Meet the President, Vol. II

 July 13, 2019
Posted by smiklosovic

In 2019, we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the NWT Recreation and Parks Association by looking back at the people, events, programs, and projects that have made the NWTRPA what it is today. In our last post, we met the people who served as presidents of the NWTRPA board from 1989 to 2004. In this post, we will introduce you to the individuals that have led the NWTRPA from 2004 to today.

Ruth Rolfe was the recreation director for the Town of Fort Smith when she was elected president of the NWTRPA in 2004. Ruth served two terms at the helm of the NWTRPA, during which time the organization was busy supporting trail development, recruiting aquatics staff, promoting wellness initiatives, and starting the On the Land Programs area.

Ruth came to the NWTRPA through the Mackenzie Recreation Association. She recalls, “The NWTRPA was drawing in new members to work with the more experienced members and provide that mentorship that was so vital in the North.” In addition to mentorship, the organization has long played and continues to play an important role as an advocate for recreation, culture, and education in the north and beyond.

When asked about her best memory of the NWTRPA, Ruth responded with enthusiasm, “The people! I met so many fantastic people.” The conference was one avenue for meeting and reconnecting with some of those fantastic people. Ruth has especially fond memories of the conferences in the communities, including Norman Wells, Fort Simpson, and Inuvik.

Today, Ruth is back in her home province of Manitoba, working as the manager of recreation and parks for the City of Selkirk.

Bobby Despres was introduced to the NWTRPA by his supervisor, Kelly Noseworthy, who at that time was the recreation manager for the Town of Inuvik. The NWTRPA’s annual conference was part of the staff team’s yearly professional development schedule. When Bobby was elected President of the NWTRPA in 2006, he was the family centre supervisor for the town. He was drawn to the organization because it was “a leader in governance and a champion of all disciplines of recreation throughout the NWT.” He also valued the way in which the organization brought together recreation professionals, government employees, students, and others with an interest in the sector and empowered them to be champions of recreation and sport in their workplaces and communities.

Bobby fondly remembers his involvement with the organization, but especially the people: “Many professional relationships were built during the years I was privileged to be involved with the NWTRPA, some of which are still active in my professional career today.” Bobby recalls that Geoff Ray, who has been the executive director of the NWTRPA since 2003, was the “glue that kept everything together.”

Bobby now lives in his home province of New Brunswick. He works for the City of Fredericton as the sport tourism coordinator. In his spare time, he coaches his kids’ softball teams, serves as a master coach developer under Softball Canada, and likes to fish and relax at the family’s summer campsite in Chipman, NB.

NWTRPA Board Member Jill Gilday (left) presents Johanna Elliot with the CRPA Award of Merit at the 2017 NWTRPA Conference in Inuvik.

Johanna Elliot was working as supervisor at the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool when she was introduced to the NWTRPA by her then manager and past president, Brian Kelln: “I was new to the North and thought it seemed like a great way to meet new people and connect with recreation professionals in the territory.” Through her involvement with the NWTRPA, Johanna felt more in touch with the world of recreation beyond Yellowknife: “The NWTRPA allowed me to contribute and share on a territorial and national level.”

And contribute she did! Johanna was a member of the NWTRPA Board for a decade. In 2005, she was elected director for Yellowknife. The following year, she became president of the organization. At the end of her second term, Johanna moved into the role of past president. In 2011, she stepped once again into the position of director for Yellowknife; she served in that capacity for three years. Johanna’s commitment and contributions were recognized with an NWTRPA Award of Merit in 2010, and the CPRA Award of Merit in 2017.

Looking back, Johanna shares, “I really appreciated the chance to see other communities and meet new people. I remember a great conference in Norman Wells and how the comedian and one local resident exchanged jokes!” But the best part of belonging to the NWTRPA, Johanna believes, is learning from others.  

After many years of supervising the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, Johanna moved jobs and offices last fall. She is now the facilities manager for the City of Yellowknife. When she isn’t at work or supporting her sons who are busy with judo, jobs, and school, Johanna enjoys boating and spending time with friends. And it should come as no surprise that Johanna continues to volunteer with a few organizations.

Ross deBoer (right) with Loren McGinnis and Theresa Ross at the 2010 NWTRPA Conference in Inuvik.

Ross deBoer can’t remember how he first encountered the NWTRPA. It may have been through the aquatics recruitment program, regional meetings, or one of the NWTRPA’s other programs. Looking back, though, the how is less important than the why. When he discovered that the health and wellness of NWT residents was not just a goal, but a passion of the NWTRPA, Ross decided to get involved.

Ross served as the director for the South Slave from 2005 to 2007. During his second term, he also served as the treasurer. In 2009, he was elected president for a one-year term. At that time, Ross was the director of recreation for the Town of Hay River. Ross was proud to lead an organization that offered programming that was relevant to local residents and Indigenous peoples from modified aquatic programs and youth paddle adventures to cross-country skiing and Elders in Motion. He also valued the people who were involved with NWTRPA: “I still maintain relationships with many of my colleagues from these days.”

Ross is “still in the business,” having recently stepped into the role of general manager of community services for the City of Dawson Creek, BC. He’s also more active now than ever. Ross cycles and swims, and has gotten back into downhill skiing. He and his wife also enjoy travelling and they are starting to think about how they want to spend their retirement.

