Penny Sippel couldn't believe it when the phone call came: would she and her husband Don like to be named Mr. and Mrs. Yukon 2023?
"I couldn't say anything for a few seconds, and I said, 'Really? My goodness. Oh, yes, of course we will.'" Penny recalled. "What a surprise. It was just wonderful."
Every year, the Yukon Order of Pioneers selects a couple to represent the organization as ambassadors at the Yukon Rendezvous Festival and through the rest of the year — and this year, the Sippels will don the honourary sashes.
They've been married for 65 years — more than half the Yukon's existence as a territory — and they're delighted to be recognized as an iconic local couple.
Penny grew up in the territory. Her childhood was spent at the family's roadhouse at Stewart City, where the Stewart River meets the Yukon River. Later they moved to Dawson City where her father ran the George Black Ferry through the summer, and trapped in the winter.
"We had no big city adventures, or anything to do and we just enjoyed it. It was a wonderful, wonderful time," she said.
"We picked blueberries and fished for salmon and did all sorts of things."
Don was an Ontario farm boy who decided early on that farm life wasn't for him.
"One day, I said, 'you know, I think there's better life,' so I took off," he said.
He made his way to Vancouver and from there headed north to Fort Nelson, B.C., with a ticket his brother bought him for Christmas. He remembers getting on the plane in Vancouver, where it was about 12 C, and arriving in Fort Nelson to enjoy some –55 C weather.
"I got off the plane and it hit me like a bag of bricks. I thought, what am I doing here?" Don recalled.
He adapted quickly and eventually made his way even further north to Whitehorse, where he'd soon meet his wife-to-be at a local skating rink.
'This girl kept chasing me... I'm sure glad she did'
"I just happened to see him. I thought he was the handsomest man or boy that I had ever seen. So I thought, 'I think I'm going to pursue him,'" Penny said.
It wasn't a difficult pursuit, according to Don.
"This girl kept chasing me and I wasn't a very fast skater so she caught me. And I'm sure glad she did."
They got married in Whitehorse in 1957. Don was in the reserves at the time, so Penny says his sergeant-major insisted they have a full military wedding. She says that was a first for Whitehorse.
"We had an honour guard with lances, all the swords, all where we came out of the church. And then we had five horsemen, and they were wearing the Boer War uniforms with the metal plume helmets."
Their duties as Mr. and Mrs. Yukon might not be quite so grand, but they don't mind a bit. Their first officials duties are this weekend in Vancouver. They're being flown down to help represent Yukon at a mining convention.
Then next month, there'll be plenty for them to do when the Yukon Rendezvous gets underway.
"We're pretty excited about it, and I hope we can do the Yukon proud," Penny said.