A Random Thursday

There are a number of great events taking place in our city over the next little while starting with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns hockey team hosting the UCup National Championship. It’s going to be an uphill battle as they take on the defending champion Alberta Golden Bears. It’s a single knock-out tournament so a bounce here or there and the next thing you know you’re Belarus beating Sweden in the 2002 Olympics. It can happen. Now if the Horns can channel their inner Mike Babcock like they did when they won a National Title in 1994 or going back a little further and feel the vibe of the 1975 Lethbridge Native Sons who won the Canada Winter Games at the Sportsplex (Enmax) then to quote the great line from Dumb & Dumber, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”

I hope the rink is packed with fans this entire weekend.

There’s also a great pro-am squash tournament next weekend at the College. It may not have the appeal of national hockey tournament but these guys are amazing athletes and fun to watch.

There’s that World Curling Championship coming next month as well. I know there has been some frustration with the Hurricanes being displaced but it’s not very often the city gets a chance to have such a prestigious event like this. Keeping our fingers crossed, there is a scenario that could happen where we’ll only miss one home game. There will be a great fan experience taking place at Bullys for those who aren’t lucky enough to get a ticket to the game which will be played at Nicholas Sheran.

Turning to books. (How’s that for a segue?) I love the One District, One Book promotion that’s happening. Everyone in School District 51 is getting one book to read this month. It’s a reading activity that unites the community around a common theme, common characters, and a common story. Check out the website. https://1d1blethbridge.wixsite.com/1d1b

The older I get the more I need to defrag my brain. How many times do you go through this when you’re talking to your wife or friend: “What’s the name of that guy in that movie with the alien? You know, he was in that other one with the dog that died…” And then you go through the alphabet trying to come up with the name…A..B…C…D…And then 20 minutes later, “Oh…Michael Caine…!! He was married to….what’s her name with the hair?”

I don’t think it’s Alzheimers but I get so annoyed when your brain fails you. I can almost hear my cerebrum clicking trying to go through file after file. Sigh..

The new 311 service from the City is going to be awesome. When you’ve got a question, you can call it and you’ll get an actual person who will connect you to the right department to get an answer to your concern.

Thank God it’s warming up. Why didn’t I book a Hawaii trip for February? When January was so nice I thought, “Hey we might get through winter unscathed.” Wrong!!!

It put a damper on doing some Cool Cars, Interesting People segment. I’m happy to say there’s some new ones coming up and thanks to Dallas Harty with the amazing Clarence Arnoldussen Collection not only will there be new people to talk to, we’ll be showing you some classic and brand new cars.

I recently visited Vancouver and while I was there I set up a visit with Marjorie who is the manager of the Safe Consumption site on East Hastings Street. I thought I’d pass on my thoughts about the experience.

First off, walking to the site it’s heartbreaking to see the many tents set up in the adjacent streets in front of former businesses where people are trying to exist.

The injection site was filled with patrons. Some were getting ready to use the booths (fewer than Lethbridge) and there were a number of people in the other rooms waiting out their high. Some were in seats, some lying on the floor.

While it was troubling to witness what was going on, paradoxically there was also a feeling of community where everyone looked after each other. It was a sentiment that was expressed by Marjory who says she’s never felt unsafe in the 15 years she’s been working at this site.

Needles are handed out to anyone who asks for them and they can leave the site with them.

As in Lethbridge Meth is the prevalent drug of choice.

Another surprising aspect of my visit was a gentrification of the surrounding district. My sense was that businesses are actually doing quite well despite what is going on around them.

Marjory knows that they save lives at the site. Narcan is available but she says they administer it in small doses so that users don’t come off their high as fast as larger doses.

The site has counselling services available and they continue to work with the provincial and federal governments on long-term solutions.

My biggest take away from the visit was how this group actively seeks out current and past drug users to be a part of the long-term solution.

I’ve just realized that this really has been a random blog posting…Talk soon.

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Go New West Young Man, Go New West…

Photo Credit: Angeline Simon

Kelly Reay is the new General Manager of New West Theatre. Kelly is just getting started here in the Lethbridge theatre scene but as you will see he has an impressive background.

Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up on a farm just East of Red Deer, Alberta. My childhood was a pretty typical rural childhood – lots of outdoor play, team sports, community hall dances, and chores.  I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a very supportive and nurturing family who encouraged me to follow my passions.

At what point did you discover that theatre was going to be your career?

As a teenager, I fell in love with film. I had big aspirations to pursue a career in the film industry, and looked at theatre school as a stepping stone into the film industry.  Once in theatre school, I learned that I had an aptitude for the work, and I quickly become very passionate about live performance and the type of collaboration required to create theatre. After graduating from theatre school, I starting receiving work opportunities in the theatre industry, and I never looked back.

