, Laila needed to be strong. “I had young twins,” she said. “I’d strap one in front, one on my back and go out to move bales of hay and alfalfa.”

Then her life was unexpectedly interrupted by a serious automobile accident that crushed her pelvis. “My heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. They got it started, but the doctors told me I’d never walk again. I had 4 children and I disagreed. One day I told a nurse I wanted to use the bathroom. She gave me a walker. Three hours later I got there.” She persevered and today walks with no discernible limp.

Three years ago Laila received treatment for cancer. As president of the Hospital Auxiliary, she can’t take time to feel sorry for herself. “No one wants the job,” she said, “I have to carry on.” On the drive home Linda said, “she hasn’t lived an ordinary life.”

Laila Bird
Laila Bird


Auntie Doll Celebrates 98 Years

Auntie Doll in her home at Olalla
Auntie Doll in her home at Olalla

Not having met 98 year old Auntie Doll previously or spoken with her, I thought she might be a shrunken little lady with a weak hesitant voice and possibly lapses of memory. I was surprised when she gripped my hand firmly like a logger, and warmly welcomed Linda and me into her comfortable home. A zest for life still burns with a lively flame in this lady. Her erect bearing suggests resolute character.

I began by asking how we should address her. She said, “I was born Violet Madeline, but everyone calls me Auntie Doll.” She immediately became Auntie Doll for us.

Although a member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band she has never lived on the reserve. “My grandfather on my mother’s side was Indian,” she said. “My other grandfather was French. Our family owned a ranch just north of Olalla. When I was 6 months my father died and everyone was needed to keep the ranch going. I was thinking of going into nursing but I quit school after grade 8 to do ranch work.”

“For 6 months each year our cattle were in the mountains,” she said. “As I became old enough I began riding the range. We were out in all weather. At night we stayed in a deserted prospector’s cabin. I loved horses, and I loved riding.” Almost certainly much of her inner resolve was developed during those months in the mountains, keeping track of cattle, contending with storms in spring and fall, and dealing with dangerous situations.

“One morning I was riding up a steep trail with a 30 foot drop to one side,” she recalled. “My horse was anxious. Suddenly it bucked and threw me off. I was lucky. I landed on a huge sagebrush that kept me from falling all the way down.” Another time her horse stumbled. Her head took a hard hit and she was kept in the hospital 2 weeks.

Auntie Doll never learned the language of the band but her mother taught her the thinking and culture of their people. “Mom understood the language,” she said. “Being the youngest, I was with her a lot. She talked about people who had gone before her time. She knew about the natural medicines our people use. Sometimes we dug up edible roots for food. We dried berries and choke cherries and she preserved fruit in jars.”

I asked about a deer head with splendid antlers mounted on one wall. “I shot it when I was 19,” she told us. “I was a pretty good shot and I bagged quite a few. We always had lots of food.”

Auntie Doll remembers shooting this deer at age 19.
Auntie Doll remembers shooting this deer at age 19.

As a young woman she danced in Pow Wows. “The beat of the drum is the heart beat of mother Earth,” she said. “The land is important. Young people should get an education, but they shouldn’t forget the past.”

“I was married to Reg in 1944. The next day he was sent to the war where he was a scout and a sniper. The Germans captured him and he was in a prisoner of war camp 7 months.”

After the war they bought the family ranch. “Reg had been wounded,” she said, becoming very serious. “He had terrible nightmares from the war. He was never the same. We couldn’t keep the ranch. It was a hard time. We had one son. Reg died in 1983.”

Auntie Doll at 32 years
Auntie Doll at 32 years

In spite of a physically vigorous life, or possibly because of it, Auntie Doll retains remarkably robust health. “I take a little pink pill and a baby aspirin,” she said, “but not every day. I try to understand life and make the best of it. There will be bumps. We have to find a way around them.”

Although she no longer attends the monthly meetings of elders, she values her connection to the band. I asked if she knows Chief Keith Crow. “Yes,” she said with conviction. “Chief Crow will do well for us.”

As we were about to go, she said “ Life is still exciting. I enjoy every day. Now that I’m so close, I’d like to get to 100.”

Auntie Doll asked me to remind family and friends to come to her 98th birthday celebration at her home in Cherrywood Estates in Olalla on May 21. It will begin at 1 pm with the potluck dinner at 4. Happy Birthday Auntie Doll!

