It was a quiet Friday night at J.A. Laird’s climbing wall, and Herb Weller was, as usual, manning the gym. A handful of climbers clustered by the wall; Mr. Weller looked on, ready to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it.
But the evening’s usual itinerary was waylaid by a flash mob of friends, family, and Rotary club members who surprised Mr. Weller en masse to present the Rotary Citizen of the Year award.
Rotary member Yvonne Redeker presented the award, noting that the committee very conclusively decided he ought to be honoured as a community citizen as he exemplifies the Rotary motto, which is service beyond self.
“I’m just overwhelmed, and very surprised, and delighted,” said Mr. Weller of the honour. “This was totally out of the blue.”
Perhaps today, Mr. Weller is best known for his work at the climbing wall. He began building the wall in 2002. By 2013, there was 1,000 square feet of climbing surface on the wall. He opens the wall regularly for public climbing, birthday parties, school groups and more. The object, he said, was to get as many people climbing as possible in a safe and friendly atmosphere. And the plan has worked.
“It’s been 17 years since I started the climbing wall and it’s still getting more popular I think,” he said.
Julie Beauchemin, who was at the wall climbing when the surprise crowd showed up, said she came three years ago and immediately felt welcomed into the community, thanks to the climbing culture fostered by Mr. Weller.
“Thank you for being such a warm and welcoming place at the climbing gym,” she said.
Others spoke of his less well-known contributions to the community. Fellow teacher Grant McDonald said Mr. Weller has volunteered through the years in many other areas including as a starter for the track meet, a leader in the running community, and was there at the very beginnings of the minor soccer foundation.
“Rotarians, we thank you for seeing what Herb has offered to our community and recognized that. That’s huge. Well done Herb, and thanks,” said Mr. McDonald.
Mr. Weller is a Teacher on Call and was a full-time teacher prior to that. One of his students piped up that Mr. Weller is his favourite teacher, emitting a collective ‘awww’ from everyone on hand.
Even his wife Colleen Weller piped up to praise her husband. She said when the trees were first planted at J.A. Laird, it was a very dry summer and the sprinklers were not running. Every other day, he would take a bucket and water the trees to keep them growing.
The 2018 Citizen of the Year award is decided by Rotary members, based on nominations from members of the community.
“The nomination goes to somebody that’s committed to the community, involved in a not-necessarily front and centre role, but a quiet and service-oriented role, and Herb certainly fulfills that,” Ms. Redeker said in a follow-up interview. “He’s been donating his time and skills for way longer than I can remember, and is very deserving.”
She said he was one of several very worthy candidates, but Rotary members felt his accolades were well-deserved to be this year’s Citizen of the Year.