Did you have aspirations of acting or was producing and directing your passion?

I knew from the very beginning that I had no desire to be on stage. I’m a terrible actor!  I always knew that my passion was in the behind-the-scenes work. I started my professional career as a stage manager, and there was a natural progression into directing and producing.

Can you give us some of the highlights of the work you have done with past theatre companies?

I served as Artistic Director of Calgary’s Sage Theatre from 2004-20014. Sage Theatre is a small but mighty professional theatre company that specializes in cutting-edge contemporary theatre presented in intimate spaces. During my time with the company I produced or directed over 40 productions. I also co-founded, in 2005, the Ignite! Festival of Emerging Artists, a festival specializing in showcasing the work of emerging artists from around Alberta and beyond.

Most recently, I served as Festival Producer of One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts. In two years as Festival Producer, I helped bring dozens of international and national productions to the Alberta stage.

I have also been very fortunate to have directed numerous productions for a many theatre companies across the province, including Vertigo Theatre, Lunchbox Theatre, Shadow Theatre, Downstage Theatre, Verb Theatre, University of Calgary and Red Deer College.

What did you know about New West?

Prior to moving to Lethbridge, I knew a little bit about New West. I knew that it was Lethbridge’s professional theatre company that had been around for decades. I knew a number of artists who had worked for the company and I knew of the company’s strong reputation.

Is there any intent to totally revamp New West?

Totally revamp? No. But we will be looking at strategic, well-managed growth. With me being only two months into my tenure, I am still learning about the company and the company’s place within this community. Plans are to develop a new strategic plan this summer as the company enters its 30th season of producing theatre in Lethbridge. We want to identify opportunities for growth, and I want to learn about what Lethbridge wants from New West Theatre.  I want to see the company thrive and flourish for the next 30 years and beyond.

Discuss the challenges theatre has across the country (including here in Lethbridge) and what can be done to create a more vibrant theatre scene?

There are a number of challenges that live theatre is facing in Lethbridge and across the country. I think one of the main challenges is remaining a viable entertainment option in the age of Netflix and online streaming. It is hard to compete with the price and comfort of home entertainment, so live performance must be able to offer a unique experience that home entertainment is not able to offer. Theatre must be inventive and innovative and embrace the things that make live performance a unique, communal experience.

Another significant challenge facing the theatre business is the changing economy. Most theatres operate as a not-for-profit charity, largely dependent on public funding and the generosity of donors and sponsors. In an uncertain economy, fluctuating levels of funding can be a significant challenge for any not-for-profit venture. To counter this, we must continue to be relevant and demonstrate our importance to our communities.

You’re given a $1 million dollar grant to do whatever show you want to do. What would it be?

My dream show is The Who’s Tommy. In my opinion, it is a rock n roll masterpiece of pure theatrical spectacle.  A close second would be a production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. Both shows combine my tremendous love of music and high theatricality.

Name a song that immediately takes you back to a significant part in your life.

Walk of Life by Dire Straits. It was a song that was always played at community dances, weddings, and on the radio in the 80s. Hearing the opening keyboard notes along with Mark Knopfler’s “woo-hoo”s  immediately take me back in time to being a carefree kid, surrounded by community and family.

What advice would you give kids who are taking theatre right now?

While this can be a tough business, it is entirely possible to make a good living in the theatre industry. Be resilient, versatile and adaptable. Learn how to use your skills across many different areas, and don’t pigeonhole yourself into once particular niche. It is hard work that requires ingenuity and perseverance, but you can make a good living!

Why is theatre an important part of any city anywhere?

Live performance of any kind is essential to building a community. Live performance gives a platform for artistic expression and identity. Live performance is a shared experience that is entirely unique from night to night. It is a communal experience of sharing, storytelling, evocation, and entertainment. It is an artform that has been around for centuries and is very important in helping to build a proud cultural identity of a city.

Let’s get provocative. Describe what you would love in a new performing arts centre in Lethbridge.

I think versatility is a very important aspect to any performing arts centre. The ability to accommodate a wide range of performance sizes and styles is essential to creating a vibrant, well used and well attended centre. This kind of versatility helps to cultivate a diverse and vibrant performing arts ecology that contains many different types of offerings for a wide range of community needs and desires. It would be great to have all the bells and whistles of a state-of-the-art performance centre, but it also needs to be able to embrace the fact that not every type of performance needs all the bells and whistles.

What’s your assessment of the talent you’ve witnessed so far in Lethbridge?