The Sternes Of Coalmont

Bob & Diane Sterne in front of their home & motel office.
Bob & Diane Sterne in front of their home & motel office.

The drive from Hedley to Coalmont would have been worthwhile just to drink Bob Sterne’s richly flavoured coffee and sample Diane’s lemon loaf. Between Princeton and Tulameen, Coalmont is somewhat off what we call the beaten path. At one stretch there is a steep drop to the valley below. I’d want a 4×4 pickup for the trip in winter.

Linda and I had not met the Sternes previously but we already suspected they aren’t the type who wring their hands and say “someone should do something about it.” They initially came to the Coalmont area to do gold panning. “We fell in love with the community,” Diane told us. “Over several years we became quieter and quieter on our trips back to Anmore. This was where we wanted to be. At that time I was a dental assistant and Bob was building radio controlled sail boats.”

Set in a spacious valley Coalmont is, for the most part, peaceful and idyllic. In 2003 the Sternes made the momentous decision to buy the former CPR pay office in this community of about 85 citizens. “The building had no electricity, no plumbing and no septic tank,” Bob recalled. It was a daunting decision for other reasons as well. Even now, Coalmont has no doctor, nurse or first responder, no cell service, stores, or fire department. Also, there is no community water system so each property must have its own well.

Web photo of the Mozey-On-Inn
Web photo of the Mozey-On-Inn

They transformed the sadly neglected structure into a home and 3 unit motel, and named it the Mozey-On-Inn. Wanting to retain the aura of the earlier gold mining era, signs on the units designate them as Bank, Saloon and Barbershop.

With virtually no services people must come together in an emergency. “When Bob had a cardiac arrest while shovelling snow in the driveway,” Diane said, “people came to help. I had purchased a defibrillator some years ago after my Dad had a heart attack. A neighbour put the paddles on Bob. The Tulameen fire chief lives here and showed up with oxygen. Without the help of neighbours, Bob would be dead. It was a reminder that as a community we need to be self-reliant and help each other.”

The Sternes are passionate about preserving local history, and in our 2 hour conversation there were frequent references to the past. “Walt Smart owned the only grocery store in town,” Bob said. “He let people run up a tab. Sometimes they couldn’t pay and when they moved out of town, they gave him their property. He loved the town and stayed here until he died in 2010.”

When we had emptied Bob’s coffee pot, eaten Diane’s delightful lemon loaf and toured the motel, we drove to the Granite Creek Cemetery. “The Granite Creek community was founded in 1885,” Diane said. “By 1886 it was the third largest population centre in B.C.”

The community died when Postmaster Foxcrowle Percival Cooke passed away. Only the cemetery remains and it had deteriorated almost beyond recognition. “Fallen trees were lying across the graves,” Bob said. “The graves were poorly marked and hard to find.” In 2004 the Sternes and others in Coalmont decided to restore it. Using information provided by a funeral director and also notes from a high school research project, they began identifying occupants of the graves. They checked birth and death records at the Vancouver Library.

Bob & Diane Sterne at the Granite Creek cemetery.
Bob & Diane Sterne at the Granite Creek cemetery.

Walking about the now orderly and clean cemetery with Diane and Bob, we concluded that they think of the people in the graves as interesting acquaintances, even friends.

Bob & Diane Sterne posted a map of the Granite Creek cemetery.
Bob & Diane Sterne posted a map of the Granite Creek cemetery.

“We have marked all the known graves,“ Diane said. “I talk to the people when I’m working on their gravesite.” (Don’t worry, she’s totally sane).

Coalmont Hotel
Coalmont Hotel

As we passed one grave, Bob said, “That’s Mary. She was the second wife of Louis Marcotte. He built the Coalmont Hotel.” At another grave Diane said, “that’s Hattie McBride, the Coalmont madam, the second biggest contributor to the community’s WWI machine gun fund.”

As we were about to leave Bob said, “everyone in our community is involved, but people don’t talk about what they do. They just do it.”

“We’re living our dream,” Diane added. “I never want to leave. I want to die here.” Bob nodded agreement.

People waved at us as we were leaving town. If Linda and I weren’t settled in Hedley, Coalmont would be an attractive option.

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.

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.