“Her long term dedication to her volunteer jobs has made a difference in thousands of people’s lives, both in her community and those visiting her home town.”
Those words are part of a biography submitted to the Hearts of the Community Award judges and neatly sum up a lifetime of service to the Peninsula by one of its longtime residents.
Joan Ethier has earned this year’s Lifetime Service Award by putting in a combined 88-plus years of volunteer service to the community. That’s 30 years at the Tourist Information Centre, 30 years at Beacon Community Services and 28 years as a volunteer with local blood donor clinics. That’s not to mention her time as a volunteer in her younger days with thrift shops, softball, square dancing, curling and even as a sewing teacher at the SHOAL Centre.
And, at age 93, she’s still volunteering in her community.
These days, she’s having more difficulty with her mobility, but she forges ahead each day and finds time during the week to volunteer. During an interview with the News Review, she even took a phone call to confirm where she was going to be later that week.
“People need help,” Ethier said of why she thinks it’s important to be a volunteer. “And for me, volunteering helps me get out among people. It keeps my mind active, to a degree.”
She said she started volunteering 60 years ago or so and the first thing she did was coach a girls softball team in Sidney. Her daughter was on the team and she used to play as well.
Ethier grew up on a farm, near where the Victoria airport sits today and close to where the B.C. Aviation Museum is located. Her family would move away to Vancouver to open a confectionery store and run it for around 10 years.
They would return to Sidney, and that’s where Ethier met her husband, Bernard, who was with the Royal Canadian Air Force. They moved around a bit because of her husband’s job and he ended his career in Comox. They eventually made their way back to Sidney, where they ran the Sidney Bakery and Sidney Drygoods for a time.
Ethier’s husband was a member of the local Rotary Club at the time and through them Ethier became a volunteer with their blood donor clinic. It used to be run out of a local hotel, before the Red Cross, then Canadian Blood Services took over. Ethier continues to volunteer with blood donor clinics to this day, there to offer clients their refreshments and stickers afterwards. Interestingly, in all of her years as a volunteer at the clinics, Ethier said she has never given blood herself. These days, she’s too old to do so.
Ethier also found the time to volunteer at local thrift shops, starting with Peninsula Old and New some 30 years ago. Today, she volunteers behind the cash register at Beacon Community Services’ thrift shop. She is proud of the fact she can still count out people’s change by hand, despite all of the new technology that makes running the till easier.
A long-time knitter, Ethier added volunteering at the Mount Newton Daycare to her resumé — where she offers to knit gloves, slippers, Christmas decorations and more. She has been doing this for close to 10 years.
“I can knit whatever I darn well feel like and they like it too,” she said.
Volunteering, Ethier said, saves people a lot of money. Places like thrift shops and activities like softball cannot survive without them, she said.
“Volunteers do a lot of good work. They serve many groups and organizations in great need.”
Living in a Sidney seniors community these days, Ethier said it’s a wonderful place with plenty of activities and social opportunities. She gets out to play Bridge on Mondays (she can still drive), volunteers at the Beacon Community Services thrift shop on Third Street at least once per week and continues to work at local blood donor clinics.
“I do keep the mornings to myself these days,” she added.
Ethier has dedicated a significant portion of her life to contributing to the well-being of her community — a fact not lost on those who nominated her for the Lifetime Service Award:
“(Joan) has seen Sidney grow and develop into the vibrant community it is today and through her volunteer activities has contributed … throughout her lifetime.”