Top notch. I am very excited by the see how talented and vibrant the arts scene is in Lethbridge. It is very encouraging to see so many talented artists choose to make their home in Lethbridge, knowing they have a place in a dynamic and flourishing arts scene.

What is your number one goal for New West Theatre?

Hmmmm…. Not sure I am able to state a number one goal so early into my tenure.

But I do know one very important goal as we look to the future of New West Theatre: I want to see significant growth in the younger demographic of the company’s audience base. The company is very well supported by its audience, but seems to me that there is much room for growth in audience members in their 20s and 30s. This is a challenge faced by our entire industry, and we have to learn how to strengthen our reach into this key demographic. I like to ask myself what the audience will look like in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? If we don’t get younger people into the theatre now, it is hard to imagine that these individuals will suddenly start attending as they get older.

 

Our Pal Michele From Razzle Dazzle

When I think about my childhood growing up in little old Lethbridge in the early 60s I would have to say that a big part of it was watching TV. What baby boomer wasn’t brought up on the variety of entertainment offered on The Ed Sullivan Show Sunday night at 8pm followed by the exploits of the Cartwrights on Bonanza at 9? (We often had to go to bed at 9:30 unless Little Joe was hanging perilously from a cliff and we had to make sure Hoss was going to show up to save him.) The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour was a tradition on Saturday. Saturday was always hamburger night unless someone “took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”

And then there was Razzle Dazzle. It was a half-hour kid’s show produced by CBC that came on Monday to Friday afternoon and featured characters like Howard The Turtle, Percy Q. Kidpester, and Mr. Sharpey. You could write in and get an awesome secret decoder wheel, there was a segment on kid’s news and in the final five minutes we could watch continuing episodes of The Adventures of the Terrible Ten or The Forest Rangers.

Usually I sat at home and ate an entire bag of Old Dutch Potato Chips which I then saved for an appearance on Kids Bids. I digress.

I loved Razzle Dazzle.

It can be argued that Howard The Turtle was the star of the show but the two original hosts, Alan Hamel and Michele Finney were its backbone. They welcomed you into their fun, adventurous lives, kept things moving as smoothly as possible and had a tremendous chemistry between them. As an 8-year old boy there was a sense of comfort that made me feel like I was a part of their family. As far as I was concerned, Razzle Dazzle was required viewing. It could not be missed. And of course like so any other kids my age, I had a crush on Michele.

Alhamel

Michele & Al Hamel

Flash forward to 2019. I don’t know what stirred my memory banks but I felt a compulsion to Google Razzle Dazzle to see if there was any archival photos or videos. I found a write-up and a few photos on Wikipedia and I discovered that Michele Finney was on Facebook. Could this be THEE Michele Finney? Turns out it was. I sent her a message and asked if she would be willing to do an interview about her time on Razzle Dazzle and what she’s been up to since. To my utter joy she agreed and we set up a phone call. For me it was a glorious hour and a half conversation. I was still an 8-year old fan talking to who I considered to be one of the biggest stars in the world.

Michele was an only child of British parents. Both were involved in theatre. Her mom was in Vaudeville and her father was a theatrical manager. They immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. When Michele was born her mom gave up the theatre life and her dad started working with CBC.

Michele says she was painfully shy but started to do some childhood modeling at eight years old. Walking the runway helped her overcome that shyness. She also did TV dramas, some magazine print work and performed on many live children’s radio programs. She says she was able to work with wonderful theatrical actresses who really taught her the craft.

At the age of 11 she auditioned for a TV adventure series. She didn’t get that role but she was asked to be part of a new kid’s show. And that’s when her career on Razzle Dazzle began.

Michele had a lot going for her. She was mature for her age, had been honing her skills for about three years and she had close to a photographic memory which definitely helped in memorizing the daily 30-minute script.

After her first day she didn’t want to do the show. Her father told her to try to take it one day at a time. She took the advice and grew to love the gig. Her co-host, Al Hamel was 10 years older than her. She says he had a wonderful sense of humor and got along really well with him. While Michele had memorized the script, Al needed his lines taped everywhere.

Howard2

John Keogh was the puppeteer behind Howard The Turtle. It was Howard who was not only beloved by the audience but became a second father to Michele. She says Howard was very real to her and had great conversations during breaks and after the show. Howard was also the only one who had the script. As things would occasionally derail during the show, Howard was the one who was able to get things back on track.

HowardMichele.png

Michele still went to school every day, did the show and then had two hours with a tutor. She would get occasional ribbing at school from other students. She admits she wasn’t a great student but when it became known by her teachers that she was making more money than they were, she somehow began to get failing grades.

The show truly was the best and worst of times for Michele. There was great joy in being on the set performing and being an artist. But she hated the business side of it all and the need to please a lot of people ranging from the show’s producers to her tutors to her parents.

