Neil Cook, a Cranbrook resident for the past 26 years, has been honoured with a Medal of Good Citizenship from the Government of British Columbia.
“I was actually quite surprised,” Cook said in an interview with the Townsman. “I hadn’t been warned at all ahead of time that the application had gone in, so when the lady phoned me from Victoria I was quite surprised, but it’s very nice.”
Cook has dedicated a huge portion of his life to the people of Cranbrook, volunteering countless hours of his time and helping to build and support numerous projects and organizations.
He explained that years ago when he was between different work experiences he volunteered with the Crisis Line.
“You got to really see where the gaps were when people phoned in crisis,” Cook said. “Whether they just needed gas money or a place to sleep with kids at night travelling. It was the full spectrum of concerns, so you got to find out what was needed and that’s what got me going on the Community Foundation and then working quite a while on the homeless shelter.”
Cook played a crucial role in founding the Cranbrook and District Community Foundation, now known as the Community Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies (CFKR) back in 2003. The Foundation accepts donations and invests them permanently allowing the money to accumulate interest. That interest then funds grants to non-profits who aim to serve their communities, which now go all the way down to Elkford, something Cook says is incredible to see.
Today the CFKR holds around $2.5 million across 37 permanently-invested endowment funds and supports many community services and organizations.
He served as president and then director for the CFKR for over 17 years, during which time he was a big component of their growth and success. While that’s an accomplishment he’s proud of, Cook said some of the things that stick out in his mind from his 26 years of community service are “a lot of the little benefits.”
“I got to play Santa Claus for a lot of foster kids and that sort of thing — a lot of annual events that I look forward to year round, the Children’s Festival and stuff like that,” he said. “It was more spread out, there were some major things, but I just enjoyed working with kids and stuff a lot too.”
Cook and his wife Marilynne have shared their home with 24 foster children over the years. He’s also spent 22 years volunteering with the Cranbrook Community Christmas dinner as a fundraiser and chef, as well as being a member of the Church Committee at Christ Church Anglican for the past decade.
It’s only fitting then, given his various Christmas-based community service, that when the out-of-the-blue call from Victoria came in, Cook was busy stuffing Christmas presents and getting ready for Christmas.
“The timing was really nice,” he said. “I was very humbled by it.”
Cook has also served for seven years as the volunteer Chair of the East Kootenay Homeless Coalition. A big part of his vision with this work is to create a 24/7 homeless shelter in Cranbrook, a pursuit which is still ongoing.
He’s also been a member of the Cranbrook Sunrise Rotary, the Cranbrook Rotary and the Kinsmen.
“Congratulations to this year’s recipients of the Good Citizenship Medal,” said Premier John Horgan in a press release. “Your outstanding contributions to the well-being of your communities inspire us all. The generous gifts of your time and support make a difference in people’s lives and help build a stronger province for everyone.”
Right now, Cook has been taking a little time off from the CFKR but plans to get back into it in the spring, working on promotion and speaking at different events around town in order to help continue to foster its growth. He said he also plans to do some more volunteer work, perhaps at the SPCA.
“I guess what I would say to folks in Cranbrook is if you have time just volunteer with one activity a year,” he said. “If you had 20,000 people volunteer one activity in a year you’d have an incredible force to deal with when it comes to issues needed in this town.”