In an evening of laughter, skits and tributes, Karin Penner was honoured as Cranbrook’s Citizen of the Year on Friday evening at a gala event at the Heritage Inn.
Penner, the longtime director of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce before her retirement two years ago, was recognized for her volunteerism and her involvement with the Sweethearts youth ambassador program, which she has headed up for over 50 years.
The ballroom was packed full of former Sweethearts alumni, local community and business leaders and friends and family, all to celebrate the impact Penner has made in Cranbrook through her volunteerism.
“Volunteers develop a passion for their success, not for them, but for the event or people that they are working with. For me, it wasn’t just volunteering that made this award possible,” Penner said. “I am here this evening to offer my sincerest gratitude to the many people known as support systems and mentors without whom my journey would not have been possible.”
Jane Kennelly-Coates, a Sweetheart alumni, spoke on behalf of hundreds of women who have gone through the youth ambassadorship program over 50 years and how her influence shaped so many lives.
“You have left an imprint on many who stretch across many cross sections of our city, province and country,” Kennelly-Coates said. “You’ve touched the worlds of journalism, small and medium business, teachers, nurses, caregivers, civic leaders, activists and champions for children and the most vulnerable, First Nations leaders and chiefs, Tony award-winning actors, CEOs, judges and presidents of national corporations, Miss Canada, hockey players who have won Stanley cups, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, partners, moms and dads.”
Kennelly-Coates also passed along some words from Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO who grew up in Cranbrook.
“As many young women directly benefited from your involvement in sweethearts, I can tell you there were many young men as escorts and boyfriends that also learned the importance of treating a lady — a lady that dreams and journeys to grow and explore — were equally worthy of respecting and being understood and being celebrated,” said Renney, as read by Kennelly-Coates.
D’Arcy Kennedy, a frequent Master of Ceremonies for Chamber of Commerce events who is infamous for going off-script — usually to the chagrin of Penner — kept it light as he paid tribute to the 2016 Citizen of the Year.
Kennedy, a firefighter by trade, said Penner embodied eight traits — gallantry, perseverance, loyalty, dexterity, explicitness, observation, tact and sympathy — all qualities that are a part of a Maltese Cross patch that firefighters wear on their uniforms and aspire towards.
“You are a mentor, a coach and a seer of possibilities,” said Kennedy. “As much as I’m proud to be a firefighter and I try to live up to the traits I spoke about, I’m more proud to know you and call you my friend and I want to aspire to the traits you carry and show us every day.”
Chris Botterill spoke on behalf of the Chamber, while Mayor Lee Pratt also feted Penner for her volunteer work, as did Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, who joked that he was surprised Penner won Citizen of the Year because he believed she already should have been named to the honour.
One of Penner’s many volunteer activities includes fundraising for the annual Turkey Drive for the Chamber of Commerce, where she has been the top fundraiser in a team of ‘Little Plucker’ fundraisers for the last two years.
“I never have, and never will be a fundraiser, but Jason [Wheeldon] taught me that when you develop passion for something, you can do anything,” Penner said. “And something that really, really bothers me, is to think that there are children who go to bed on Friday night and won’t eat till Monday morning.
“What makes me even sadder is to think that Christmastime, some of those children would go without turkey dinner and Christmas dinner if it wasn’t for Jason, Warren and their team. I’m just a member of that team and I’m going to make sure I do all I can. I can’t save the starving children, but I need to look after those in my community.
“And yes, I love to beat the boys.”