The show had a lot of fans and people would write in. She recalls one day being with her father and seeing a stack of mail bags. He asked what was in the bags and what they were doing with it. They were letters to Michele and it was all going to be tossed. Her father said, “From now on, all that mail comes home to us.”

Reading those letters shaped her as a human being. Many of the kids wrote in about having a difficult time at home. Michele became very empathetic and learned how important it was to just listen. She tried to write to everyone and in fact still has those letters.

Michele did 20 shows a month for four years. The time had come for her to make a change. It was time to move on and it was a mutual agreement between her and the CBC. Michele started doing a one hour teen show called Time of Your Life. Trudy Young and Ray Bellew became the second generation of Razzle Dazzle hosts.

Because Michele was a bona fide child star there was this up and coming group about to play in Toronto. The Telegram Newspaper asked if she would be interested in doing an interview with these four guys from a place called Liverpool, England. Yes. The Beatles. She got to see both of their shows at Maple Leaf Gardens and hang out with them at the King Eddie Hotel. She says it was an exciting time and they were all great, funny, affable people. And who was her favorite? Paul.

Beatlesmichele

At the age of 15, Michele’s parents decided they wanted to try California. She hated it. She was not like Gidget who was hugely popular at the time. She was not blonde, she was not 5’2” and she was under 18. There were a lot of labor laws about under-age kids at the time and it was a struggle to get a job. She went back to Toronto and picked up her career where she did some voice over work and commercials. She married at a young age and was divorced at a young age. There was another marriage and another divorce.

Today she is married to musician Danny Weis who was from San Diego and was a co-founder of Iron Butterfly. They had originally met in 1971. There was a brief romance and they went their separate ways. Thirty years later she got a message that he had called. Both were single and apparently there was a spark that was alive and very well. They have now been married for 15 years. Michele moved back to California for 7 years but they have returned back to Ontario in the Georgian Bay area. As an interesting aside, Vern Dorge of Lethbridge plays on Danny’s latest CD.

As we closed up our conversation I asked Michele to reflect on her past. She says she has had an amazing life. She had strict parents which she now appreciates and they instilled a great work ethic in her. As she put it, “I got into just enough crap to be normal.” She has no regrets other than maybe wishing she had become an archeologist or treasure hunter.

When I asked if she had any kind of philosophy of life I think she reflected back to those mail bags sitting in a storage room at CBC.

“Most of us feel unheard. We need to listen. We are all one.”

For The Love Of Squash (The Sport, Not The Vegetable)

 

(Top Photo: Canadian national champion, Andrew Schnell, digging a tight shot out of the back corner in a match against Pakistan’s Shahajan Khan).

Some 30 or so years ago I discovered the sport of squash. I had been playing racquetball and someone suggested that squash was actually a better game. I won’t get into that discussion but let’s just say I made the transition and absolutely loved it. I was playing three or four times a week and while I can’t say I became very proficient at it I can say with certainty that I was probably in the best shape of my life. Alas, two hip replacements ended my “career” and I had to change to a less vigorous form of exercise like watching others play the game I loved and then spending 25 minutes on an elliptical machine. It’s not quite the same. But I digress. I’m so happy to see that squash is alive and well in Lethbridge and there is an exciting tournament coming to the Lethbridge College in March. I reached out to the Lethbridge Squash Association and member Greg Pyle provides us with the answers to these questions:

Talk about the upcoming squash tournament and the quality of players that are coming.

This is the second annual Lethbridge ProAm Squash Tournament hosted by Lethbridge College and sponsored by Scotia Mcleod/Charlton & Hill, and other local sponsors as part of the Professional Squash Association’s World Tour. The main event features 16 professional squash players from 11 countries, including three Canadian players. Our top-seeded player is ranked #53 in the world. The top 9 players are all within the world’s top 100 squash players. Last year’s winner was 18 year-old Leonel Cardenas (ranked 101 in the world) from Mexico, who will return this year to defend his title.

squash3.jpg

(Leonel Cardenas (MEX) being awarded the tournament championship trophy. Left to right: Rob Baird (President, LSA), Ryan Boorsma (VP LSA, Event Coordinator), Dr. Paula Burns (President, Lethbridge College), Leonel Cardenas.)

In addition to the professional tournament, we will simultaneously host an amateur tournament of about 60 players from all across southern Alberta. Amateur athletes of all skill levels are encouraged to register and compete in the tournament. Just as our amateur players cheer on the pros playing on the next court, the pros are often seen cheering on our amateurs.

How was last year’s event received?

