Heather Park-Wheeler named BV’s Ontario Senior of the Year

·5 min read

Eganville – Heather Park-Wheeler may have only been living in the village for a short while, but she has become a community volunteer in many capacities and was honoured for this by being named Bonnechere Valley’s Ontario Senior of the Year recently.

“I’ve always been involved in volunteer activities,” she said, noting after her move from Ottawa she quickly became involved in the local horticultural society.

Her community involvement has only grown since then, expanding to the food bank, her church and the establishment of the dog park in the village, among others.

BV Mayor Jennifer Murphy presented the award to Ms. Park-Wheeler recently during a committee meeting of council.

“Community champions play a vital role in the vitality of our community,” she said. “Heather Park-Wheeler is a true community champion.”

She pointed out she has been a volunteer with the Eganville Food Bank and St. John’s Anglican Church. She served in the capacity of president of the Eganville Horticultural Society from 2018 to 2021 and is now the current past president for the Society.

“She was also instrumental in taking the lead for the establishment and fundraising initiatives for the Eganville Dog Park,” the mayor said. “Heather is always in the forefront lending a helping hand to families in need. She also was a great help in establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Garden.”

Ms. Park-Wheeler, who along with her husband John purchased a home in Eganville in 2012 and moved here in 2014, said she was delighted to receive the award.

“I’m just the kind of person who likes to help people,” she said.

“I’m extremely organized, so I can’t help myself,” she said with a laugh.

Joining the Horticultural Society was a natural fit for her since her first job was working as a trainer for the Metropolitan Toronto Parks. She also worked as a gardener for the City of Toronto.

“Horticulture is in my background,” she said.

When she lived in Vancouver she worked in a nursery and this was a fabulous experience, she said. The climate is very different there and there is a great diversity of plants which cannot grow in Ontario.

“I was exposed to a lot of beautiful things we are not exposed to here,” she said.

At the local horticultural society, she quickly became involved thanks to the invite of then President Judy Sauvé.

Ms. Park-Wheeler was very closely associated with the creation of the dog park, which is located on John Street near the Geotrail.

“We have two dogs and we had to go to Pembroke or Renfrew for a dog park, so I wanted to see something in Eganville,” she said.

Through connections with a local vet, she began writing letters to vendors for donations but then COVID hit. Noting her own enthusiasm for the project waned a bit in COVID, she said a new arrival to the community came to town and they went to council together to lobby for a dog park.

“We asked them for land and we asked business to donate a coupon for a coupon book,” she said.

With support from the township and the local community, things were taking place quickly. As well, there was an anonymous donor who doesn’t live in Eganville who had read about the push for the dog park in the Leader.

“She gave a substantial donation and we got that rolling and had a core team which helped get it going,” she said.

The park is well used and Ms. Park-Wheeler said she is especially pleased at the location.

“The land is in the shade in the afternoon,” she noted. “And it was all done through fundraising and it is all volunteer.”

Another of her volunteer efforts is the local Eganville Food Bank, where she sits on the board and has done some work with them. Unfortunately, she had a bad fall in winter three years ago on the ice outside the food bank.

“I changed my life outside the food bank,” she said. “I slipped on the ice outside and shattered my elbow.”

Now she has a hinge there and although it has restricted her from working at the food bank stocking shelves, she continues to sit on the board. In other areas, including her gardening, she has accommodated and keeps going.

A lifelong Anglican, she is the central parish treasurer for St. John’s Anglican in Eganville and the Church of the Ascension in Killaloe. As well, she and her husband deliver meals through the senior centre.

She said being a volunteer is as easy as using your gifts, abilities and hobbies to help others.

“If you have a heart that wants to give, you will find a way,” she said. “You may not think you have a gift. It is just a matter of thinking who can use your help.”

At just over 70, she doesn’t show signs of slowing down and can be seen around the village in unexpected places giving back. The gardens at Fairfields are a project she has undertaken for the last three years as a personal responsibility.

Volunteering brings joys both great and small, she noted. She gave an example of the joy of volunteering. While doing the monthly food delivery, they were delivering to an individual who needed a bit of extra help and they offered it, she recalled.

“Then a little dog came out which looked just like our dog and we found out was the sister of our dog,” she said. “Those are the little joys which make volunteering special.”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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