Meet the President Vol. II

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…”