Last year’s tournament was a resounding success by every measure. It was great to see the community come together to support our inaugural tournament. The professional players were generous with their time, and engaging with amateur players and audience members alike.

How big is squash in Lethbridge?

Squash has had a long presence in Lethbridge, dating back to the old squash league at the YMCA. The Lethbridge Squash Association is actively developing our local squash community. We currently have two leagues at the Lethbridge College courts; a ladder league with about 30 active players, and a box ladder league with about 70 players. Both leagues are co-ed, and our players range from beginners to advanced.

Why do this?

Those of us in the local squash community are passionate about our sport. Like anyone with a passion, we want to share it with others in the hope of building our community and a general interest in squash. What better way is there to build interest in something than to bring in world-class talent? So far, our experience with the professional players is that they exemplify a competitive spirit, sportsmanship, camaraderie, and good will. We also hope to spark interest in young, junior players who can carry on our squash legacy well after most of us old-timers hang up our racquets.

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(Leonel Cardenas (MEX) against Charles Sharpes (ENG) in the final match.)

When you look at the world ranking of squash players, where do they come from?

Squash is truly an international sport. Top-ranking players come from countries all over the world, including both developed and developing countries. Right now, Egypt seems to be dominating the sport. Four of the top five male players, and three of the top five female players are Egyptian. In fact, the top-seeded player in our tournament is from Egypt (Omar Abdel Meguid; world #53). However, squash is not like other sports that tend to be dominated by one or two countries in the medium- to long-term. Many other countries have been represented among the top professional ranks. Canada’s Jonathon Power was world #1 in 1999.

Overall, there are currently 20 million squash players world-wide in 185 countries. Squash is regularly featured at the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, and the Pan-Am Games. However, it is not yet an Olympic sport, despite numerous bids (the last one of which narrowly failed in 2013 for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics in favour of wrestling). One of the reasons for its popularity is because of its reputation as the top sport for getting in shape and staying fit (see https://www.forbes.com/2003/09/30/cx_ns_1001featslide.html#7f8dd1a45ba6).

Any ideas on how to make squash more popular?

Internationally, squash is already popular. Because glass courts are mobile, famous squash tournaments are played in iconic locations, like the base of the Egyptian pyramids or in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Locally, we saw a marked increase league registrations after our first professional tournament. The Lethbridge Squash Association is working on other initiatives to grow the sport more close to home, such as the development of a junior program, squash clinics, and referee workshops.

Are kids getting any opportunities to play squash in schools?

Yes. Some schools introduce squash as part of a multi-sport introduction in their physical education program. The LSA is working with a number of local schools to encourage more young people to pick up squash.

What’s the viewing area like when fans come out to watch?

For the professional tournament, all matches are played on a single court for which there is upper- and lower-level seating. The upper viewing area is where the referees are positioned to get a birds-eye view of the play, and is equipped with bench seating. Chairs are brought into the lower level on a platform for court-side viewing through the clear glass back wall of the court. Amateur matches can be viewed on the second court from either the upper or lower levels. A third court hosting amateur matches can only be viewed in the lower level.

What do you love about playing squash?

Elite-level squash is an essay in physical efficiency; players minimize their movements while maximizing the distances they travel in order to get to the ball. At the same time, they have to consider strategies for either maintaining a rally, defending against an attack, or initiating an attack of their own. I, however, am not an elite-level player. My challenge as an aging player is to constantly strive to improve my on-court efficiency and accuracy in my hitting. The physical challenge, fitness benefits, and social interaction are what I love most about the sport.

Where do we get tickets and how much are they?

 

Tickets for the tournament can be purchased at the door for $30 for the event or $20 per day.

Final thoughts?

The second annual Lethbridge ProAm Squash Tournament 2019 will be held between March 21 – 24, 2019 at Lethbridge College. Registration details for the amateur tournament will be released shortly on our Facebook page (search @TheLethbridgeSquashAssociation) and through other social media.

Greetergrammers: A Little Bit Of History

I came across a box of old day planners that I used for booking in Greetergrammers. There was about 20 years worth of names. It was fun to look through them to see if I remembered the person or the occasion. And it was intriguing to see some of the places we showed up at the time that don’t exist today. It dawned on me that this is kind of a bit of Lethbridge history. Over the years we probably sang to over 20,000 people. So I called the Galt Museum to see if they would be interested in keeping these books. They said yes. I was tickled that they wanted them.

galts

It all started in the early 80s with me watching a news story about a couple of guys with guitars who would show up at a restaurant and sing happy birthday to an unsuspecting “victim.” It looked like a lot of fun. The guys singing were jovial and the gal being sung to had a big smile on her face. I don’t remember where the story took place (I think it was Toronto) but I recall thinking that while I don’t have a guitar I know a few people in Lethbridge who can carry a tune and have no problem making a fool of themselves in a public space. (Yes-theatre people.) I thought, this could be an enjoyable pastime for the upcoming summer and maybe we could make some beer money.

I was doing mornings for 1090 CHEC at the time and I asked management if I could promote my little side project on the air. The pitch was that we would go out into public and sing a personalized song, give the person a sheet with the song telling them to tune in to 1090 CHEC to hear their name on the radio the next morning. It’s an opportunity to force non-listeners to listen and perhaps persuade them to stay with us. Management agreed and The Greetergrammers were born.

Our very first Greetergram was at the YMCA for Stanella Bitango who was going to be in the middle of a fitness class in the big gym. I made up a song to the tune of La Cucaracha. Joining me were Larry Yelland who was an excellent piano-playing musician and Arla Burbank who I met while doing Once Upon A Mattress for Lethbridge Musical Theatre. I decided that my costume was always going to be a Mexican sombrero. And the only reason for that was because my parents brought one back from Mexico. I also had a sequined jacket that I resurrected from my Keep On Dancin Disco days. Arla had a set of maracas that she brought with her. We had no idea how this was going to be received. I was very nervous. But we barged in, halted the class, scared the hell out of everyone and sang the song. It went pretty good. It was a nice start.

I got another call to do another song out in Coaldale to a guy named Alf Sailer. This time my accomplices were long-time friends Mike Day and Mark Ward. Mike brought along a crazy wig and an Animal puppet. (Animal from The Muppets) As we approached the door to the house a kid came out, saw us and said, “He’s not going to like this.” Thanks for the reassurance kid! While the first one went well, there wasn’t a lot of evidence that would confirm that what we were doing was going to be accepted by everyone. With trepidation we entered the house and did the song. To our delight it was met with laughter and applause and they even asked us to stay for a beer. To calm our nerves, we did. We made that the exception of the many that were about to come.

The Greetergrammers started to catch on. The radio mentions and a subsequent story by Peter Scott in the Lethbridge Herald really got the word out. In our first year we probably did close to 1000. While our main venue was restaurants we also went to schools, clinics and many businesses some of which I never knew existed like out in the industrial park. Birthdays were the main request but we also did anniversaries, weddings and we even did a couple of marriage proposals.

 

I was fortunate to be available for almost all of the “grams” we did because I was off the air by 10am every day. There was a corps of singers that helped with the bulk of the work: Along with the aforementioned pioneers there was also Lyndon Bray, Lloyd Pollock, Mark Switzer, Stephen Graham, Roger Schultz, George Gallant, Dave Mikuliak, Arlie Langager, Thad Mandin, Ian Mandin, Romina Perman and there were others who did some and I’m forgetting who they all were.

We prided ourselves on trying to get good harmonies for every song although it didn’t always work out. There were certainly some disasters. We would spend about 5 minutes rehearsing in a car before going in to do the deed. Rehearsing for long periods of time was not our forte.

Not everyone was happy that we showed up. Fortunately that only happened twice in all the years where the person refused to stay and be sung to. In one instance the person looked at us and said, “I am not amused!!.” And walked right out of the building. I’m not going to judge what was going on that day that made this person react like that but I can honestly say that there were more smiles than frowns.

It was my great pleasure in life to totally embarrass my kids Jessica and Nyssa on their birthdays.

The best part of doing Greetergrammers all those years was the camaraderie. It was not unusual to do four or five grams in a night so we would hang together for the evening. The most we ever did was 19 one Saturday. That was a crazy day/night.

I can honestly say that I never got tired of doing them. Each one was different and there was always a new reaction from someone.

We did decide after four years to stop doing them because it was starting to interfere with our family lives. We decided to do a farewell fundraiser Cabaret with the local band The Late Show. All past Greetergrammers were invited to come on stage and sing a version of We Are The World. I wish we would have recorded it because it turned out amazing. Arlie Langager’s interpretation of Cindy Lauper was a show stopper. Money raised went to Rick Hansen’s Wheels In Motion. We raised $10,000 and we were able to present the cheque to Rick himself when he showed up in Lethbridge. That was an amazing moment when he wheeled into the rally at the Fritz Sick Centre. He was like a rock star and the crowd went nuts.

We stopped for a while but I missed it and decided to start up again. As members of the group left town I was finding it difficult to always get 3 people to show up for each event. I ended up doing a lot of solo Elvis bits. My mother-in-law made me a great Elvis jump suit that lasted for a few years. I’ve gone through about 4 different suits.

elvisgram

My greatest joy of doing Greetergrams for almost 36 years is having people come up to me time and time again to tell me that I sang for them on their special occasion and it was a special moment. And the friendships that were made over the years have been forever.

I could tell many stories about the exploits of singing telegrams but I’ll save that for another time. It was an important part of my life and I miss getting a group together to get out and sing and on occasion nail that harmonic chord. There’s nothing like it.

On the other hand, I don’t miss getting the Elvis suit out of my trunk and changing into it on the side of the road when it’s -30. Yes I’ve done that.

Hockey, Award Shows and Who I’d Like To Go For A Beer With

It’s a snowy Thursday and here are a few things going through my mine today:

I find the older I get the more I reflect on my life. Like when I was in my 30s I was one of the fastest skaters on my Industrial Hockey League team. I’m 63 now and even though I haven’t played hockey in about 15 years I still think I’m as fast as I once was. I’d get on my skates to prove it but I forgot where I put them.

Is it just me or are there are too many award shows these days. For me there should be the Oscars, The Grammys, The Emmys, The Tonys and for Canadian Content, the Junos. And that’s it.

If I were the host of the Oscars one of my jokes would be, “If this ceremony goes long, instead of ordering pizza like Ellen did a few years back I will be ordering a hamberders for everyone.”

I’m a regular Wheel Of Fortune watcher. The chance that someone would win $1 million on that show is astronomical. First off, you have to land on the $1 million wedge, then you have to win that segment to pick up the wedge, then you have to end up with the most money to go to the final round, then you have to correctly solve the last puzzle and then you have to land on the $1 million wedge on the final wheel spin. In the last week 2 people did it except for solving the last puzzle. I would have trouble sleeping especially since one of those puzzles was actually quite solve-able.

I admire how smooth Pat Sajak is and respect the chemistry he’s had with Vanna White for 36 years. Not a bad gig.

Pat Sajak is the kind of celebrity I think you could sit down and have a beer with. Others I’d like to splash a few over the breath with would be:

Lin Manuel Miranda

Jay Leno

Harry Connick Jr.

Jimmy Fallon

Seth Meyers

Tina Fey.

There’s others who I admire but I think it wouldn’t be a good experience to just go for a beer.

I discovered Goliath Netflix and did some binge watching. I quite enjoyed it. It is created by David E. Kelly and stars Billy Bob Thornton. I’ve always like Thornton as an actor but I really hated what he did when he was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi. I thought it was bush. You can probably see it on YouTube.

I was sorry to hear that Russel Martin got traded from the Blue Jays to the Dodgers. But I’m optimistic that there are great prospects coming up for the team and the future is looking bright.

My sympathies to the family of Scott Reiter who passed away. Scott saved my butt on countless times when I filled in as vocalist for the Lethbridge Big Band. He was the sax player right beside me and he was the one that nodded when it was time for me to jump in with the vocals.

I like mild winters. The older I get the lower my tolerance is for -30.

I admit that I’m surprised that the Calgary Flames are doing as well as they are doing this year. However you don’t win the Stanley Cup in January.

Rehashing a couple of my old jokes: If I ever won the Lottery I’d probably end up being even since I’ve been buying them since 1976.

There’s a new wheat that’s being developed that is resistant to hail because it grows its own helmet.

The Call To Help

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Major Donna Bladen at last year’s Coffee & Carols event at the Salvation Army. Donna is a new pastor for the Salvation Army Community Church. As we talked I had discovered she had been to Florida after Hurricane Michael tore a destructive path through many communities in that state. I asked her to share her story.

First off, welcome to Lethbridge. Tell us where you’re from and a little about what your life was like growing up.

I grew up in southern Ontario – in a Christian home where family and church were central to all of our social activity.  We were an active family which has given me many fond memories of summers spent at our family cottage in the Kawarthas and cross country ski trips in the winter.

Have you always been a spiritual person?

Yes, I have always had an awareness of God’s activity in my life.

What led you to a life in the Salvation Army?

I am a fourth generation Salvation Army Officer.  I was born into The Salvation Army, always had an awareness of the importance of seeing each person as a creation of God who deserves to be treated with love, kindness, respect and dignity.

How did you come about getting a post in Lethbridge?

In The Salvation Army we are appointed to ministries.  April of this year we received a call that told us we were on the move to Lethbridge, taking up the post as of July 1st.  We had lived in Edmonton for eleven years so were not surprised to be moving.  We were happy to stay in the province as my husband and I have four adult children, three living in Alberta and one in BC.  It is nice to be close enough to see each other on a regular basis.

What were your first impressions of the city?

We love the city of Lethbridge.  The community is large enough to have everything one may need and yet small enough to have a great home town feeling.  The landscape is beautiful and a bonus to be so close to Waterton National Park.  So far I am loving the winter!  Our church family here has been gracious and kind to us as we are settling in – a real friendly and warm people.

You were part of a team that went to Florida after Hurricane Michael. Was that something you volunteered for or were you assigned?

I went to Florida to offer Emotional and Spiritual Care.  I have been trained to go to these types of disasters and know that I may be called on at any time.  I was asked if I would be willing to go to Panama City.  Without any hesitation I said yes.  I saw on the news the vast devastation and if I could help in any way, I was willing.

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How does one prepare for what you were about to see?

There really is no preparation to what you will see and experience entering into any disaster.  I have taken courses to prepare myself but it always hits you hard when you arrive on scene.  It’s not just the mass destruction but meeting and greeting people whose lives have been altered greatly.  One thing I always keep in mind is that I am there to help, there are no words to say….best to listen and respond to the needs as they present themselves.

What did you think when you first arrived?

I arrived days after the hurricane whipped through Panama City.  Basically a whole city without power.  Power lines down, trees cluttering the roads and laying on tops of houses and it was very hot, 35C plus humidity.  It was like stepping into another world.

Ultimately, what was your job?

Each day I went out with a feeding truck or to one of the distribution centres to interact with the victims of Hurricane Michael.  My main job was to listen.  Many needed someone to tell their story to.  It helps them process in the midst of the chaos.  If they requested prayer I was able to pray and offer words of hope.  Each day we were given updates as to where the victims were able to find resources they may need, so I was able to point them in the right direction to get their needs provided.

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How did the victims react to you being there?

The victims knew The Salvation Army and many were very appreciative of the work of the Army.  I couldn’t count the times when victims approached me with arms wide open, crying and thanking me for being there.  When disaster hits, community matters.  The majority of the community came together, every NGO working together to do the most good for the people of Panama City.

What’s the most important thing you can do to help someone who has just lost everything?

I believe the most important thing is presence.  Taking the time to listen and journey with victims.  It’s not a time for false hope or platitudes, it’s a time it actively listening and responding to the needs present.

You must have met some great people. Can you tell us about one or two?

Yes I did.  One family sticks out in my mind because they had lost everything. They were living at their parent’s house who lived next door but was hardly touched by the hurricane. It was odd because their house was totally gone – it was literally a pile of their belongings on their lot. They had a little girl who stood there with us; looking at her toys in the ruble.  She was not allowed to touch the ruble.  We had stopped to give the family hot meals and supplies (no power in the parent’s house) but I was so bothered by the little girl not being able to get to her toys.  The next day myself and another volunteer we drove a distance to a Walmart to buy some toys for this little girl.  We delivered them to her. She was so happy.  Just before we were leaving she asked me, “Why are there hurricanes?”, a question I didn’t have an adequate  answer for.  I gave her a hug and said that I wasn’t sure why?  When I was hugging her she said thank you for being so nice.  I hope that in some small way we were able to encourage her heart and make a lasting impression on this little girl, that there is hope and that others truly care.

Did you feel you accomplished what you were meant to do?

I was there for fourteen days.  They were fourteen long, emotional and physically demanding days.  We slept in tents on cots, using out-houses and portable community showers.  I was ready to head home but did leave feeling like there was so much more to be done.  I am not sure one can leave a place like that feeling accomplished.  I do know that I did what I could and it was time for another crew to come in and take up the work.  I feel honoured to have helped in such away.

Are there things that could have been done better that might be implemented in the event of another similar disaster?

A disaster is just that – a disaster.  There is and always will be chaos.  You plan the best you can but it is impossible to get it all right.  What will work for one, will not work for another.

Upon reflection, what did you take away from your own personal experience?

Personally, I was affirmed in my belief that God is everywhere – in the good, bad and the ugly.  I saw glimmers of Him as I listened and comforted.  I heard many thank Him in the midst of the chaos.  I was also reminded of the power of community – so many neighbours getting together, helping one another.  From sharing generators, to helping remove trees from yard and sharing vehicles (many vehicles had trees or poles fall on them).  I wonder what kind of world we would live in if we took time to get to know our neighbours and share our resources in the good times?

Changing tracks for a moment. Name a song in your life that was playing that transformed your life.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” is my favourite hymn.  I sang it in church with my Grandfather.

What are some of your goals for your time in Lethbridge?

I hope to be a transforming influence in the work of The Salvation Army here in Lethbridge.  I hope to encourage, uplift and bring hope and dignity to all who come across my path.

What advice do you have for someone contemplating a life of service to God?

Trust and Obey.  God is faithful – it’s His work.

Final Thoughts?

Thank you for allowing me to share my experience.