Since 1973, the Cranbrook and District has honoured an individual who through his
or her efforts has made Cranbrook a better place in which to live.
The Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce hosted a gala evening Saturday night at the Heritage Inn to celebrate Cranbrook’s 40th Citizen of the Year, Jason Wheeldon, and to formally introduce its new board of directors.
The evening, hosted by Loree Duczek, started with the inauguration of the 2013 Chamber Board of Directors and the handing over of the gavel from outgoing Chamber President Lana Kirk to 2013 Chamber President Mike Adams.
Duczek was then joined by D’Arcy Kennedy; together they provided an overview of Wheeldon’s community involvement, taken from the 19 nomination letters that were received.
Wheeldon’s nominators provided a history of an extensive career of volunteering. Representives of the Kin Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Club, the Canadian Mental Health Association – Kootenays and the Highlands School Planning Council, all had a lot to say about Wheeldon’s commitment to Cranbrook.
“We wouldn’t be far wrong to call Jason ‘Mr. Cranbrook’, said Laurie Harris, with the Canadian Mental Health Association. “He is one concerned citizen who very publicly supports our city and its citizens.”
Former Cranbrook Mayor Ross Priest spoke of Wheeldon’s commitment to community. “We worked in the same real estate office, and it was through those early years that I came to realize his deep commitment to the community and his passion for volunteering – pretty impressive for someone in his early 20s.”
Priest talked about Wheeldon’s time as chair of the Winter Lights Committee — the winter edition of Communities in Bloom — and the vast amount of time Wheeldon spent organizing Cranbrook’s involvement in that national competition.
Mike Adams told of Wheeldon’s involvement in JCI Kootenay, in a mentoring capacity. He also mentioned Wheeldon’s role as an enthusiastic and popular soccer coach, and organizer of activities for kids, like preparing his property to be a haunted house that was open to all children in Cranbrook this past Halloween.
Dana Osiowy, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said Wheeldon has been an integral member of the volunteer team at Big Brothers Big Sisters for more than 18 years. “The fact that he has continued to focus on children in our community, even after having his own, is exceptional.”
Steve Rogers, Principal at Highlands Elementary School, said Wheeldon’s involvement with the School Planning Council extends from helping develop plans to improve student achievement to plowing the sidewalks in front of the school.
Gord Johnson, of the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club, said “Jason was one of the most consistent and able board members. He has led by example and in doing so, has made a significant and positive contribution to our community.”
Wheeldon’s friend Warren Bedell, who along with Wheeldon spearheaded the turkey drive for the city on behalf of the Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce, gave a tongue-in-cheek speech that highlighted Wheeldon’s practical joker nature and the many pranks he has pulled over the years.
Phillip Jones spoke about Wheeldon’s professionalism at East Kootenay Realty and in the community as a whole, and provided a few funny stories of his own about Jason’s antics.
Former Sweetheart of Sam Steele Amanda Musso performed a song in tribute to the over 20 years of support he has given youth in the community.
Wheeldon then gave a gracious acceptance speech, saying how humbled he was by the honour. He also said he was not accepting the award on his own, but on behalf of everyone who had helped him along his journey. He paid special tribute to his family, including his wife Christy, their two daughters Brooke and Courtney, his mother and brother who were both in attendance.
As by tradition, Wheeldon posed with former Citizens of the Year who attended the ceremony — Bud Abbott, Nella Rounsville, Chris Ayling, Loree Duczek, Frank Sandor and Gordon Murphy.
Entertainment was provided by the Good Ol’ Goats, followed by a Chamber of Commerce organized skit “If I Were Not A Realtor,” featuring ballet dancers, bakers, seamstresses, conductors, singers, athletes, sumo wrestlers and pizza makers.
A humorous theme ran throughout the evening, with several jokes played. Former Chamber President Melanie Fiorentino surprised new President Mike Adams with a customized portable stool to help him see over the lecturn.
And the Heritage Inn — the first place Wheeldon worked when he moved to Cranbrook — had its own payback for Wheeldon. Over the years he has joked about the Heritage Inn skimping on his dinner portion sizes. So staff prepared a huge, triple-sized serving of dinner, and wheeled it across the ballroom floor to general hilarity. They also insisted on serving him three portions of dessert.
With files from Loree Duczek