Verwey, Charest, Johnston honoured for their dedication to North Perth

·9 min read

“This is a very special night for our community,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg at the opening of the North Perth council meeting on April 19. “The pandemic may have delayed what is normally a fine community function, the presentation of the Norm Stirling Citizen of the Year Award, but we have spirit and determination.”

Although going online made the awards ceremony a more modest affair, Kasenberg assured everyone it was no less deserved.

“We want to be sure that people are duly recognized and celebrated,” he said. “We’ve put up some bling around the community to recognize National Volunteer Week as well.”

On behalf of council, Kasenberg gave profound thanks to all in the community who give their time and substance to support the many volunteer-run things that make up the community of North Perth.

“I will say that the spirit and efforts of volunteerism are alive and well and building a decent community in North Perth and for that, I am profoundly grateful,” he said.

Kasenberg then called on all council members to speak to their appreciation for volunteerism in the community.

Coun. Lee Anne Andriessen mentioned her gratitude for the volunteers who sit on the library board and the Listowel Agricultural Society.

“North Perth certainly is a community and a municipality that has a lot of great volunteers,” said Coun. Neil Anstett. “It goes all the way down from the top to various little things people maybe don’t think about and don’t get praise for.”

Coun. Julie Behrns said it’s a pleasure to recognize every volunteer in the community.

“Every little bit helps and I know sometimes they think it goes unnoticed but everyone notices and they especially notice if it’s not there,” she said. “So thank you everyone for everything that you do.”

Coun. Dave Johnston pointed out that volunteerism supports more aspects of the community than committees related to the municipality.

“All the service clubs, the trainers, the soccer coaches, hockey coaches, dance coaches, all those people who volunteer selflessly of their time and to me they are the backbone that makes North Perth such a great community, so congratulations and thank you to everyone,” he said.

Coun. Matt Richardson said that the municipality may be made up of streets, buildings and all the amenities that come together to make a town, however, it’s the community and the volunteers that make it a home.

“Without those folks, even though we would have a municipality, we certainly wouldn’t have a place we are all proud to say is home and North Perth is a better place with all of the volunteers we currently have,” he said. “Kudos to you.”

“I can’t say enough from the bottom of my heart for the volunteers in the past and the volunteers now who make a better place to live in,” said Coun. Terry Seiler.

The awards presentations began with the inaugural presentation of the Celebrate North Perth Inspiration Awards. These awards are part of the Celebrate North Perth initiative.

“Each Celebrate North Perth Inspiration Award recognizes an individual who inspires others through their outstanding accomplishment or service to the community in the preceding year,” said Kasenberg.

Nominations for consideration of worthy residents are brought forth by members of the community.

The first Celebrate North Perth Inspiration Award recipient was Andrea Charest.

“Andrea puts more than her heart and soul into our community,” said Kasenberg. “Her passion for helping people runs deep. She gives up her time and funds to meet people’s needs. It Takes A Village, set up by Andrea is the most recent venue for this compassion. She got things rolling, gathers, trains and supports volunteers for hours sorting donations, takes people to appointments, talks with them and always listens, guides, understands and uplifts. It’s not necessarily the quantity of the time, it’s the quality. Andrea gives and gives in so many ways to meet the physical emotional and mental needs of our homeless and marginalized.”

Although it did not happen in the eligibility period for this award which is for achievements in 2020, Kasenberg mentioned Charest’s collaboration with OPP Sergeant Manny Coehlo to raise a significant amount of money to support initiatives aimed at relieving the experiences of homelessness in North Perth.

“Andrea not only set up and keeps the Village going, she has gone back to school to further her education in the social work field to be able to help people more,” he said.

Charest said she found the introduction incredibly humbling.

“I’m so honoured that even one person felt compelled to come forward and bring that information to you,” she said. “One of my favourite quotes in life is by Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa said, ‘when your calling meets the need of the people then you have found your passion.’ So the common theme that I’m hearing among the councillors and also… the people who are winning these awards is that everyone feels passion for the community and that motivator can make amazing changes because we are not here forever and some days we can lead and some days it’s necessary for us to follow.”

Charest encouraged anyone who wants to try something but second-guesses themselves to just go for it.

“Make a change,” she said. “That’s what we are here to do.”

The next Celebrate North Perth Inspiration Award was Elizabeth Johnston.