In 2009, Robin Langille was awarded the Recreation Leadership Award for his work as the recreation coordinator in Tulit’a. His nomination celebrated Robin’s “consistency and dedication” to recreation in the community. Amongst other things, he organized programs for different ages and interest from pre-school skating to adult volleyball, and he helped to develop local facilities, including ski trails and the gymnasium.

The following year, Robin became the president of the NWTRPA. While in the role of president, Robin was the recreation facility maintainer in Inuvik. Robin left the North in 2011 to work as the recreation service manager for the City of North Battleford. In 2015, he was hired as the director of facilities and grounds at the City of Fort St. John. Robin enjoys golfing in his spare time.

Tony Devlin had been the director of community services for the Town of Inuvik for four whole days when he attended his first NWTRPA Conference in September 2009: “We had a talking stick introduction circle and when it came to me and I mentioned I was fresh on the job, I saw two gentlemen—President Ross de Boer and ED Geoff Ray—lick their lips. Shortly after that they approached—one from my right, the other from my left—and the rest, as they say, is history.”

As the two men hoped, the following year, Tony became the director for the Beaufort Delta. In 2011, he was elected president of the NWTRPA, a position he held for four years. While in that role, Tony oversaw a major governance review that resulted in a more robust and self-sustaining organization. Nationally, Tony served as the NWT Representative on the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA)’s Board of Directors, as well as the chair of the CPRA’s Strategic Development & Communications Committee. Tony’s contributions to recreation at a national level were recognized with the CPRA Award of Merit in 2018.

Tony still believes strongly in the NWTRPA’s vision and programming: “The NWTRPA plays a critical and, at times, unheralded role in community building and engagement. Our behind-the-scenes advocacy leads to positive and tangible quality of life outcomes for all of our citizens—from children to elders.” The NWTRPA is well-known for its annual conferences, but it also provides other opportunities for recreation leaders to connect and learn. Tony has great memories of the first leadership retreat at Blachford Lake Lodge in 2013. He notes, “When you look back at the outcomes and predictions for territorial and national strategy we concluded at the end of that weekend, we have seen most successfully followed through.” He is also especially proud of “the (continuing) success of Walk to Tuk.”

These days, Tony, who still lives in Inuvik, is busy with four kids, a dog, and a fast-paced communications business. He still manages to contribute to his community through volunteering and service work. We will give Tony the last word: “I look forward to being that cantankerous old crank with an opinion on everything in about twenty years…”

Tim Van Dam first encountered the NWTRPA while he was the pool supervisor at the Fort Smith Recreation Center; if memory serves, he applied to the organization for a grant. The first NWTRPA event he attended was the inaugural Elders in Motion Gathering in Dettah in 2009, during which he was certified as an Elders in Motion Instructor: “It was a fantastic gathering where I first met many of the people I would come to spend many years working with as a volunteer for the NWTRPA.” The following year, Tim was elected as the director for the South Slave, a position he held for four terms before moving into the role of president. During the three years that Tim spent at the helm of the NWTRPA, his day job was operating South Slave Safety, a company he started to provide first aid and workplace safety training in the NWT.

Tim believes the NWTRPA is a powerful voice for recreation and parks in the NWT and nationally through its association with the CPRA. He sees its greatest impact, however, as the local level, in programs like Walk to Tuk, fitness instructor courses, Elders in Motion, Get Active grants, and support for on the land programs.

Having served the organization for eight years, Tim has a multitude of good memories, but we asked him to choose. The first was Doreen Nitsiza’s motion to endorse the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the 2016 AGM. Tim explains, “Doreen’s motion initiated a change in the way the NWTRPA thinks as an organization that has had much farther reaching effect than anyone thought in 2016.” The second came when the joint NWTRPA, along with RPAY and RPAN were named 2015 Arctic Inspiration Prize Laureates for the project that would become Recreation North. For Tim, “That moment really showed northern recreation leadership.”

Cynthia White came to know the NWTRPA as many do through the annual conference. It was 2013, and the NWTRPA was meeting in Fort Smith: “I was very excited about participating in the organization so as soon as a board position came up I jumped on it.” Cynthia served as the Director for the South Slave Region for three years before being elected President in 2017. She continues to serve in that role. An occupational therapist by training, Cynthia has, during her time with the NWTRPA, worked as the Community Services Program Coordinator and Director of Community Services for the Town of Fort Smith.

Cynthia believes strongly in the NWTRPA’s work as an advocate for recreation: “This is an organization that is essential in keeping the value of all types or recreation front and centre in the political sphere but also at the community and individual level.” More than that, the NWTRPA offers essential support to recreation professionals and volunteers in the NWT, not least through the annual conferences, which are always a highlight of Cynthia’s year, especially when they are held in a community. Cynthia also appreciates the important role the NWTRPA has played in breaking down barriers between sectors, by working with people and organizations in health, environment, social services, and transportation, to name just a few.

There are few spare minutes in Cynthia’s day between work, parenting (she has three kids, four dogs, three cats, and 11 chickens), coaching, and being a foster parent, but she always manages to make time for the NWTRPA. Cynthia dedication to recreation was celebrated with an NWTRPA Award of Excellence in 2015.

The Board of Directors is so important to the successful operation of the NWTRPA. If you are interested in the joining the NWTRPA Board, our next Annual General Meeting is on Wednesday, October 9, during the NWTRPA Annual Conference in Hay River. Board nominations will open this summer. Keep an eye on our website and social media accounts for more information.