“Elizabeth Johnston is recognized for her valued and respected leadership of the Listowel Agricultural Society during 2020,” said Deputy Mayor Doug Kellum. “Last year was one of great uncertainty and there was an unprecedented need to adapt to the restrictions the COVID pandemic put on the lives of individuals in the organizations in our community. The work of the Listowel Agricultural Society was not exempt but under the guidance of a very dedicated and competent president, Elizabeth Johnston, the group remained optimistic and persevered.”

Many of the Agricultural Society’s usual events were either altered or cancelled including two major events – the fair and the harvest auction.

“Collaborating with others, Elizabeth helped design and execute events that looked different,” said Kellum. “Meetings were held virtually. The vendor and craft show was held outdoors.”

Johnston guided the group as they added some new events too. The Farmers’ Toolbox of mental health resources was launched.

“Perhaps the most ambitious projects were the drive-thru roast beef supper in October and the turkey supper in November,” said Kellum. “Almost 2,000 meals were efficiently served between these events.”

He said that through her positive attitude and strong work ethic, Johnston inspires volunteerism, agricultural savvy and community connections across all ages.

“She has been a tireless leader for many years to the benefit of the community she grew up in through not only the agricultural society but also Junior Farmers, 4-H and other agricultural organizations,” said Kellum.

“When Mayor Kasenberg called me last week I was quite excited and also quite taken back and humbled by this award,” said Johnston. “I do appreciate it. I’ve been a director with the Agricultural Society for the last 18 years and it has flown by. As Andrea said, passion is what drives a lot of us to volunteer and the Agricultural Society is no different.”

She said she has lived in North Perth her entire life except for her four years at university.

“Albeit it was in Guelph so I wasn’t too far from home but I did make the choice to come back here because this is home,” said Johnston.

She proudly stated that the Agricultural Society is celebrating its 165th anniversary this year.

“It is also humbling to know that as president I’ve had a great number of people come before me that have done a tremendous amount of work within this community to make our Agricultural Society what it is today and to make sure that our organization continues to be a contributing organization within this community,” said Johnston.

For over forty years, the Norm Stirling Citizen of the Year Award has been given to residents who have made significant contributions to the welfare and betterment of the community.

The award was established in honour of Norm Stirling, a forestry foreman with Ontario Hydro. He put forth great effort to save farmland when the hydro-line corridor was being proposed.

Stirling was one of the heroes of the Listowel Arena collapse in 1959. In the split second the roof was falling in, Coach Stirling grabbed and carried two players to cover at the northside boards. All three survived.

In 1966, Stirling was awarded the president’s medal by the National Safety Council for saving a man who was overcome by carbon monoxide.

He also served on the school board in Listowel and was chairman of the Listowel Memorial Hospital board at the time of his death in 1973 at the age of 46.

Wallace Township set up the memorial award in his honour and North Perth has kept the tradition going since amalgamation in 1998.

The 2020 Norm Stirling Citizen of the Year award winner is John Verwey, a proud member of the community for 45 years.

“Even before moving his family here in the early 1980s, John became a member of the community with his involvement with the Listowel Kinsmen Club,” said Kasenberg. “That involvement has continued with the K-40 organization. The club was extremely involved in the development of parks and recreation infrastructure, much of which they have helped maintain.”

He listed the pool, parks and sports fields in Listowel that the Kin organizations have supported.

Over the years Verwey has served as both president and Paddyfest chair for the Kinsmen Club.

He sat on the municipality’s parks board and then the recreation advisory committee which led to his being asked to chair the Recreation Complex Committee when it was deemed time to replace the Listowel Memorial Arena.

“John is dedicated to his family, his friends and employer,” said Kasenberg. “He is a matter of fact and unassuming person. He has given generously of his time for the betterment of North Perth for us and future generations.”

“I’m still shocked,” said Verwey. “It’s been a week and I’m still shocked. I’ll tell you though, I’ve been so very privileged to have worked and served with so many dedicated volunteers whether it be on boards, on service clubs, various committees – they’ve all been fantastic. There are some great volunteers in this area.”

What he said he has always found very gratifying is not only getting the job done but all the memories and friendships that developed being part of those groups.

Verwey recalled a comment which was made to Coun. Behrns at the grand opening of the Steve Kerr Memorial Complex, that North Perth has a gem which is the envy of other areas.

“It sure is,” he said. “I really do believe that. I think we have something special here. I only hope that with my efforts I have been able to polish that gem a little bit and added something to it but again it’s all of us. It’s the volunteers. It’s you as members of council. Everybody who gives their all for this community.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner